Author Archives: Robin Sims

Alcoholism Among Law Enforcement Officers

People drink alcohol for several different reasons, but one of the top reasons is stress. The National Drug & Alcohol Rehab Directory named stress as the main reason people consume alcohol. A study isn’t even necessary to see how stress is a reason people drink. Haven’t you ever finished a hard day’s work and had a coworker exclaim it was time for the bar? Well, heading to the bar after work is especially common for police officers.

Not only do they have what is rated as the fourth most stressful occupation, studies show that over one third of police officers exhibit “one or more problem drinking behaviors.” Even more shocking, according to Police Chief Magazine, of all sources, one in four police officers have consumed alcohol on duty.

Why such high rates of alcoholism?

Research has indeed shown that stress and alcohol abuse are related. The occupational stressors police officers face are plentiful. From the obvious life-threatening aspect of the job, to the fact that police officers often face public adversity, there are many reasons officers get stressed. North Carolina Wesleyan College compiled a list of “stressors internal to the police organization,” and some of these include poor supervision, absence of promotion, excessive paperwork, and some actual police work stressors listed include fear, danger, and victim pain/anguish.

PTSD is also a major issue facing police officers, and research has determined that 42% of PTSD victims have an alcohol-related disorder.

On top of being an extremely stressful job, drinking alcohol is a social norm of police officers, much like the military. A social sub-culture exists wherein drinking is not only accepted; it is encouraged. Some studies have shown police officers to be among those hardest to reach by means of intervention, due to the almost frat-like relationship officers share.

What can be done to help?

It is no secret to the institution of law enforcement that alcoholism is a running issue among officers. According to Police One, “There is incredible amount of pressure constantly placed upon adults in social settings to drink alcohol — or else! When an adult — especially a male adult — requests a soda at a social gathering, it will often inspire someone within earshot to offhandedly jab something like, ‘Why don’t you get yourself a big boy drink.’”

While it is impossible to accurately measure the rate at which this adult peer pressure occurs, surely it happens too much. Among many other programs tailored for officers, many addiction centers offer recovery program options specifically for law enforcement officers.

Police officers are heroes, yes, but they are also susceptible to become substance abusers. Heck, 17.6 million Americans are alcoholics and there are about 765,000 police officers. The math adds up.

How to Live a Life in Recovery

For a recovering alcoholic or addict, learning to find balance can be particularly challenging. Leading a balanced life means avoiding extreme highs or lows. It also means paying attention to tendencies that many addicts have to focus or obsess too much on one activity, such as exercise or work. When the scales are tipped too far in one direction, it can trigger the urge to turn to mind-altering substances.

Running from feelings is what you’re used to, and since you know you can’t pick up a substance, you may try to run from your feelings in other ways. It’s not uncommon for a recovering addict to turn to overeating or gambling or relationship addiction. You may sleep too much or you might become obsessive about a hobby, such as working out. People turn to various forms of compulsive behavior when they don’t want to live in reality. As a recovering addict, you may tend to approach pretty much everything addictively. Some people miss the extreme highs and lows of active addiction. If you’re like many others in recovery, when you get sober, life seems … well, boring. Once you get through the initial rollercoaster ride of newly felt emotions, you may find yourself thinking, “is this all there is?” A sober life doesn’t have to be a boring life. How can you enjoy your life sober without intensifying all your experiences?

The Secret is Balance.

In order to continue on with your addiction recovery and balance your life you must have an idea of where it is that you want to go. Begin by setting a plan and then think about how to turn this into a vision. Having this plan will be the foundation for creating the life you want. For example, perhaps you want to be able to build a strong relationship with your children or begin a new career. You may not achieve this instantly, but this plan and vision will allow you to focus in on what you want.

Without a balanced lifestyle, it can be difficult to manage your stress levels and prevent yourself from falling back into addiction relapse. A common side effect of active substance abuse addiction is the lack of control experienced in the life of the addict.

