Category Archives: Alcoholism

Alcohol and Suicide | The Deadly Relationship

“I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.” – Edgar Allen Poealcohol and suicide

When things get tough, when it’s hard to cope, when feeling becomes too much – places where we all have been – the need to make it through becomes eminent. As this is something we all can relate to in one way or another, it should be easy to understand why you or someone you love has turned to alcohol to soothe or numb the pain. After all, it’s a quick and readily available solution, right? Well, quick and readily available – yes. A solution – no.

Alcohol is a depressant. This is pretty commonly known, but not properly acknowledged in the way it should be as the immediate effects of a few drinks can feel far from depressing. And if you are drinking as a way of coping when things get hard and you are feeling down, the mood-enhancing effects of alcohol are undeniably tempting. Whether we are aware of it or not this is a form of self-medicating. The unfortunate truth is this behavior results in a downward spiral effect. Individuals who drink heavily are more likely to be depressed or suicidal. It is also commonly known that, drinking lowers an individual’s inhibitions, impairs their ability to make smart decisions regardless of the consequences.  Did you know the use of alcohol also simultaneously increases negative feelings about oneself, thus continuing the cycle of depression and suicidal thoughts?

Alcohol abuse and suicidal behaviors leads to more destructive behaviors. For some, heavy drinking may result in depression (this is not rocket science – alcohol is a depressant after all), but these individuals, once sober the depression goes away. While for others (and as studies show, this may be the majority), drink alcohol excessively as a way to self-medicate against their diagnosed or undiagnosed depression or various other mental health disorders. Whichever category you or a loved one fall into, we are all ultimately trying to achieve the same goal – to find a way to tolerate the pain and find a way through to tomorrow. Seeking help through self-care and education, support systems with family and friends, and professional support will provide you or someone you love with the means to gain new methods to achieve what you need and beat the cycle of abuse – it truly will save your life.

The Facts: Alcohol Increases the Risk of Suicide

Although we all may be pros at fooling ourselves when it relates to something we find difficult to admit, the facts don’t lie. Alcohol abuseeducation is important to understanding what you or someone you love is going through. It is even more important as it relates to individuals who are using alcohol as a way to cope with depression as they might even know how much worse they are making their symptoms and increasing the risk of suicide. Let’s look at the basics:

  • Drinking alcohol is generally viewed as a social norm and a way of having a good time – happy hour, weddings, parties, events, fundraisers – you name it. However, as previously noted, alcohol works as a depressant to our systems. What does that mean to you? Alcohol will not make you feel better – maybe in the moment but the moment is fleeting. Simply stated, if you are already feeling down and out, adding alcohol will only make it worse as it will heighten the depression and ultimately lead an individual ending their life.
  • As suicide is often considered an impulsive act, of course consuming alcohol will increase the risk of suicide. Alcohol increases impulsiveness and lowers our inhibitions, causing, quite literally, lethal effects.
  • Let’s look at the numbers. One in ten people in the U.S. abuse alcohol. Alcohol is involved in 40% of all suicides. What this means is, if you abuse alcohol, you’refour times more likely to die from suicide.

Relationship Between Alcohol and Suicide

There is an undeniable relationship between alcohol and suicide and this relationship is quite literally one of the most toxic combinations in yours or a loved one’s life. TheCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) study in 2009, measured blood alcohol levels post mortem and found that one in four suicide victims were legally drunk.Hence, when alcohol is involved, you are four times more likely to die from suicide. According to the CDCP report, the relationship between alcohol and suicide is described as one which “leads to disinhibition, and it can enhance feelings of hopelessness and depression.”

“Alcohol impairs judgment and can lead to much more impulsive behavior. Any suicide prevention efforts must take that into account and address alcohol and substance abuse as well.”

What are some of the factors contributing to this relationship? Here are a few:

  • Heavy drinking only makes mental health issues worse. According to the American Psychological Association, “Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can worsen existing conditions such as depression or induce new problems such as serious memory loss, depression, or anxiety.” Alcohol is only adding to the problem not helping. The limited relief one experiences from alcohol is diminished by the risk one is putting themselves in by consuming it.
  • Research has shown that alcohol is often associated with suicidal behavior. Do you believe us yet? According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol abuse may lead to suicidality through disinhibition, impulsiveness and impaired judgment, but it may also be used as a means to ease the distress associated with committing an act of suicide.” As previously noted, alcohol lowers an individual’s inhibitions – ya know, the ones that might otherwise stop us from doing something regrettable – and in turns causes deadly consequences.
  • Alcohol use disorder and depression often go hand and hand. Statistics indicate that at any given time up to 50 percent of people with alcohol use disorder are also suffering from a major depressive disorder. The link between the two is easy to understand as alcohol is proven to be one of the easiest ways to self-medicate. In addition, drinking while taking antidepressants is also a very bad idea as it can worsen symptoms and side effects, cause drowsiness, impair alertness and even potentially cause a dangerous reaction depending on your medication.

