Alcohol Addiction - Are You an Alcoholic?

Are you an Alcoholic or Addicted to Alcohol?

Nearly 20 million people in the United States may be said to abuse alcohol, or to be an alcoholic. The World Health Organization estimates that over 140 million people worldwide are afflicted by alcohol dependence. The condition (whether you believe it to be a disease or not) is progressive. A drinker may start out "abusing" alcohol, and then end up dependent on it over time. Alcoholism strikes more men than women: 5-10% of the male population have a drinking problem, whereas only 3-5% of females do.

Generally, if you are a man, you should consume no more than 3 drinks a day, or 14 drinks total a week. More than that, and you may have a problem. For non-pregnant women, the limit is 2 drinks a day, or 12 drinks total a week. These are very generous numbers. If you are pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, there is no known safe limit of alcohol. You should completely abstain.

What if there is no family history? Are you immune? Absolutely not! Alcoholism or alcohol dependency can arise in any person. There may be a genetic link; that is, some people may be more predisposed to addiction. On the other hand, simply because no one else in your family has been diagnosed with the condition does not mean that you will not be either. The better question is: "Do I have any of the symptoms (set forth to the right)?" If you exhibit two or more of these signs, you are advised to discuss matters with your doctor to see if treatment should be pursued.

Do you wonder if you drink too much alcohol? Have you had enough?
Do you wonder if you drink too much alcohol? Have you had enough?

If You Have to Ask, You May be an Alcoholic

One of the most obvious red flags is if you have to ask yourself, am I an alcoholic? If so, you may already be an alcoholic.

You can try to deceive yourself that you are not hurting anyone when you drink. However, excessive alcohol consumption leads to many lost days of work due to hangovers and other ailments. Moreover, drunk drivers are exceptionally dangerous, particularly if they are not caught. To reach the legal limit of 0.08 blood alcohol limit, it takes only 2 drinks for women and 3 drinks for men, over a 2-3 hour period. Finally, the cost of drinking regularly and frequently adds up quickly. Expect anywhere from $100-200/week, or more, just for booze. Add in medical costs, lost work time and -God forbid - legal costs, and you could be out quite a bit of "pocket change.

If you do not wish to see your medical doctor, then there are a number of self-help organizations, including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Women for Sobriety (WFS) that you may join for assistance. Most recovering addicts will tell you not to try to get sober alone. Be prepared to attend frequent meetings, in person and/or online.


Stages of Alcoholism

Because it can be difficult to distinguish the "heavy social drinker" with the alcohol abuser or alcoholic, a test has been developed by psychologists, commonly known as the "CAGE" questionnaire. Two "yes" responses indicate a need for further investigation:

  1. Have you ever felt you needed to Cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt Guilty about drinking?
  4. Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning (Eye-opener) to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

There are generally three stages of alcoholism, early, mid and end-stage. The rate of progression is individualized. One person may quickly advance to end-stage, while another may remain in an early stage for many years, or even decades.

Early: Moving beyond the "normal" range of number of drinks per day or week, this person is drinking to escape from problems or to get relief. They may begin thinking about alcohol more often. Tolerance may increase, which means that it takes more for the person to feel the effects of drinking alcoholic beverages.

Mid-Level: Drinking becomes more frequent and earlier in the day. Tolerance actually decreases because the alcoholic's body is losing the ability to process alcohol as it once did. If the person does not drink, withdrawal symptoms are noticeable, if not severe. Blackouts occur regularly. It is difficult for the person and everyone around him or her to deny what is occurring.

End-Stage: The alcoholic thinks of little else. Organs are seriously comprised, as is the immune system. Everything seems to be breaking down as the affected person is probably unable to hold a job, pay bills or do little else at this point. Eventually, if untreated, death will result. It is not surprising to see suicide, accidents or serious nutrition deficiencies (basically starving themselves to death).

