Minding Your Mental Health

 Section II - Mental Health Topics

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Alcohol Problems

Alcohol problems include alcohol abuse and/or dependence. Alcohol abuse is the repeated use of alcohol that results in daily living problems. Examples include:

bullet Failing to fulfill work, academic or home duties
bullet Getting arrested for drunk driving, disorderly conduct, etc.
bullet Having relationship problems such as arguments or physical fights

Alcohol dependence, also known as alcoholism, is a disease. It includes four symptoms:

bullet Cravings: A strong need or compulsion to drink
bullet Loss of control: The inability to limit drinking on any given occasion
bullet Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking
bullet Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to “get high”
Alcohol dependence is alcohol addiction.

A tendency to become alcoholic is increased if family members are alcoholic. Men and women are about four times more likely to become alcoholic if one of their parents was and ten times more likely if both parents were. Environmental factors also play a role. For example, the more a person drinks, the greater the risk. Also, being able to consume a lot of alcohol (having a high tolerance) is a risk factor, not a safeguard, for alcoholism.

Alcoholism affects the alcoholic’s physical health, emotional well-being and behavior. Alcohol abuse and/or dependence can develop in several ways:

bullet Drinking in excess on an almost daily basis
bullet Drinking a lot at certain times, such as partying every weekend
bullet Binge drinking after long periods of not drinking
bullet Drinking infrequently, but with loss of control over drinking and/or behavior problems while drinking
bullet Drinking which in some way has a negative impact on the person who drinks and other people

Physical Effects of Alcohol

bullet Can impair mental/physical reflexes
bullet Can increase the risk of diseases, such as cancer of the brain, tongue, mouth, esophagus, larynx, liver and bladder, cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis, ulcers, gastritis and brain damage when used heavily. It can also cause heart and blood pressure problems.
bullet Can lead to malnutrition
bullet Is known to cause birth defects

Emotional and Behavioral Effects of Alcohol

bullet May cause someone to do things they might not do otherwise, such as driving at dangerous speeds or other daredevil acts.
bullet May result in anger, violent behavior or depression which can intensify as more alcohol is consumed. Can result in suicide or physical and sexual assaults.
bullet May result in memory loss, the ability to concentrate and problems in other intellectual functions.
bullet Can make family life chaotic. The divorce rate is seven times higher among alcoholics. Also, children of alcoholics often have emotional problems lasting into adulthood.
bullet Often results in decreased work or class attendance and performance, as well as, problems in dealing with co-workers or other students.


bullet Self-help groups such as:
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Rational Recovery (RR)
  • Women for Sobriety (WFS)
  • Men for Sobriety (MFS)
  • Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)
bullet Alcohol treatment programs. Many types exist:
  • Outpatient treatment is held in hospitals, clinics or other alcohol rehabilitation centers. It focuses on education and is often set up in a group format. Substance abuse counselors, psychologists, social workers, etc. staff this type of treatment, which generally lasts from 6-10 weeks.
  • Day treatment programs involve a person checking into a facility all day, but going home at night. Individual and group therapy, as well as, education are provided. This type of treatment is suitable for persons with more severe problems than can be helped by outpatient programs. It is less costly than inpatient treatment.
  • Psychotherapy which can be individual, family and/or group therapy
  • Inpatient treatment is usually a 14 to 28 day stay in a hospital or other residential treatment facility. The focus of treatment is to rehabilitate the person to be a non-alcohol user. This is done through education, individual and group therapy.
  • “Aftercare” eases the person back into the “real world” through individual counseling, group therapy and support group meetings, such as AA, after inpatient or outpatient treatment is finished. This can last one year. The person continues with individual and group therapy and support group meetings, such as AA.

Two prescription medicines are available to help in treatment. One called Naltrexone, blocks the craving for alcohol and the pleasure of getting high. Another one, called Antabuse, causes physical reactions, such as vomiting when drinking alcohol. Antabuse is rarely used.

Questions to Ask

Have you had memory lapses or blackouts due to drinking?

Yes: See Physician or See Counselor

(Note: "Counselor" in this section may also refer to self-help support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)


Do you continue to drink even though you have health problems caused by alcohol?

