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Alcohol Dependence Therapies

Updated on June 2, 2008

ALCOHOL DEPENDENCE: Sufferings and Therapies

by Helen Borel, Ph.D.

The sooner individuals dependent on alcohol, and those genetically vulnerable to developing alcohol dependence, recognize their condition or propensity for it, the better. Such a realization and self-admission is essential to motivate people with alcohol-related physical illnesses and psychological sufferings to get themselves into treatment before any further damage can be done to these individuals' overall health. And EARLIER is ALWAYS BETTER.

Unfortunately, all too often, such people experience so much shame related to alcohol issues that this prevents or delays them from seeking the psychological and medical help they so desperately need and can greatly benefit from.

Alcoholism is a tragic disease that afflicts all ethnic groups, all religious persuasions and virtually all age groups. It is also a complex disease that invades both the physical and mental health of the alcoholic, as well as causing considerable distress and upheaval in the lives of the alcoholic's caring family and friends, and often negatively impacting relationships with concerned co-workers and employers.

Vulnerable Non-Drinkers Benefit from Psychotherapy

Adult children or grandchildren of alcoholics, although they do not appear to have the physical ravages of alcohol toxicity - such as liver disease or massive changes in brain activity - still require emotional treatment.

This is because - not only does one's family history of alcohol dependence suggest a strong vulnerability, or physical sensitivity to overuse of alcohol - it also means a child growing up in such households has been emotionally wounded by chaotic parental erratic behaviors, disruptive absences, violence, rages, or silent withdrawals leading to emotional neglect with psychological and relationship deficits.

Fortunately, such frightening and distressing experiences can be worked through and ameliorated with high quality psychotherapy.

And it's never your fault that you grew up in an atmosphere afflicted by alcohol dependence or with a non-drinking parent whose difficult personality was formed by his or her upbringing with your alcohol-afflicted grandparent. Working in psychotherapy sessions to help yourself recover from such psychological hurts will markedly increase your Self-confidence, improve your life relationships and will greatly boost your career growth.

Physical Dangers of Alcohol Dependence

Some of the physiologic consequences of alcoholism include cirrhosis of the liver, disease of the heart muscle, inflammation of the pancreas, and bleeding in the stomach and intestines. All are life-threatening at some point as alcohol excess progresses.

Since your liver is the major body organ responsible for detoxifying whatever enters your body, when it's hardened by the cirrhotic process it becomes progressively unable to rid your body of poisons. Moreover, cirrhosis is not necessarily the direct effect of alcohol overuse; however, alcohol-dependent individuals tend to lose their appetites, to eat poorly or miss some meals altogether, and therefore are lacking the vitamins and other nutrients essential to maintain healthy liver structure and function.

Early mortality from alcohol-induced heart disease is also a risk. As is death due to sudden hemorrhage from alcohol trauma to the gastrointestinal tract.

The pancreatitis of alcoholism, of course, can affect important body functions. Particularly worrisome would be its effect on glucose metabolism. Since the pancreas is the site of insulin production, alcohol-induced pancreatic disruption might create a diabetic state, where none existed before, further compromising the health of the alcoholic-dependent individual.

The brain, naturally, is also a target site for poisoning by chronic alcohol ingestion. Subtle and gross neurotransmitter (brain chemical) changes, as well as cerebral (brain) structural damage, grow progressively worse with ongoing alcohol overuse.

The GOOD NEWS is that all these negatives can be intercepted at any stage in the course of alcohol dependence. Still, THE EARLIER THE MEDICAL AND PSYCHOTHERAPEUTIC INTERVENTIONS, THE BETTER!

How to Recognize Alcoholism

- Drinking causing problems with family, school and work

- Risky behaviors like swimming or driving while drunk

- Drinking resulting in jail time or other legal troubles

- Drinking despite awareness of resulting problems

- Needing increasing alcohol amounts as time goes on

- Suffering withdrawal symptoms when not using alcohol, such as tremulousness, restlessness, excessive sweating, rapid heart beat, excessive anxiety

- Drinking or taking pills to ward off alcohol withdrawal symptoms (see above)

- Inability to cut down or quit drinking despite serious attempts to do so

- Abandoning once pleasurable activities to drink instead

- Large chunks of one's life spent drinking or emerging from drinking

- Continuing to drink despite physical and mental problems due to alcohol use

Other Related Warning Signs

- Loss of interest in most activities except drinking

- Frequent absences from work

- Anorexia, nausea, vomiting, jaundice (yellowing of skin and eye sclerae), abdominal pain, diarrhea and hemorrhoids

- Confusion, blackouts, insomnia

- Hypertension (high blood pressure)

- Dangerous rips in the esophagus (swallowing tube) from wretching and powerful vomiting

Inpatient Medical Care is Essential for Quitting Alcohol

Abrupt discontinuance of heavy alcohol use must be avoided at all costs because withdrawal symptoms can be severe and life-threatening. Your body habituated to the alcohol running around in your blood stream, afflicting your brain and other organs, cannot withstand its sudden absence, nor can your body's own healthy mechanisms and biochemicals recuperate to normalcy levels fast enough to rescue your life in the even you suddenly quit without assistance from RNs and MDs.

You require medical attention in a medical facility with medication that will counteract these effects once you are clearly motivated to quit drinking! And, to maintain a healthy state of sobriety and recovery, you require quality emotional therapy and the support of others who've been through what you've gone through.

The Value of Psychotherapy PLUS Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon

So, when your physical health is newly balanced, you will benefit greatly from the fellowship, empathy, buddy system, and friendly support of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) - a totally FREE, confidential fellowship with millions and millions of drop-in members all over the world. In fact, at any given hour, in any given city, you can find an AA meeting in synogogues, churches, schools, and other voluntary locations by merely checking your phone book and calling your local AA office.

No one will question or embarrass you. But a friendly staffer, possibly someone in recovery him- or herself, will give you the locations and schedules of nearby AA meetings. These meetings provide you with the strong support you need to help you more easily maintain your hard-won sobriety.

Individual psychotherapy is also essential to help you deal with emotional issues that may have led to your over-drinking, and to help you untangle the human relationship difficulties and job problems that alcohol dependence has burdened you with.

This is a treatable condition. And, like all other illnesses, it is not a reason to bury your life in shame. Instead, be proud of yourself as you contact a psychotherapist to heal yourself, and as you begin your AA fellowship journey to recovery and a new life.

Finally, vulnerable non-drinkers, and family members and friends of alcoholics, will benefit greatly from the also free-of-cost sister program well as from individual psychotherapy to help them cope with whatever complex issues have arisen in their own lives. Because you too need to take care of yourself while the alcoholic you love is learning new and healthy ways to cope with life. And you too can benefit from psychotherapy that will help you work through the distresses you've been through, a therapy that will focus on you and your own needs.

For more information about this or any other emotional health topic, email me at:


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