Suicide Warnings Signs, Prevention and Resources

Warning Signs

While time might find the warning signs to be quite obvious, other might struggle to understand exactly what it is you should be looking for. We all have to realize that sometimes people will commit suicide impulsively while under the influence of alcohol but that does not always mean there were not any warning signs. Below is a list of somethings you or a loved one could look for to prevent a suicide:

  • Talking about suicide openly. Does this sound familiar to you? Do you know someone who threatens to kill themselves? Please know this should always be taken seriously.
  • Withdrawal from family and friends. Has someone you loved stopped communicating? Do you notice a change in their behavior? Maybe it is time to get them help?
  • Giving away possessions. Pay attention. If someone you love begins giving away their things this is a sign. They may need help. Be there for them.
  • Increasing use of alcohol and/or drugs. In no way will increased use of alcohol or drugs aid an individual in recovering and will only make things worse. Please save a life and if you know someone who is self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, get them the help they need
  • A sudden period of happiness after an episode of depression. The individual may feel relieved to have found a permanent solution to their problems – this solution could be suicide.
  • Making comments to others as if they are not going to see them again. It is so detrimental to recognize these behaviors as they are whether the individual acknowledges it or not, cries for help.
  • An obsession with death or actively seeking tools to commit suicide with. It just takes someone who cares to notice when everything is going wrong.
  • Increased impulsive acts – this may be directly linked to alcohol use as we are all aware by now, drinking can increase the likeliness of impulsive acts.

Prevention

There is hope as suicide can usually be prevented if the right steps are taken and we act in a timely manner. Whether you or the one you love are struggling and need to take action, educating yourself on recognizing the symptoms and finding the help could prove to be vital in a life or death situation. The following are some helpful aids in suicide preventions:

  • First and foremost, if you or someone you love is experiences suicidal thoughts, you should immediately talk to someone about it. If you are not sure who to talk to, please use the National Suicide Prevention Line which offers a free and confidential service on 1-800-273-TALK. If you believe the risk is that eminent, please go to the nearest hospital and seek emergency care. The National Suicide Prevention Line can also offer advice to friends and family of individuals who appear suicidal.

 

  • Suicidal talk should never be ignored or not taken seriously. It is important to not make individuals feel guilty about their feelings as it might only make them feel worse. Let them know you are here to help.
  • Although you might have made a promise not to tell anyone, if an individual tells you they are feeling suicidal thoughts or have being thinking about taking their life, tell someone! Get them help! Their life is at risk and they are coming to you for help.
  • Encouraged the individual to talk about how they are feeling. Listen to what they are saying without judgement and aid them in seeking help from a medical professional as soon as possible.
  • Individuals who abuse alcohol and/or drugs should be made aware of the treatment options available for their addiction. Help them find medical help. Sobriety could ultimately save their lives.

Resources

If you believe that you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or is on the verge of suicide, below are several resources available to educate yourself and find a way to help yourself or a loved one before it is too late:

Survival: Treatment and Recovery

There have been so many studies that closely link addition and suicide, and it is time to stop overlooking these studies and to start getting you or a loved one the help you need. If you don’t know where to start, go to your doctor. Your primary care physicians will be able to help identify and prevent suicide. Doctors and medical professionals are there to ask the difficult questions about whether you or someone you love has ever considered or attempted suicide and whether you make currently be thinking about or intend to commit suicide. They are also there to let you or someone you love know that they are not alone, that there is still hope, that they are cared for, that they will work together to with the individual and their loved ones to develop a recovery plan that ensures their safety and address the issues that needed to be treated. You are never alone and hope in never gone.
Finally, don’t fear hurting someone’s feelings if they are exhibiting signs of suicidal thought or worse. Not saying something is far worse. We worry about those in our lives that are struggling with addiction for good reason – they are at high risk for death (not just limited to suicide). Prevention, treatment and recovery are all possible when we are brave enough to take the next step.

Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Why is America home to 18 million alcoholics? Why is one out of every twelve American adults alcohol dependent? Why do 240 US citizens die every single day from alcohol? Why do more than 9,000 people worldwide die every single day from alcohol? Why is $250 billion spent every year on excessive alcohol consumption?  Why, you may ask, have over 85% of Americans reported having drank at least once in their life? Why is a full quarter of global deaths attributable to alcohol for those between age 20 and 39?

The answer is the human brain.

What we commonly call alcohol, when it comes to drinks, is actually ethanol, one of over fifteen types of alcohol. Ethanol is the type of alcohol inside of adult beverages. As a standalone substance, it is non-addictive. What are addictive are the chemical reactions that happen in our brains when ethanol is consumed.

What’s Up with the Brain?

effects of alcohol on the brainWe must first understand the basics of how the brain operates before we can understand the effects of alcohol. As you may remember from high school, all living things are made up of cells. Brain cells are called neurons. There are over 100 billion neurons in the average human brain. Each neuron is responsible for tens of thousands of different connections, which enable every single thing we do.