In order to live a balanced lifestyle, you will generally need to change the types of habitual activities that you take part in your life. Examples of regular activities that would be beneficial for you to use as a replacement for former activities and to help strengthen your recovery are meditation, prayer, participation in therapy sessions and self-help groups and/or 12 step groups, as well as increasing your regular exercise schedule.

Finding natural balance is built on the physiologic operating principles of your nervous system. You can find and sustain a natural, resilient balance by following a carefully constructed program, a program of natural and common sense steps such as:

  • balanced sleep
  • the right amount of exercise
  • a structured diet of food and entertainment
  • healthy relationships
  • the right type of positive thinking or self-talk

Health and nutrition are critical in the recovery process and can increase your chance for long term sobriety.  The connection between the mind, body and spirit plays a critical role in reinventing yourself.

Alcoholism and drug addiction deprive the body of the essential vitamins and nourishment that your body needs to function properly.  Long periods of restricting and neglecting your diet causes an imbalance and can lead to serious gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, diarrhea, an inability to properly digest foods, as well as a suppressed appetite.

Learning how to properly nourish the body is an important and beneficial tool for your personal recovery.  Following a healthy diet can reduce cravings and decrease mood swings.  Eating properly teaches a recovering addict how to care for and respect their body.

What does a healthy diet consist of?

Balanced meals at regular times daily are extremely important for a person new in recovery.  Your diet should consist of foods with dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates, and protein.

Recovering individuals have a difficult time focusing, or concentrating on a particular thought or idea.  This is because drug use and alcoholism depletes dopamine levels in the brain. Eating foods high in protein can improve concentration and memory capacity.

Foods high in tyrosine, an amino acid used in synthesizing protein, are crucial for mental preparation.  Foods such as meats, poultry, seafood, and tofu are high in tyrosine.  These foods promote alertness and mental activity.

Healthy Nutrition Tips:

  • Caffeine and sugar can intensify mood swings, so reduce or eliminate both early in recovery
  • Consume different types of vegetables
  • Enjoy plenty of fruit
  • Eat wholegrain or sourdough breads
  • Use breakfast cereals that contain bran, oats and barley
  • Eat less starch, especially potatoes

Take a multi-vitamin. Recovering addicts lack many essential vitamins (find a supplement that includes: vitamins A and C, B-complex and zinc)

Establishing and maintaining a balanced diet, along with regular exercise and relaxation aid in restoring an addict to health. Exercise detoxifies, as well as strengthens the body and mind. When your heart rate is elevated your body release endorphins, which can reduce stress.

Drug abuse involves negative thinking and a distorted perception of reality, so changing these thoughts into healthy ones involves positive action. Physical activity focuses your energy and quiets urges to use drugs and alcohol.

When we are physically active we have more energy throughout the day, and our thoughts are more positive and optimistic.  We start feeling better about ourselves, which in turn creates positive thinking and an improved perception of ourselves.

The disease of addiction involves an obsession of the mind, so it is important to find a healthy balance in fixing both the mind and the body.  Individuals who are early in recovery should be careful not to focus too much on fixing the outside, as it is easy for a drug addict to transfer addictions.

Look at your recovery as a pie chart.  Consider the mind, body and soul as equal pieces of the pie.  Anytime one piece is too big or too small, it’s time to do something different.  Finding this balance will enhance your recovery and increase your overall well-being.

What Are the Physical Signs of Alcoholism?

When considering the signs of alcoholism, it’s important to remember that there is no single symptom that’s indicative of alcohol abuse or withdrawal. You must see the full picture and consider the all the symptoms of alcoholism that a person is experiencing.

The signs of alcoholism generally fall into two categories: behavioral and physical. In this article, we’ll explore the physical signs of alcoholism and alcohol dependence. Some of these physical symptoms of alcoholism can be fairly obvious and apparent, while others are fairly easy to conceal and may only be evident to the individual who is struggling with alcoholism.

