Is alcohol friend or foe? During this time of the year I take a more
focused look at alcohol and the impact it can have because April is
Alcohol Awareness Month. Alcohol, in itself, is not really the problem;
it is when someone abuses it or becomes alcohol dependent that it
becomes an issue. Many individuals use alcohol socially and if you are
over 21 it is legal to do so. Over the years I have heard many people
express confusion about what exactly is the difference between social
drinking and alcohol abuse.
Social drinking is when an individual consumes alcohol and there are no adverse or negative consequences as a result of their behaviors from drinking such as legal issues, relationship conflicts, hurting oneself or others, financial, work or school issues. Many people have used alcohol to acknowledge a celebration or for religious purposes. Social drinkers drink responsibly.
Social drinking is not getting intoxicated. The liver breaks down alcohol approximately one drink per hour and so in order to become intoxicated the liver has to be "overdosed" in order to feel the effects of intoxication and that has a negative impact on the body. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women (because women metabolize alcohol differently than men) and is not intended as a guide in order to drink daily.
I do not have any particular feelings about alcohol as friend or foe, one way or the other. I am more concerned with individuals who consume alcohol and have problems because of it. The purpose of establishing April as Alcohol Awareness Month is to provide education and raise awareness about the repercussions of excessive drinking. A report released by the NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) revealed there are an estimated 18,000,000 individuals with an alcohol disorder and a societal cost of over $225 billion per year. There are approximately 80,000 alcohol related deaths per year, and in comparison to breast cancer fatalities, which is about half of that, it clearly makes it a medical issue as well as a tremendous financial burden on our society.
The disease of alcoholism has a characteristic connected to it that is typically not associated with other illnesses and that is the issue of stigma. Many people view alcoholics as being weak-willed or having a lack of morals and common sense rather than being sick. This is because alcoholism so adversely affects the brain that unbelievable behaviors can manifest as a result of impaired thinking, which does not usually happen with other illnesses. Behaviors that make no sense and people tend to judge those actions rather than a person's intentions.
When teaching classes for individuals who have received two or more DWI's I will often pass out this poem that I ran across many years ago. It usually provokes some food for thought and can help one to understand that they are not a bad person, but that alcohol (when abused) can cause bad behaviors and create a variety of unwelcomed outcomes. It helps them anser the question is Alcohol - Friend or Foe?
Developing an understanding that there isn't a cure for addiction/alcoholism allowed me to stop searching for that "magic answer" that was going to make it all go away and things would go back to normal or that the person would be cured. The only way an addict or alcoholic makes a healthy lifestyle that can last is when they get ready to do what they need to do in order to make it happen. They may have to experience a lot of pain and misery, but most of time those are the experiences that motivate a person to change. With hard work and commitment recovery is possible, if they want it. In the meantime, the family member can learn to reclaim their lives and their happiness and they do not have to wait until the addict gets clean in order for that to happen.
People who have a serious drinking problem and the family members that are affected by it can relate to this poem. Luckily for us, in this day and age there is hope and there is help. How do you answer the question: Alcohol a Friend or Foe?
Angie Carter, CRADC, SAP is a certified reciprocal alcohol and drug counselor and DOT certified Substance Abuse Professional. She is in private practice at Carter Counseling & Consulting Services. Angie sees local clients in office and is also available for telephone coaching and/or consultation. Click here to contact Angie with appointment requests, questions, or feedback.