The brain is the control room of the body. Every function you can think of is controlled by the brain. Movement, emotions, our five senses, thought, blinking, breathing, heartbeat, pain and pleasure are all controlled by and made possible by the brain. The chemicals responsible for all of this are called neurotransmitters. They deliver messages that tell the body what to do.

There are two basic types of neurotransmitters: inhibitory and excitatory. Inhibitory neurotransmitters slow down overall brain activity, allowing for rest, ease, balance, peace of mind, and general calmness. Excitatory neurotransmitters speed up brain activity, allowing for focus, attention, alertness, possible unease, and nervousness.

Alcohol creates changes in the brain. Three different types of neurotransmitters are affected in particular by alcohol: GABA, dopamine, and endorphins. For non-problematic drinkers and for those just beginning to drink in their lives, alcohol creates pleasurable effects in the brain, which we called being buzzed or drunk. However, excessive drinking over time causes the brain to adapt to these changes.

Eventually, the brain cannot function without alcohol, and we call this alcoholism.

Let’s take a look at how alcohol affects these three neurotransmitters. Then let’s discuss potential brain conditions that are caused by alcohol. Finally, let’s talk about how to treat and/or prevent such alcohol-caused brain conditions.

The Three Neurotransmitters

  1. GABA

Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is the brain’s principal inhibitory neurotransmitter. Its main function is to reduce activity in the brain, such as when we are concentrating, sleeping, resting, or attempting to calm down, or even maintaining a normal overall bodily balance. Alcohol increases the flow of GABA inside the brain. If this sounds bad, that’s because it is.

Alcohol-caused increases in GABA explain why drunk people have trouble with their motor skills. Off-balance walking, slurred speech, and poor memory of time spent drinking are all results of increased GABA. Essentially, the overflow causes mild sedation of the brain. This happens every time alcohol is consumed, a GABA increase, and will happen more and more intensely over time, as long as there is drinking.

In response to increased GABA levels, the brain creates more glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter. Glutamate counteracts the over-calming effects of GABA. However, the more alcohol one consumes, the more GABA produced, and the more glutamate produced in order to keep the balance. This chemical chain reaction is what causes a tolerance to alcohol.

  1. Dopamine

Most of the entire reward system in our brain is due to dopamine. This neurotransmitter is released whenever we feel pleasure, whether it be from eating, sleeping, having sex, using the bathroom, exacting revenge, lifting weights, scoring the winning shot in your YMCA basketball league, or any other moment we consider pleasurable. Dopamine is released as a reward for pleasure, allowing us to physically feel good when something pleasurable happens. Dopamine, however, has no morals. It’s released in excess by the consumption of alcohol, as well as from most other drugs.

Because some of the initial effects of alcohol are pleasurable, the brain considers alcohol use to be rewarding, and reinforces this by releasing dopamine. Too much dopamine causes an imbalance in the brain, but being the amazing animals that we are, the brain actually adapts to this imbalance, considering it normal. We mentioned this previously. However, with dopamine, there’s more:

Prolonged alcohol abuse physically wears down the brain’s dopamine transporter and receptor sites. Scientists recently conducted a test on brains of deceased alcoholics and consistently found the damage. According to the scientists, long-term drinking will “ultimately interfere with the brain’s ability to use dopamine, and subsequently inhibit the individual’s ability to feel pleasure.”

Repeatedly flooding the brain with dopamine eventually decreases overall dopamine levels. Think of it like over-milking a cow. Eventually the well runs dry. Tolerance builds with increased drinking, but the inability to feel pleasure without dopamine is what actually causes increased drinking.

  1. Endorphins

You may have heard of these pleasure-givers. Endorphins are basically neurotransmitters for nerve cells – they are called neuropeptides. The word ‘endorphin’ is actually a blend of two words: ‘endogenous’ and ‘morphine’. Something endogenous originates from within an organism. Morphine is a strong opioid painkiller. Endorphins are morphine-like molecules produced by the central nervous system, released by the body to counteract physical pain. Endorphin release can also create a feeling of euphoria.

Endorphins are produced naturally in response to pain, but are also produced by human activities such as working out and laughing. Alcohol abuse also releases endorphins. Different parts of the brain release endorphins according to different responses, and alcohol releases endorphins in two different parts: the nucleus accumbens and the orbitofrontal cortex, which control addictive behavior and decision-making, respectively.

With so many neurotransmitters being released when we drink, along with endorphins, it’s almost no wonder alcohol is so addictive. Not only does alcohol trick the brain into thinking that drunk is the normal way to be, alcohol also releases several pleasure-inducing chemicals. The brain becomes used to this rush of pleasure, and problematic drinking begins its course.