Physical Signs of Alcoholism – General Appearance

Alcoholism can have a significant impact on an individual’s overall appearance. Personal hygiene often suffers, as the person may not shower regularly. They may also lack the motivation to tend to their hair or makeup.

With an individual who drinks heavily on a daily basis, you may notice that they look perpetually unwell, with a poor skin complexion, dark under eye circles and a tired demeanor. Chronic dehydration, combined with poor sleep, is a major contributor to an individual’s sometimes haggard appearance.

Weight gain, particularly around the midsection, is also commonplace. This can occur due to a lack of exercise, combined with poor food selection while intoxicated and high-calorie drinks, such as beer.

When alcohol is withheld, the individual may get very distressed, ultimately exhibiting signs of a condition known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). Symptoms can include anxiety and irritability, unsteadiness, seizures or tremors, sweating, fever, nausea, vomiting, insomnia and even hallucinations.

One of the most severe signs of alcoholism is called Delirium Tremens (DT), symptoms include:

  • Severe Agitation or Confusion
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Seizures
  • Headache
  • Convulsions and Tremors
  • Tactile Hallucinations of Itching, Burning or Numbness
  • Auditory Hallucinations
  • Visual Hallucinations

If you or a loved one are experiencing these symptoms, it’s best to seek immediate medical attention by calling 911 or by going to the nearest emergency room for treatment.

Physical Signs of Alcoholism – Skin

Alcohol impacts virtually every body system, so the physical symptoms of alcohol abuse can be observed throughout the body as well. This includes the skin.

Jaundice / Yellow Skin Tone

Jaundice is one of the more obvious signs of the liver problems that commonly accompany alcoholism. Jaundice occurs when the body fails to metabolize bilirubin, which is yellowish brown in color. Bilirubin forms as the liver breaks down old blood cells, but fails to metabolize and process those bilirubin particles. In a healthy person, the liver breaks down bilirubin, which is then excreted when the person has a bowel movement. But in a person with liver disease or another condition that impacts liver function, the bilirubin levels rise to abnormally high levels, giving the skin a yellow color. The whites of the eyes will also appear yellow in many individuals.

In addition to jaundice, it’s common to observe other signs of liver disease, such as nausea, vomiting, weight loss and a generally poor physical condition.

Poor Skin Condition

It’s not uncommon for men and women to experience poor skin condition or chronic breakouts due to poor hygiene. Some women have a tendency of passing out or falling asleep while still wearing makeup. Forgetting to wash your face before going to bed can certainly contribute to skin problems.

Additionally, the body’s immune system is heavily taxed by frequent alcohol consumption, resulting in a much higher frequency of skin infections, including pimples, cysts, sores and abscesses.

You may also observe a persistent redness on the nose and cheeks, resulting from alcoholism-related changes in the circulatory system.

Spider Angiomas

One of the more common physical symptoms of long-term alcoholism involves the formation of spider angiomas (also called a spider nevus), which are small spider web-like marks on the skin. They can be red or blue/purple in color. They’re most commonly found on the nose and cheeks, but can arise elsewhere on the body too.

Spider angiomas often form as the result of liver disease and cirrhosis of the liver. Liver disease and cirrhosis can both arise from long-term alcohol abuse. It’s important to remember, though, that liver issues and spider angiomas can occur in individuals with non-alcohol-related health issues too. For instance, spider angiomas can result spontaneously or due to high estrogen levels (which is common during pregnancy.) So alone, they are not necessarily indicative of alcoholism. But you may have cause for concern if you see these vascular formations in conjunction with other symptoms of alcohol abuse.

Bruises and Injuries

Alcohol skews your equilibrium and balance, resulting in bumps, bruises and even more serious cuts and injuries.

An individual with an alcohol problem may have bruises and other injuries on a fairly frequent basis – far more frequently than the average person.

Physical Signs of Alcoholism – Liver Problems

Alcohol abuse is a common cause of liver problems, as this vital organ serves as a filter of sorts (amongst other functions). Alcohol-related liver disease or ARLD can be life-threatening, even in a younger individual. In other words, you do not need to drink heavily for 30 years to get liver disease.