Quit Drinking Now

Some of the Signs of Alcohol Abuse

1. Drinking alone

2. Making excuses, finding excuses to drink

3. Daily or frequent drinking needed to function

4. Inability to reduce or stop alcohol intake

5. Violent episodes associated with drinking

6. Drinking secretly

7. Becoming angry when confronted about drinking

8. Poor eating habits

9. Failure to care for physical appearance

10. Trembling in the morning

11. Wondering if you have a problem

12. Inability to recall the previous night's actions or discussions

13. Uncontrollable cravings

14. Having to drink more and more to get a "high"

Risk Factors for Alcoholism

Not everyone who drinks alcohol will become an alcoholic. However, some people with a predisposition to the condition may quickly develop an addiction after only a few episodes of drinking.

Scientists are studying a genetic link to what they have determined to be a disease of alcoholism. Other factors include social environment (think college fraternity parties) and mental health. Some people with undiagnosed conditions such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression may self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs.

The bottom line is that, even though genetics account for 50-60% of the cases of alcoholism, an astounding 40-50% are the result of other factors.

For a sad, true story of the effects of family alcoholism, read my fellow hubber, In the Doghouse's story here.

The earlier a person starts drinking, the higher the risk of alcoholism. Those that start imbibing by age 16 or earlier are at much greater risk than those that wait before enjoying an alcoholic beverage until a later age.

Sobering Statistics about Alcohol Addiction
Sobering Statistics about Alcohol Addiction

End the Cycle of Addiction

Break free from the cycle of alcohol addiction
Break free from the cycle of alcohol addiction

Medical Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

The odds are in your favor if you seek help. Of those that try to quit drinking on their own, 4% are successful a year later. With treatment, the number climbs to 50%!

If you or your loved one has been heavily drinking on a regular basis, supervised detoxification may first be necessarily. This can take up to a week. Tremors and seizures will need to be managed.

  • Antabuse (disulfiram): This drug will not stop the urge to drink, but will result in a severe physical reaction when the patient does drink alcohol. Vomiting, flushing and illness will result soon afterwards. As a result, a deterrent effect is achieved. This is one of the first drug treatments used for alcoholism. Today, it is not used as frequently, except as a treatment of last resort. Severe side effects can result with combinations of other drugs, including (of course), alcohol.
  • Naltrexone: Blocks the high associated with drinking. Over time, the patient does not desire to continue consuming alcohol. This drug is considered much safer than Antabuse. Marketed under the trade name, Vivitrol, it is taken by injection and lasts up to 30 days. It may also treat cocaine addictions and help patients stop smoking cigarettes.
  • Campral (acamprosate): Anti-craving medicine, and one of the most recently approved medications for alcoholism. This drug is said to restore the balance of chemicals in the brain that have become unbalanced through alcohol abuse. Taken by pills in a variety of dosages, prescribed by your doctor, it can be taken even while drinking. It is best used while in a support treatment system that includes counseling.
  • Topamax (topiramate): Usually prescribed for migraine headaches. This drug is not FDA-approved for alcoholism, but it is showing promise in trials in reducing cravings, withdrawal symptoms and the potential for relapse. There are some side effects and more studies to follow. Read more here.

Despite the availability of drugs to help a recovering addict, none of these are a "magic bullet." In other words, long-term therapy will usually be required. The alcoholic will have to work to resist cravings when they arise. Triggers cannot be quashed with medication.

How much alcohol are you drinking? Are you really only having "one or two?"
How much alcohol are you drinking? Are you really only having "one or two?"
The alcoholic literally is not in his or her right mind
The alcoholic literally is not in his or her right mind
At an alcoholics support meeting
At an alcoholics support meeting

Group Therapy or Counseling for Alcoholism

Wouldn't it be nice if you could just pop a pill and the drinking would be gone? Well, think again. The potential for relapse is so much higher if you go it alone, either "white knuckling" it, or with medication. You will need to try to get at the root of the drinking with professional therapy. A counselor and/or group therapy that will provide support and to whom you will have to answer should provide better results long term.