When alcoholics stop drinking, the increased GABA, glutamate, and dopamine levels cause withdrawal symptoms, such as hallucinations, tremors, convulsions, and even delirium tremens, a condition lasting 2-3 days which includes shaking, shivering, irregular heartbeat, sweating, high body temperature and/or seizures.

Alcohol is addictive because the brain becomes used to it in order to function properly. The neurotransmitters and endorphins reward the brain for drinking. There is a cruel irony here… we are being ‘rewarded’ for creating potential brain conditions and/or illnesses.

Brain Damage from Alcohol

Aside from being addictive due to brain changes, excessive drinking can lead to several different brain diseases or conditions. We will leave out the obvious: fatigue, hangover, headache, dehydration, irritability, slurred speech, blurry vision, slower reactions… It’s obvious that alcohol affects the brain. It’s scary just how much.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

If you are an alcoholic, your brain has become completely used to the presence of alcohol. Stop drinking all of a sudden and you are at risk for alcohol withdrawal syndrome, or AWS. Also, anyone who drinks heavily for an extended period of time and then stops altogether is at risk for AWS. Symptoms are plenty, and if severe, a medical emergency is at hand. About half of those at risk will become affected.

Symptoms of AWS include nausea, vomiting, headache, sweating, anxiety, tremors, sleeplessness, nightmares, increased heart rate and high blood pressure. Severe symptoms include heavy confusion, extreme irritability, fever, hallucinations, and in the most dangerous cases, seizures. Delirium tremens, known as DT, can be deadly, and consists of full body convulsions.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

WKS occurs most often among alcoholics, and encompasses two closely related conditions: Wernicke’s encephalopathy (WE) and Korsakoff’s syndrome. WE consists of lesions in the central nervous system, causing ataxia, paralysis of eye muscles, and overall confusion. Korsakoff’s syndrome consists of a lack of vitamin B1 in the brain, caused by alcohol abuse. Symptoms include severe memory loss, inability to form new memories, confabulation (inventing memories), and apathy. Both WE and Korsakoff’s syndrome are neurological disorders.

The two often co-occur in alcoholics, and together form WKS, a memory-impairing, vision-affecting, seizure-causing brain disorder. The more one drinks, the more at risk they are. WKS is a multi-symptom form of amnesia, and up to 2% of the population is afflicted. This may seem low, but 2% of America is almost six and a half million people.

Neuroinflammation

Swelling of the brain, or neuroinflammation, can occur from many things. Infection, injury, aging, and toxic metabolites are among the causes. When alcohol is metabolized by the liver, a chemical called acetaldehyde is left over. Acetaldehyde is a toxic metabolite, so harmful that it can cause cancer.

Neuroinflammation is one of the primary causes of Parkinson’s disease, and can cause a multitude of other issues, including Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. Excessive drinking can cause neuroinflammation by creating too much acetaldehyde.

Impaired Development in Minors

A study done by the University of Eastern Finland shows that alcohol dramatically impairs brain development in teenagers. “The maturation of the brain is still ongoing in adolescence and until the twenties. Our findings strongly indicate that alcohol use may disrupt this maturation process,” said Noora Heikkinen, lead researcher.

This is a problem, considering up to 20% of Americans aged 12 to 20 reported themselves as drinkers in the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Underage alcohol abuse can cause schizophrenia, OCD, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, autism, and damage to the insular cortex, a part of the brain responsible for perception and motor control among other things.

Underage alcohol abuse can also cause increased levels of GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, in teens. High GABA levels can cause shortness of breath, high blood pressure, increased heartrate, and night terrors, among other disorders. Yet another disorder caused by underage drinking is cortical thinning. This is when the cerebral cortex loses mass, causing a reduction is cognitive ability. Normally, cortical thinning only occurs with old age.

Alcoholic polyneuropathy

Also known as “alcohol leg,” polyneuropathy is a brain disorder which causes nerves throughout the body to function improperly, causing loss of mobility. Paresthesias, or feeling pain without cause, also occurs with alcoholic polyneuropathy. In its early stages, alcohol leg is reversible, but in mild to severe cases it could be permanent.

Liver-related Brain Disorders

Hepatic encephalopathy, also known as HE, can occur as a result of severe alcoholic hepatitis, a disease caused by heavy drinking. Symptoms include extreme confusion, altered levels of consciousness, coma, and even death. Treatment includes removal of toxins directly from the intestines.

Also, liver cancer can cause severe brain disorder, and can be caused by heavy drinking when cirrhosis is occurring.

In Conclusion

Alcohol causes an absolute plethora of brain disorders, diseases and damage types. Please drink responsibly. If you are alcohol-dependent, or feeling like you’re close, please seek professional treatment today.