The liver does have the unique ability to regenerate. So it is possible for the liver to heal in many – but not all – cases. This requires time and sobriety. It’s also important to note that moderate to severe scarring (such as that associated with cirrhosis) is typically permanent. But seeking treatment can lead to a dramatic improvement in your condition.

There are three basic phases to ARLD. They are as follows:

Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

This is the first and least severe stage of alcohol-related liver disease. With this condition, fat accumulates in and on the liver. This causes inflammation, mild scarring and fat deposits that impair the liver’s ability to function properly.

Often, there are no noticeable symptoms of alcoholic fatty liver disease. In other cases, a person may experience weakness, fatigue and abdominal pain in the upper right area of the abdomen. Lab work may reveal elevated liver enzyme levels, but this is not always the case. Liver function could appear normal according to diagnostic tests.

Fortunately, you can typically reverse the effects of alcoholic fatty liver disease by abstaining from alcohol and medications that place a strain on the liver.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis occurs in about one-third of all heavy drinkers, making it a fairly common condition. Alcoholic hepatitis can occur on a broad spectrum, from mild (with no apparent symptoms) to severe and even life-threatening.

Alcoholic hepatitis arises when large quantities of fat are deposited in the liver, leading to inflammation and scarring. With this condition, lab work will reveal a significant elevation in liver enzymes and liver function tests typically reveal some degree of impairment.

Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, jaundice and poor appetite.

In the early stages of alcoholic hepatitis, the effects on the liver are often reversible. But by the time an individual reaches the late stages or suffers from a bout of acute alcoholic hepatitis, much of the scarring and damage to the liver is permanent. Acute alcoholic hepatitis can ultimately lead to death from liver failure.

Alcoholic Cirrhosis

Alcoholic cirrhosis is a very serious and life-threatening condition. It is the most advanced stage of alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD). It’s estimated that as many as one-quarter of all heavy drinkers (and an even larger percentage of those who struggle with an alcohol addiction) have cirrhosis of the liver.

Cirrhosis occurs when the liver suffers extensive and severe scarring. Normally, the liver tissue is soft and flexible, but when scarring occurs, that soft tissue is replaced with hard, inflexible scar tissue. This has an adverse impact on the liver’s ability to function. The end result is liver failure.

While cirrhosis is not reversible, the patient can still enjoy benefits from enrolling in an alcohol treatment program. This is because the symptoms of cirrhosis and ARLD will improve – sometimes dramatically – and abstinence can prevent further damage and worsening of one’s health condition.

Abstinence will also reduce the chances of developing further complications, such as liver cancer. Individuals with another liver ailment, such as chronic hepatitis C, are at especially high risk of developing health problems that could ultimately necessitate a liver transplant.

Other Physical Signs of Alcoholism – Sleep Patterns

Alcoholism can result in some very abnormal sleep patterns, which may be very noticeable to a spouse, family members and even your friends or employer. These abnormal sleep patterns can, in turn, impact your health in numerous ways.

In fact, even just a single drink before going to bed can actually do more harm than good.

After consuming alcohol, the body will fall into a very deep sleep. This is actually unhealthy, as sleep occurs in cycles. The first stage in that cycle is called rapid eye movement sleep or REM sleep. When you drink, your body skips the REM sleep cycle (or goes through this stage very briefly). The result: you fall into a very deep sleep and you may be difficult to rouse.

Scientists and researchers actually have very limited knowledge about what actually happens while we sleep; in fact, science isn’t entirely sure why the body even needs sleep in the first place! But anecdotal evidence tells us that this REM stage of the sleep cycle is critical for feeling refreshed and rested. Studies have revealed that in an average night, a healthy person experiences approximately six to eight bouts of REM sleep. A person who has consumed one or more drinks before going to bed may experience just one or two bouts of REM sleep throughout the course of the night. The result is that you wake up feeling as though you haven’t slept a wink. Also, since you experience long periods of deep sleep after drinking, there is a greater chance that you’ll sleep through your alarm.