Start with your medical doctor, if you wish and ask for a referral to a qualified counselor. If that does not appeal to you, AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) can be found in virtually every community in the United States and in many other developed countries in the world. There are other groups that have sprung up that are similar to AA, with different philosophies (i.e. - we are not "powerless" over alcohol), or that cater to a specific population (i.e. women). Women for Sobriety has a wonderful North American presence, with an active forum, posts and chats every night of the week. Check out SMART recovery, or Rational recovery as alternatives. NOTE: I am not endorsing any of these alternatives! The one thing I will say, however, is that I do not believe in "Moderation Management."

Do you need to check into rehab? Only your doctor can answer that question. That said, I understand that the primary benefit that inpatient rehab offers is supervised detoxification. If you do not need that service, then you may be able to start your journey to sobriety in an outpatient setting through any of these groups discussed above, or through a rehab facility without having to pay the very high cost of actually checking in for 30 or more days. Discuss this matter with your doctor before making the final decision though.

You have probably already waited too long to start your new sober life. Pick up a book, check into some of these options and get rid of all the alcohol in your house (booze makes a great drain cleaner!) I wish you all the best.

More by this Author


Comments 46 comments

Chef Jeff profile image

Chef Jeff 8 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

A powerful hub and topic! I've had friends who are recovering alcoholics, and other friends who denied their alcoholism. Musical friends of mine get off work Friday afternoon and stay drunk 24/7 over the weekend, call in sick on Monday and they do this every week!

They keep drinking Monday-Friday as well, right after work. I think their livers are now officially larger than their brains, and they vehently deny they are alcoholics!

Sad, sad thing to be brought so low when there is so much help out there to bring one back from the abyss.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Ah, Jeff - thank you for weighing in. It is sad to see it happening and to feel helpless in a way. There are endless resources out there. One cannot say, "I don't like AA," because there are lots of alternatives. Something horrible may happen one of these days. You hate to think it, but it could. Thank you for sharing. Steph


cailin gallagher 8 years ago

Thank you for this informative and easy-to-read article on alcoholism. My step-father was an alcoholic. I was able to see first hand the devastating effects of this disease.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Cailin. I hope it helps even a few people.


In The Doghouse profile image

In The Doghouse 8 years ago from California

Steph,

A fantastic Hub on Alcholism! Wow! is all I can say... I hope you don't mind, I have linked to it from my Hub on Alcholism and Irish Ancestry. This is such a great source of information! Good job as always.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you! I will go check out your hub, Doghouse and link to it too. Many alcoholics that I know...


Minnie's Mom profile image

Minnie's Mom 8 years ago from Seattle, WA

I spent alot of time in my younger days going to Al-Anon meetings because I needed to share my experience with my father's alcohol addiction.  I needed help understanding and got strength and hope from the meetings.  Hubs weren't around then so meetings were the next best thing.  Thank you so much for always writing about topics that need to be said and doing it so well.


In The Doghouse profile image

In The Doghouse 8 years ago from California

BTW...Dugg, Stumbled, and Thumbs UP! Way to go!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Minnie's Mom and Doghouse - thank you. I am very humbled.


blangrehr profile image

blangrehr 8 years ago from Spartanburg SC

Great Hub, I am an alcoholic and the only thing I can add is that relapse is part of recovery. Battles maybe lost but the war never ends.

Thanks for caring,

Blangrehr.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Blangrehr - thank you! You are right. It is not about whether you relapse, but what you do about it. Keep up the fight! Thank you for sharing.


Daniel Pyle 8 years ago

Steph,

As a recovered alcoholic I enjoyed the hub. The road is not always easy. It seems that there is a misunderstanding by some that this is just a personal choice which at the beginning it most certainly is. Alcoholics are people who have lost their choice in drink. Understanding is only the first part of the first step in recovery. My best regards to anyone who can remain drinking and not have a problem. I drank all the fun out of it along with several families and friends as well. I heard this once and see if it fits. Every time I took a drink out of the bottle the bottle took a gulp out of me. Thanks for the hub.