Are You an Alcoholic? | Symptoms of Alcoholism

If someone called you an alcoholic, would it bother you? If you believe you aren’t an alcoholic, would you be willing to be evaluated by a Substance Abuse Counselor? Most people aren’t aware of what classifies someone as an alcoholic. Is it the drink consumption? Is it only when you drink alone? Is it when you depend on alcohol to cope?

are you an alcoholic

What about sanctioned alcoholism that has, in this day and age, come in the form of bar crawls, frat parties, fundraisers, drinking games, open bars at weddings and any other venue or event that will allow alcohol? Are we forgetting that alcoholism is a disease? Alcoholism, as the late Mitch Hedberg said, is the only disease you can be yelled at for having.

According to Jerry Nelson, a Substance Abuse Counselor, it is this very question we ask ourselves that may classify us as being alcoholics. When asked by clients ‘Am I an alcoholic?,’ Nelson’s response was “Do you think ‘normal’ drinkers ask that question?”

Nelson goes on to say that “Only alcoholics understand what ‘normal’ drinkers are. They’re the ones that walk into a bar, order a drink and leave an hour later with half the drink still in the glass.” Does this sound like you? Or do you stay and have a couple more leaving nothing in your cup? Do you think this is normal? Nelson would say no.

Alcoholism has many faces and we can’t ignore the health effects of alcoholism being more prominent in individuals of low socioeconomic status. That’s just one statistic from one study so please don’t ignore that alcoholism is everywhere. Alcoholism is not just the fall down scruffy looking drunk guy in a bar and it’s not a group of laborers that just finished their day at a local factory. Alcoholism is not exclusive to Frank Gallagher of the hit Showtime series Shameless. The Institute of Alcohol Studies actually suggests that individuals in high-income earning managerial positions are more likely to drink regularly and above recommended levels during the week.

Let’s put it to the test…

If you use alcohol enough, you’ve probably been ‘yelled at’ for something alcohol related. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol-related accidents costed $44 billion in the United States in 2014. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself if you depend on alcohol, or if your alcohol use has become problematic? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders would find reason to believe you have Alcohol Use Disorder if you meet 2 of the 11 following criteria:

1. Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?

Ever go to a happy hour with co-workers for just one drink and find two hours later… a few drinks in… you’re still there? It is easy to tell ourselves that this is normal and we aren’t the only ones. And that is likely correct, you aren’t the only one. But does this behavior become acceptable because you are surrounded by others doing this same thing?

2. More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?

Let’s say you’re meeting an old friend for a drink and to catch up on old times. You’re friend orders you both one of your favorite glasses of wine. You’ve already told yourself that you’re just going to have one or two drinks as you have been drinking a lot lately and are trying to stay on the wagon. While your friend sips on their first glass you have already finished and are ready for the second. You wait painfully for your friend to finish ordering another. Is this normal behavior?

3. Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the after effects?

Many of us can probably say we have spent more time drinking than we like to admit at certain times in our lives. We rationalize with ourselves – what is a lot of time? Is it two days? Three? What it may come down to is how it’s affecting us? Do we get sick? Does it affect our relationships? Our work? It is important to take the time and recognize what drinking is doing to our lives.

4. Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?

Think of it like cigarettes – do you have to stop what you’re doing to have a drink? Is there an urge that is nagging you so much you can’t get through the day without a drink? Alcoholism is an addiction and cravings go hand and hand with addictions. Asking for help is the first step.

5. Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?

While all of these questions are important to our health and our future when it comes to our alcohol intake, please take some time as you answer question number five. No one likes to think they are out of control and it is difficult to admit when we are. Once our drinking starts affecting our livelihood it is time to admit that we may need to make a change.

6. Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?

As mentioned above, when our loved ones begin to notice a problem, let them in. Let them help. Sometimes as much as we want to stop we just can’t. It may seem impossible but know that it is not.

7. Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?

Are you someone who used to play a sport but gave it up? Did alcohol have anything to do with why you gave it up? Did it start with stopping at the bar with teammates to celebrate a victory and then spiral from there?

8. More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?

Drinking and driving. It is well known that alcohol lowers our inhibitions and as such we are not as likely to make the sound and responsible decisions our sober selves may have made. If you answer yes to this question please seek help before you hurt yourself or others.

9. Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having a memory blackout?

According to the New York Times, “Alcoholism is not a form of depression, but both are quite common, and there is plenty of overlap between the two.” Sometimes it is hard to tell what is causing what. Is the depression causing the drinking? Is the drinking causing the depression?

10. Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?

Drinking to get drunk. Is this you? Have you ever uttered these words? You just don’t want to feel anymore. One drink isn’t going to do it. Is two? Three? Four? How much does it take to get to the desired state of mind?

11.Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

The most common psychiatric disorders that co-occur with alcoholism are depressive disorders and bipolar disorder, which are both under the mood disorder umbrella. Depressive disorders affect 6.7 percent of the United States population. Instead of walking you through another dry set of criterion for a depressive disorder, it’s safe to say if you are experiencing a recurring depressed mood, have lost interest in pleasurable activities and are drinking alcohol to excess, you may benefit from a formal evaluation.