Sleep pattern disturbances are also common in alcohol abusers who are trying to cut back on their drinking. Insomnia is one of the many symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. But beyond this, there’s also a psychological component. Virtually every individual who struggles with alcohol dependence drinks to escape some uncomfortable reality. This could be a past trauma, depression, anxiety or any number of challenges that one may encounter in life. These issues can make it challenging to quiet the mind and fall asleep.

Other Physical Signs of Alcoholism

The physical signs of alcoholism are numerous and quite varied.

Amongst the signs of alcoholism are redness and/or swelling involving the palms of the hand. The individual may also experience numbness, tingling or a lack of coordination in their hands and even in their feet. This can also result in unsteadiness.

In addition, alcohol-related liver disease can cause a number of other symptoms, such as ascites, which is an accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity. It’s also possible to develop complications such as an enlarged spleen or kidney failure.

Frequent exposure to alcohol can cause damage to the esophagus (throat) and stomach. The harsh nature of alcohol (especially hard liquor) can irritate the sensitive tissues in these areas of the body. This may lead to the formation of an ulcer, which is essentially an internal sore.

Ulcers have a tendency of bleeding when irritated, causing pain, discomfort and even further stomach upset due to the blood. This frequently results in chronic nausea, vomiting and decreased appetite.

While most people associate alcoholism with weight gain, but weight loss is also a fairly common sign in individuals who are in the more advanced stages of alcohol abuse. As liver function becomes more and more impaired, it’s typical to see some fairly significant and rapid weight loss

Alcohol abuse is a very complex issue, with many physical, psychological and behavioral signs and symptoms. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcoholism, there is help. You don’t need to go through this process alone. Speak to an addiction treatment counselor that is committed to providing a comprehensive range of treatment solutions for people who are struggling with alcoholism.

Is Alcohol Dependence Leading to Your Depression?

If you or a loved one have struggled with alcohol dependence, it comes as no surprise to you that alcohol affects mood. It can turn a mild mannered person into a raging lunatic, a calm person into a hysterical fool, or a happy person into a mess of crying and sadness. Of course, for those who have developed alcohol dependence the effects may not seem as extreme, but the damage and struggle on a day to day basis is much greater.

It also may not surprise those who are in the thick of depression and drinking problems that there is a real connection between the two. The link has long been suspected, and probably known for a certainty by those who experience it, but studies into the connection have found definite evidence that one can lead to the other.

Reasons Why Alcohol Dependence Causes and Worsens Depression

  • Alcohol is a depressant type drug.
  • If the person is already depressed, then it means that they are trying to hide from the condition rather than treat it. This strategy is unlikely to prove successful in the long run.
  • The individual will tend to do things that they regret when inebriated. This means that they will have more things to feel bad about.
  • Inebriation makes people impulsive. If they are already feeling depressed, then they may engage in behaviors that they would not normally consider.
  • The individual will have less self-control when they are drinking. This coupled with the fact that they have a reduced decision making capacity means that they will be at far higher risk of committing suicide.
  • Binge drinking often means that the individual can begin having problems with family members, friends, or people at work. This gives them further reasons to feel depressed.
  • Alcohol is a toxin that harms the body and mind. This means that the individual will be less able to handle he symptoms of depression.

When we drink, we narrow our perception of a situation and don’t always respond to all the cues around us. If we’re prone to anxiety and notice something that could be interpreted as threatening in the environment, we’ll hone in on that and miss the other less threatening or neutral information.  For example, we might focus on our partner talking to someone we’re jealous of, rather than notice all the other people they’ve been chatting to that evening.