Daniel


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Daniel, thank you for sharing your story and comments. I think you are right that alcoholics struggle with the ability to decide whether or not to drink. The compulsion is very high once addiction sets in. All the best to you in your recovery! Steph


christinekv profile image

christinekv 8 years ago from Washington

Another important topic and well done Steph!

What you included from the Institute of Medicine and Natl Academy of Science are sobering stats.

I started drinking pretty young and found myself intoxicated several times even before my sixteenth birthday. With my history, I'm amazed I'm not an alcoholic. My grandparents were for sure and whether my dad was or not, is validly questionable. In my 20's there were several times I blacked out. The fact that I am able to enjoy a glass of wine or two (in a day), anywhere from 1- 3 days a week and stop there....with my history, I'm amazed I'm not an alcoholic. I give God all the Glory.... the fruit of the Spirit being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfullness, gentlness, and SELF CONTROL. Not to say that since I've become a Christian, I've never had a little too much during a special occasion (such as at a wedding). It's been known to happen on a few occasions over the past 9 plus years! But being sloppy and unhealthy is definitely a thing of the past!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Christine, Many of us overdid it in the past, and were able to put the brakes on it (college anyone??!) But you are right - with your history, it could have easily gone the other way. You are so lucky and fortunate to be able to enjoy a reasonable amount and stop. Thank you for sharing your experiences! Best, Steph


jacobworld profile image

jacobworld 8 years ago from Ireland

I come from a families that had problems before with alcohol so we will c.


vrajavala profile image

vrajavala 8 years ago from Port St. Lucie

good hub steph


Lifebydesign profile image

Lifebydesign 8 years ago from Australia

really well researched Steph! REally like the CAGE - reminds me of someone somewhere saying that when you had to start having 'rules' about a behaviour like "I wont have my first drink until after lunch" then its a good sign...


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

thanks for the comments, jacobsword, vrajavala and lifebydesign. "Rules" about behavior is a great indicator!


Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 8 years ago from Northam Western Australia

Stephhicks, Thank you for this great hub. There are so many people suffering the same problem and most do not either know it or will not admit it.

I believe my son is one of them, and we think he has an allergy to wheat. It causes him to have a reaction. But no way will he stop drinking. Thanks for sharing


John Chancellor profile image

John Chancellor 8 years ago from Tennessee

Very important information. Because it is legal, I think most people do not realize that alcohol is a mind altering drug and should be viewed as such.

While you point out the cost of alcohol abuse, most people are in a state of denial about the true cost which goes well beyond the lost work and wrecked cars and into wrecked lives, marriages, families and careers.

Good job.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Eileen, I am so sorry to hear this. I pray that one day your son will tire of the reactions and grief that this condition is causing him and seek help (sooner rather than later). Have you considered Al-Anon? Thank you for reading and commenting.

John, I so agree. That is one of the biggest stumbling blocks - the legality of being able to drink (at least after age 21). Denial, of course, is a primary factor in continuing the abuse. Hey, I'm not causing any problems.... but go ahead and ask your wife, your husband, your kids, your boss, your neighbors, etc.


lady luck profile image

lady luck 8 years ago from Boston

Very thorough hub. My mother was an alcholic and I didn't really realize it until my adult years. the symptoms of alcholism are extremely easily masked, and unfortunately, society is pretty accepting of drinking to socialize and be cool.*SIGH*Personally, I try to stay away from Booze, i blow up like a blimp, plus, i have an addictive personality.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Lady Luck - thank you so much for sharing your experiences! I think that is the most vexing thing about drinking/alcoholism. Its legal, and it can be masked. Good for you for staying away. You have a great excuse... sorry, can't drink! LOL. :-)


compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

Excellent hub stephchick which will hopefully be a lifesaver to many if they just listen to you and implement!!

