A staggering 14 million people experience alcohol dependency in the United States per year, and the impacts of alcohol disorders on our communities are palpable. Alcohol addiction has damaging effects that extend beyond the individual. It’s critical that we spread awareness about the resources available to those in need of recovery options.
In recognition of Alcohol Awareness Month, Steward spoke to Sharon Portillo, LCSW, Director of Behavioral Health at the Medical Center of Southeast Texas, about what we can do to address the stigma around alcoholism.
What are some usual warning signs for people struggling with alcoholism?
Alcoholism is an invisible disease that can be easily concealed, making it difficult to detect for both the individual and their loved ones. It is socially acceptable to drink, and many people use happy hours or other events as an excuse to indulge in alcohol. However, there are warning signs that can indicate an alcohol problem. One such sign is an inability to go out and socialize without alcohol. Individuals who require alcohol to function or feel anxious when there is no alcohol available may be struggling with alcoholism. Without the willpower to say no, those suffering from alcohol dependence may experience frustration or anger without access to alcohol. More physical withdrawal symptoms may include getting sick or nauseous and having a cold or fever.
What are some negative side effects of alcohol misuse?
The negative effects of alcohol misuse can be both short-and long-term. In the short term, alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, nausea, vomiting, and fevers can occur, supplemented with emotional symptoms including anger, frustration, and outbursts. Many people are also unaware that withdrawal symptoms from alcohol are more severe and result in a higher mortality rate than with other substances. In fact, depending on the facility, some detox centers cannot fully remove patients’ alcohol intake with such a high probability of death from withdrawal. Therefore, many treatment facilities slowly wean patients off the substance rather than removing intake entirely. Helping loved ones recover from alcohol withdrawals should be taken very seriously and monitored carefully.
In the long term, alcoholism can lead to broken relationships and have a negative impact on an individual’s workplace, ability to cope with stress, and connections with friends and family. DUIs and DWIs are also possible, which can result in serious consequences or even death. It’s important to remember that the disease doesn’t just affect one person but extends to everyone in their circle.
What are the most effective treatment options and/or where can people seek help?
Friends and families need to know about all the community support options available to their loved ones. Alcoholics Anonymous is a great resource that provides participants with sponsors and a built-in community for accountability and support. There are also licensed chemical dependency counselors, psychotherapists, and residential partial hospital therapy programs to supplement the recovery process. Some more intensive recovery options include Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) and Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs).
How can people with loved ones care for and support those with alcohol addiction or dependence?
Loved ones can join advocacy groups and share information about resources. Alcoholism can have traumatic effects on the family by creating a vicious cycle of neglecting themselves in an attempt to fix their loved one. It’s important to remember that the patient needs to have the willpower to heal before accepting help. In the interim, friends and families need to take care of themselves in order to support the patient through their recovery. The best thing they can do is empower the patient to make their own choices. Alcoholism does not stop at one person; it is a larger societal problem and can have damaging permanent effects on communities.
Sharon Portillo, LCSW
Director of Behavioral Health
Medical Center of Southeast Texas
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