Alcohol depression = a vicious cycle

Being diagnosed with clinical or major depression is a very serious statement. Many of us experience the signs of depression from time to time, but to have a clinical case, you must display certain symptoms for an extended period of time. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Changes in eating habits, such as eating more or less and gaining or losing weight as a result
  • Changes in sleeping habits; sleeping more or less than normal
  • Fatigue and general lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Loss of interest in daily activities and routines
  • Difficulty thinking and concentrating
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Suicidal thoughts

What is alcohol dependence?

As with clinical depression, there are many symptoms or behaviors that must be seen to determine your relationship to alcohol. If you have a healthy drinking habit, you should experience none of these symptoms, or maybe one or two of them only occasionally.

  • Using alcohol even when health or safety is compromised
  • Difficulty functioning at work or in other situations because of drinking
  • Developing Alcohol Tolerance
  • Having withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, which can include shaking, elevated heart rate, sweating, high blood pressure, and in severe cases seizures and hallucinations

 

The Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Alcohol puts a toll on nearly every vital organ in your body. Regardless to if you have one single drink or have been heavily drinking for years, alcohol can take a serious toll on your health. See all the effects of alcohol on the body.

Common Effects of Alcohol on the Body

People under the influence of alcohol often experience a decrease in coordination, perception, and peripheral vision, which can make it difficult to walk in a straight line or drive a car, boat, or other vehicle. Impaired judgment is also a short-term effect of drinking that diminishes one’s ability to operate a vehicle or certain types of machinery. Impaired judgment may also cause people to make decisions that could prove dangerous to themselves or others. For example, a person with impaired judgment may engage in unprotected sexual intercourse, use drugs, commit a crime, or otherwise do reckless things that they wouldn’t normally attempt.

When it comes to the effects of alcohol on the body, some of the common short-term effects of alcohol include headaches, an upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing. Additional short-term effects include dizziness, slurred speech, lapses in memory, anemia, and unconsciousness.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol can cause some long-term health effects. These are often serious conditions that can threaten a person’s life. These negative health effects impact major organs in the body, including the heart, brain, liver, and pancreas.

Heart

For example, long-term effects of alcohol use impacts the cardiovascular system, as it causes high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat (which is known as cardiac arrhythmia), heart failure, cardiomyopathy, and stroke.

Brain

The long-term effects of alcohol on the brain may include feelings of confusion and changes to one’s mood, including depression and anxiety. Memory loss may also be a side-effect of long-term or excessive alcohol use.

Liver

Excessive amounts of alcohol in the body can be more than the liver is able to handle, causing damage to its cells. This may result in alcoholic hepatitis, alcoholic fatty liver disease, or
alcoholic cirrhosis. The earliest stage of alcohol-related liver disease is alcoholic fatty liver disease, and it may or may not be characterized by weakness, fatigue, or discomfort. With abstinence from alcohol, this condition may be reversible in some people. The most severe of the alcohol-related liver diseases is alcoholic cirrhosis. This disease is not reversible; however, further damage may be limited if the individual stops drinking.

Pancreas

Acute alcoholic pancreatitis is yet another long-term negative effect of alcohol on the body. This is an inflammation of the pancreas that is not reversible, and it can result in further problems such as malabsorption, jaundice, diabetes, and pseudocyst formation. Additionally, it is also a condition that can be life-threatening. It is important that people diagnosed with this condition cease drinking alcohol to prevent further damage. Frequent excessive drinking over a period of time can also make a person more susceptible to some forms of cancer, such as mouth, throat, esophagus, and breast cancers.

Immune System

Heavy alcohol abuse also weakens the immune system, making your body a prime target for disease and making it harder to fight it off. It is not uncommon for chronic drinkers to develop pneumonia and tuberculosis, more so than someone who does not drink alcohol. Alcohol effects the immune system so harshly that even drinking one time can make you more vulnerable to infections, taking up to 24 hours for the immune system to bounce back.

If you or a loved one is experiencing the effects of alcohol on the body, don’t hesitate to make a change. Many long term effects of alcohol abuse can be curbed before they happen if you seek help now. If you’re experiencing the effects of alcohol, please call a doctor immediately to seek medical attention.