Now What?

Moving away from the psychiatric disorders, don’t you want to know if you’re an alcoholic? The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) made a nifty questionnaire to help you take your first step toward a definitive answer. Some of the questions include:

-Do you drink heavily when you are disappointed, under pressure, or have had a quarrel with someone?

-Have you ever been unable to remember part of the previous evening, even though your friends say you didn’t pass out?

-Do you often want to continue drinking when your friends say you’ve had enough?

-Have any of your blood relatives had trouble with drinking?

The questionnaire is sure to disclaim that they are not giving official diagnoses but they sure did a great job of highlighting events that we’ve come to be comfortable with in movies, sitcoms and other portrayals of human interaction. I dare you to watch a major network on television for 2 hours and not see a depiction of one the above questions. We see signs of alcoholism in society everyday but we minimize it through statements such as ‘blowing off steam’ or ‘celebrating’.

In summary…

Don’t panic if you think you’re an alcoholic because you had one too many last night, or made a poor decision after a late night of drinking and showed up late to work the next morning. It’s possible you’re experiencing an underlying psychiatric disorder and you’re using alcohol to cope with that disorder. It’s also possible that you’re perfectly fine and simply drank irresponsibly.

Either way, you may have to improve your ability to cope with stressful life events. If you want to go to a professional, he or she can charge by the hour and sift through your mental health status and history, alcohol consumption, genetics and additional life domains and still end up with a chicken or egg situation. However, regardless of the cause, a trained professional can help you evaluate your drinking habits and assist with extinguishing the abuse.

Even when we think we are alone, there is always someone there to help. Sometimes it takes us being honest with ourselves to make the first steps towards getting help. It is never too late to make the healthy choice and always know you are not alone. You are not the first person who answered yes to two or more of the above questions and you certainly won’t be the last. As scary as it may be at first it’s your life, don’t you want to live it?

Naltrexone VS Acamprosate: Which Drug to Combat Alcoholism and When?

When it comes to stopping drinking, many different circumstances exist. Maybe it’s time to quit drinking. Maybe you’re drinking too heavily too often and you want to cut it back to a normal level. Maybe you’ve been clean for some time but you’re having cravings for alcohol. These are three completely different circumstances, and each should be handled in its own way.

So where do you turn? Your most likely first step is to enter yourself into an alcohol abuse treatment program. During this process, it’s almost guaranteed that medication assisted treatment will be an option. Only three FDA-approved drugs exist to combat alcoholism: naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. However, in the medical field, much debate exists as to which drug to use and under what circumstance.

(Note: Disulfiram strictly causes the body to respond negatively to alcohol. Drinking with disulfiram in the system produces a multitude of hangover-like effects, and is only used as a physical deterrent. In different ways, both naltrexone and acamprosate are used to reduce craving, block the effects of drinking, and ultimately lead to abstinence or responsible drinking. Therefore, in this article, disulfiram is minimally focused on.)

Determining which Medication to Use

In 2013, UK-based Drug & Alcohol Findings (DAF) performed an analysis of forty years’ worth of scientific studies regarding the naltrexone/acamprosate debate. The results have just recently been published. What this means is the DAF research team reviewed countless studies on each drug, all performed between 1970 and 2009. The team sought to find “which is best in which circumstances and for which treatment goals.”

In this article, we will compare the alcohol-dependence medications naltrexone and acamprosate, in order to establish a knowledge base. Then we will review the findings of the DAF analysis, regarding which medication to use and under which circumstance. Finally, we will discuss the current use of both medications, some alternatives, and the best overall methods of alcohol treatment per circumstance.

What are Naltrexone and Acamprosate?

Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors in the brain. This causes the effects of opioids such as heroin or OxyContin to be prevented and/or reversed. Such drugs are called opioid antagonists. It turns out that opioid antagonists are excellent at decreasing alcohol consumption, as reinforced by an Oxford study. What’s more, naltrexone “is probably the most thoroughly scientifically established adjunct in the alcoholism treatment field,” as quoted from the study. Naltrexone is sold under the brand names of Revia, Depade, and Vivitrol.

Acamprosate essentially resets the chemical imbalances caused by problematic drinking. Among many other things, alcohol abuse leads to an overabundance of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical produced by the brain that reinforces rewarding behavior, such as eating, exercising, or having sex, by creating feelings of joy. With prolonged alcohol abuse, the brain becomes used to extra dopamine, and eventually the drinker cannot feel that joy without alcohol.

This is the short story of what prolonged alcohol abuse does to your brain, and only one aspect of it. Multiple chemical imbalances occur in the brain because of alcohol abuse, and acamprosate can “restore the normal activity of glutaminergic neurons, which become hyperexcited as a result of chronic alcohol exposure,” according to the National Library of Medicine. Now, that’s a mouthful for laymen like yours truly, but basically this means acamprosate restores the balance of a pre-alcohol-soaked brain.