I know a few people who have died from alcohol related incidents, from falling over, car crash and a fight which was because of alcohol!!...I'm sure if they never died this way other alcohol related diseases would more than likely have taken them away later!!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Compu-Smart, yes! So true. Alcohol changes the person we are. Fights and other stupid things would not happen as often if we're not drinking. I am so sad that you lost people you know this way. Thanks for reading and leaving such an important comment.


evemurphy profile image

evemurphy 8 years ago from Ottawa

I know this sounds really naïve, but they should make it illegal to drink for everyone, because I have personally never known a single person who's behaviour was "improved" by drinking! It's a horrible thing to see people 'morph' under the infuence! :0

thanks for important hub!


CJStone profile image

CJStone 8 years ago from Whitstable, UK

First class hub stephhick. I've had my own struggles with that particular demon. You know there's a problem when there's no sense of pleasure in it at all, just the obligation to drink. Here in the UK pubs are very expensive, while cans from the supermarket are very cheap, which is an encouragement to drink at home. And I agree with evemurphy, at least in this sense, that drink is AS addictive, As powerful, and AS potentially destructive as any of the illegal drugs.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

CJ, I completely agree that alcohol is right up there with illegal drugs. People abuse it and it destroys families just like heroin, meth, cocaine and more. That is very disturbing about the fact that drinks are so expensive in pubs in the UK, but cheap at the stores. I can see how it encourages solitary drinking - a dangerous, slippery slope. Thanks for the comment!


Tootsie 8 years ago

Steph, great information! Your article is very well researched and presented.

In regard to the comment by blangrehr, "relapse is part of recovery", I'd like to say that it doesn't have to be. True, it is common for many to have relapses before achieving lasting sobriety, but not everyone has relapses. I was one of those who did.

That said, I disagree that "relapse is part of recovery". Quite the opposite, replase is in contradiction to recovery. Relapse is part of addiction, not recovery. If one is relapsing they are feeding the problem, not the solution. Until one is willing to push through urges to indulge in their addictive substance, and through the difficult and painful experiences in their lives, SOBER, no matter what it takes, they will continue to relapse.

The key with relapse is in taking the time to figure out why it happened. What thoughts and choices led up to it. What lesson can be learned from it that will help prevent future ones. "Prepare or Repair" is a quote I heard on TV about a completely different topic, but it certainly applys with this one.

Relapse doesn't "just happen". It is within our power to prevent them. Unfortunately, many don't get another chance to try again.

Thanks again for your informative message.

Tootsie


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Tootsie, I really appreciate your comment here! And relapse does not have to be part of recovery! In fact if you believe that in your heart, you are almost giving yourself permission to relapse! Of course, if it does happen, you must get right back up and examine what led up to it, as you have pointed out so well. Alcoholism is a cunning condition/disease.


Creepy 8 years ago

Great information, I've read some things that I actually didn't know ... and iI think that this will help me a lot to help people. Thank you. What I always say "avoiding is always better the healing".


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Creepy! Yes, it is best (IMO) for alcoholics and other addicts to simply stay away 100% from the substances. There cannot be true moderation when one has an addiction. Thank you for the comment - Steph