Yes: See Physician or See Counselor



Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted for a couple of days?

Yes: See Physician or See Counselor



Do you get withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, chills, shakes and a strong craving for alcohol and, as a result, drink more to get rid of these symptoms?

Yes: See Physician or See Counselor



Do you take part in high risk behaviors, such as unsafe sex in a non-monogamous relationship or driving a boat or car when under the influence of alcohol?

Yes: See Physician or See Counselor



Has drinking caused trouble at home, at school, at work and/or with relationships with others?

Yes: See Physician or See Counselor



Do you have to drink alcohol for any of the following reasons?

  • To get through the day or unwind at the end of the day
  • To cope with stressful life events
  • To escape from on-going problems
Yes: See Physician or See Counselor



Do any of the following things apply to you?

  • You hide your drinking from others and/or lie about your alcohol use
  • You wish others would stop nagging you about your alcohol use
  • You have switched from one kind of drink to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk
  • You’ve had to have an early morning drink to get going
  • You envy people who can drink without getting drunk
  • You have tried to get extra drunk at a party because you didn’t think you got enough to drink
  • You feel that your life would be better if you didn’t drink
Yes: See Physician or See Counselor





bullet Cut down on partying.
bullet Know your limit and stick to it or don’t drink any alcohol.
bullet Drink slowly. You are apt to drink less.
bullet Pour less alcohol and more mixer in each drink.
bullet Alternate an alcoholic beverage with a non-alcoholic one.
bullet Eat when you drink. Food helps to slow alcohol absorption.
bullet Don’t have any alcohol if you are pregnant.
bullet Talk to people who will listen to your feelings and concerns without putting you down.
bullet Find ways to calm yourself other than with alcohol. Examples include hobbies, relaxation exercises, physical activities, music, movies, etc.
bullet Realize that if you are a parent, you are a role model for your children. They learn what they see. When you drink, do so responsibly.
bullet Don’t mix drinking with driving, drugs or operating machines. Doing so can be fatal.
bullet Don’t rely on coffee or fresh air to make you sober. Even though you see these things done on TV, they won’t make a person sober.
bullet Use the Now Awareness Technique. This technique was developed by a Twelve Step program and is used to rid yourself of thoughts about drinking. When a desire to drink comes to mind, distract yourself by saying out loud or silently: “Now I am aware of __________,” and finish the sentence by naming any objects that you can see. For example, if you were sitting at your desk, you might say: “Now I am aware of the monitor;” “Now I am aware of the clock,” etc. Keep this up until your urge to drink passes.
bullet Contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at work or student counseling center for information and other suggestions.

What You Can Do for a Friend or Relative

bullet Encourage them to seek professional help and/or join a support group. Reassure them of your support.
bullet Have phone numbers handy for places or people they can call to get help.
bullet Attend a support group with or without your friend or relative to learn about alcoholism. Examples are:
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Women for Sobriety
  • Men for Sobriety
  • Rational Recovery
  • Al-Anon or Alateen which are designed for the persons affected by someone else’s drinking, not for the alcoholic.
  • Look for local chapters of these groups in your phone book under “Alcohol.” (See also “National Resources”)
bullet Avoid codependent behavior. Do not lie or otherwise make excuses for your friend or relative’s problems that arise from their drinking. Seek help if you find that you are behaving this way.
bullet Don’t allow your friend or relative to drive when they have been drinking. Insist on driving yourself, if you are sober, or find another safe passage home. Refuse to be a passenger of someone who has been drinking.
bullet Take the following actions once your friend or relative is getting help and recovering from alcoholism:
  • Don’t keep liquor, wine, beer and drugs in the home. Drugs include mood altering medicines such as sleeping pills.
  • Encourage your friend or relative to go to their support group meeting or place of treatment.
  • Go to as many meetings or counseling sessions that are open to you as you can to gain understanding.
  • Encourage your friend or relative to stay away from people or places they associate with drinking or taking drugs (past or present).

Copyright 2004, 5th Edition, American Institute for Preventive Medicine. All rights reserved.