So, while naltrexone blocks the effects of alcohol and reduces the craving for it, acamprosate resets the brain’s balance and promotes abstinence from alcohol.

The Drug & Alcohol Findings Study

The question remains of which medication to use and when. The Drug & Alcohol Findings (DAF) study, linked again here, determined just that. First and foremost, the researchers tested each medication against a placebo. Both were found to work much better than the placebo, and therefore both are legitimate treatments for alcohol abuse. What they discovered next contradicted previous knowledge regarding naltrexone and acamprosate.

Previously, three major-scale studies had been performed to determine when to use which of the two drugs. The first study, in 2003, found little difference between them, giving naltrexone “a slight edge in delaying a return to drinking…,” as stated in the DAF study. The second study, in 2006, concluded both drugs to be virtually ineffective, finding “no significant effects of either medication compared with a placebo…” and the third study, also in ’06, determined naltrexone to be more effective when accompanied by psychosocial therapy, such as by a treatment facility. The opposite was found for acamprosate.

Obviously these conclusions are all very different. The DAF researchers believe they have once and for all determined a correct conclusion. According to their study, “naltrexone should be considered for patients who want less often to drink heavily, while acamprosate is better for those who seek abstinence.” Furthermore, both medications are more effective for those who are detoxified of alcohol.

Perhaps nothing revolutionary has been discovered here, due to the fact that both medications are fairly safe. However, the results of the DAF study help narrow down which path to take according to circumstances. The results will quicken the process of medication assisted treatment for alcohol abuse.

The Results for Naltrexone

Prior to the DAF study, it was commonly believed that naltrexone and acamprosate were nearly interchangeable. This is not so. Naltrexone benefits those seeking to cut back their current drinking, whether aiming for abstinence or not. Also believed before this study was that naltrexone can and even should be taken by patients who are still drinking. However, “required abstinence before treatment was associated with greater abstinence during treatment and greater reductions in heavy drinking.”

In further contrast to popular belief, the DAF study found that naltrexone is less effective as part of an alcohol abuse treatment program if abstinence is the main goal. In other words, if naltrexone is to be used as part of a treatment program, it is more effective when the program does not focus on abstaining from drinking.

The Results for Acamprosate

Before the DAF study, acamprosate was considered to be inferior to naltrexone. However, if a patient’s situation calls for complete abstinence as opposed to curbing drinking, acamprosate is preferred. Also, similarly to naltrexone, it is best if a patient is detoxified from alcohol when using acamprosate. “Both seem more effective when participants are detoxified and abstinent when treatment begins,” says the DAF study.

It was also noted that in the case of acamprosate, it’s possible “these requirements [of abstinence] filter out less committed and motivated drinkers, leaving a sample more likely to comply with treatment…” This is not the case with naltrexone, since it has for decades been given to patients who continue drinking alcohol regularly.

Regarding using acamprosate as part of an alcohol abuse treatment program, the results are the same as with naltrexone. No clear evidence was found to suggest that psychosocial therapy improves or worsens its effects. However, there is a slight lean toward psychosocial therapy actually weakening both medications’ effects. As stated in the DAF study, “…neither medication needs therapy to succeed,” adding that both medications may work better “when not overshadowed by effective psychosocial approaches.”

Current Uses (and their Necessary Updates)

The current status of naltrexone is best summarized by Dr. Stewart Leavitt of SAMHSA, or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: “In brief, naltrexone is significantly beneficial in helping those patients who cannot remain abstinent to reduce their drinking behaviors, breaking the vicious, self-destructive cycle in alcoholics whereby one drink leads to another, and allowing more quality time for psychosocial therapy to be productive.”

However, the DAF study has revealed that naltrexone may be more effective when separated from therapy, and is very likely to be more effective when used by a detoxified patient.

The current status of acamprosate is not as straightforward. It is widely believed that more research must be done on the medication. However, acamprosate is being used. According to an article by Dr. Bankole Johnson published on UpToDate, acamprosate is able “to reduce alcohol consumption compared with placebo in patients with alcohol dependence.” The major difference is how acamprosate achieves this. Yes, the drug seems to rebalance the brain’s chemicals post-alcohol abuse, but as written in the Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory published by SAMHSA, “Although acamprosate’s mechanism of action has not been clearly established, it may work by reducing symptoms of postacute (protracted) withdrawal, such as insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness.”

However, the DAF study shows that acamprosate “has a better record at promoting abstinence than naltrexone,” and is much less effective at reducing craving. As opposed to using acamprosate to reduce alcohol consumption, patients are better off using it once they are detoxified, in order to balance the brain. The medical community knows acamprosate does this, but still isn’t 100% clear how.