dadsgirl 8 years ago

Hi. My dad is soon to b 87, and has been a "functioning alcoholic" for as long as I can remember. He was drinking about 4 drinks a day for the past few years, starting about noon. He was totally lucid, and said he drank for the arthritis in his back. He has always been a strong man, mind and body. His doctor told him to quit drinking, and he did....at home, without any medical help. I didn't know about this until my mom told me he was being "weird" and complaining that he didn't know "what was going on". Then mom told me he'd quit drinking about two weeks prior. Wow. I told mom that he was probably experiencing the DT's and having anxiety. Poor guy. Well, the doc said to take him to detox, which we did (isn't that about 2 weeks too late???), and they sent him home 3 days later. One week later to the day, he was having such horrible anxiety, that they sent him back out to rehab this time, putting him through rigourous AA meetings for hours (literally) a day. He is not a skid row drunk, nor did he ever cause problems to anyone around him, he just simply sipped on drinks throughout the day, and stayed pretty normal, seeming very sober. I know he is an alcoholic, but at this age, why put him through so much? He is now in the pysch ward, being treated for severe depression, as he is suicidal at this point. He thinks he is a burden to us. What can I do to help him get through this? I am not knocking AA or anyone who is alcoholic (my husband is alcoholic, and been sober for 13 years, without AA), as I know AA has helped millions of people recover. But, my dad needed to be treated medically, not with AA at the point that they'd sent him to rehab. I'm so worried that I'm going to lose my dear old dad. What can be done to help him at this point? The doc's are really pissing me off and don't seem to understand that it is the quality of life at this point in time, not worrying about the alcoholism, as (like I said before) he wasn't causing anyone any problems, and now he seems to be slipping away.......


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Dadsgirl - Wow. I am not a medical doctor, and I do not volunteer for AA or other groups that help alcoholics. This article about alcoholism was written primarily from my personal experience with alcoholism in our family. In your situation, I would suggest getting a second opinion from another doctor or treatment facility with respect to your father. Only a doctor can say whether or not any level of continued drinking would be safe or advisable for your dad, given his age, health, anxiety/depression, etc. As the spouse of an alcoholic (and congrats to your husband for 13 years of sobriety!) you know that one cannot assume that drinking too much only harms the drinker. Just look at what your father's situation has done to your peace of mind. If properly treated, possibly with medication, your dad may be able to live his remaining years with full senses, appreciating the beauty of the world and his loving relationships. So, I would definitely see if there is another approach to his treatment - from other professionals. You also may do well by contacting an Al-Anon support group for those affected by alcoholism. I am very sorry to hear about your family's situation. I hope you are all able to find peace and resolution soon.


Williamjordan profile image

Williamjordan 7 years ago from Houston TX

Like what you are doing


anonymous 7 years ago

Hello, I'm doing a documentary on alcoholism and I wanted to know where you got all this information, so that I can cite it in my doc.


rjowais profile image

rjowais 6 years ago from New York

I am hubbing on alcoholism. Might find your comments useful if you give a visit. Thanks!


winterz 6 years ago

Thanks for all the info. I'm eleven months into my sobriety but I still read a lot about the subject and try to learn more. The more I know I think the less chance I'll ever go back to what I was.


manny75 4 years ago

Hi what happen all this years want beck drinking ? you can't stay sober without AA meeting I mean contented sobriety Good luck


SoberNation profile image

SoberNation 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Fl

Hey Steph. Great piece.... I like the "if you have to ask you probably are" lol..... Love the hubs by the way... please check mine out I'm a little new to hubpages.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi SoberNation - thank you for the comment. That question is sure to shake off a bit of the denial associated with alcoholism, right? LOL! Best, Steph


the girls profile image

the girls 4 years ago from Los Angeles, California

A topic close to my heart :-(


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Sorry to hear that! And know that you are definitely not alone. Hugs, Steph


ICarrie profile image

ICarrie 4 years ago from Georgia

Wow, I can't vote this hub up enough. Awesome hub! This subject hits very close to home for me. Addictions and addictive personalities run heavy in my family and by the grace of God I have been able to stay away from these habits as an adult. The hardest part of having a family member with this sickness...for me anyways...is confronting the person. Well that and also watching her body gradually but obviously give up. The topic cannot even be tolerated for a minute. It has been the start of many arguments in the past so I know just pray about it.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Carrie - thank you! We also have addictions galore in my extended family. I know what you mean about feeling helpless watching someone hurt themselves this way. Prayers and thoughts to you and yours. All the best, Steph

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