What this Suggests

As mentioned before, only three medications are FDA-approved for use in combating alcohol abuse. Aside from naltrexone and acamprosate, there is disulfiram, which if you remember is basically a physical deterrent from alcohol. If you have disulfiram in your system and you consume alcohol, a list of unpleasant things begins happening to you. Due to its blatant effects, disulfiram is a much simpler medication than naltrexone or acamprosate. The use of disulfiram is a common option, and is very different from the other two medications. Regarding naltrexone and acamprosate, what the DAF study truly uncovered was a paradox.

The study provided more specific uses than previously realized for the medications. Simultaneously, the study showed that “there is no evidence-based way to tell which drug will work best for an individual patient, or if any will help at all.” As a matter of fact, only “1 in 7 or 1 in 8 trial participants would not benefit more than when prescribed an inactive placebo.” This means there is good news and bad news. The good news is that there are now more effective ways to use naltrexone and acamprosate. The bad news is obvious. Utilizing medication assisted treatment may still be a bit of a guessing game for a while.

Just because the DAF study found psychosocial therapy ineffective when combined with medication does not mean the practice should be stopped. After all, in the words of the study itself, “Despite contrary findings… it remains possible that in terms of absolute improvements, supplementing medication with therapy will gain the best outcomes for a patient.”

The Best Choice for You

Frankly, what’s best for you is up to you. There are several options. Seeking entry into an addiction treatment facility is always your best bet. There, you have all of your options open to you. Medication assisted treatment or not, the help received through a recovery program is invaluable. That being said, what options are there regarding medication, and should you or shouldn’t you accompany them with therapy?

naltrexone-studies

The above chart is provided by Drug and Alcohol Findings as part of a series on Naltrexone. Although the most successful method is using both medications at once with no therapy, none of the methods fall below a 55% success rate. However it cannot be ignored that use of a placebo is the least successful method.

It boils down to a personal choice. Whichever method works best for you, stick to it. Some people might not require psychosocial or psychological therapies in order to sober up, but medication seems to help all recovering alcoholics.

The bottom line is that detoxification is an absolute requirement. Whether you aim for abstinence or responsible drinking, if you are abusing alcohol and want to stop, you must detox. If anything, the DAF study has reinforced this.

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.

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.

Children of Alcoholics: The Effects & Coping with the Stress

Being the children of alcoholics, (a COA), can be extremely stressful. Your parent(s) may get angry a lot, may threaten you, may forget lots of things, and may even abuse you. The important thing to know is that there is help, and that you are not alone. We will discuss some of the possible effects of being the child of an alcoholic, as well as some methods for coping with the stress it brings.

Approximately 18.25 million people are children of alcoholics, and these children are 4 times as likely to become addicted than children of non-addicts. Every second, two babies are born to addicted parents. One last fact: 43% of adults have been exposed to alcoholism in their lives. Alcoholism is a pervasive disease and understanding what having alcoholic parents means and how to deal with it is crucial.

Effects of Being Children of Alcoholics

Children of alcoholics are at higher risk than others for emotional issues. Obviously everyone will have his or her own personal experience, but there are some common effects of being a COA. Shame is commonly felt, especially if the child is hiding the parental alcoholism. The child may feel embarrassed of the parents, and this may cause the child to lie or even develop a story to explain it. Guilt is also commonly felt by children of alcoholics, but it is very important to realize and remember that it is not the child’s fault, regardless of what may be said.

Other effects of having alcoholic parents include feeling angry, feeling depressed, falling behind on schoolwork, feeling stressed, and feeling alone/reclusive. These emotions are unhealthy but justified. If you are the children of alcoholics and you feel any of these things, do not blame yourself. You are not meant to carry this on your own.

How to Deal with Alcoholic Parents

If possible, talk to your parents. Let them know how you’re feeling. An alcoholic trapped in the depths of the addiction may not even realize what they’re doing to their loved ones. Maybe even encourage them to not drink or to drink less. If it’s not possible to talk to them, try talking to a friend or to a counselor. Most schools offer counseling, and there are also plenty of support groups available. Al-Anon is an organization that helps the family and friends of alcoholics “find understanding and support” through meetings. A branch of Al-Anon known as Alateen is designed specifically for children of alcoholics.

Sometimes alcoholic parents can be so harsh that more than talking is required. If you are being abused, get out. Call 911 or someone you know and love that can help you. Even threats of abuse are taken very seriously. That being said, if talking simply won’t work, and your parents are not a threat to you, get out of the house. From moving in with a different relative to joining a club, the less time you spend at home right now, the better.

It’s up to the parent.

The bottom line is that it’s on the parent or parents to curb their drinking and get the help they need. You can talk with them, cope with them, beg them and cry, but until they want to stop drinking, they won’t. Talk to them. Talk to friends and other family. Talk to counselors. Even host an intervention, if need be. The goal is to get your parents to understand what their alcoholism is doing to the family.

For young children of alcoholics, click here for a do-and-don’t list regarding coping. For some helpful tips on dealing with alcoholic parents, click here.

 

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