According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 15.1 million people aged 18 or older is struggling with alcoholism. April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and this is the time to spread awareness on the addiction and reduce the stigma that surrounds it. We talked to Dr. John Bailey pain management physician and board certified addictionologist, about the impact of alcoholism.
Alcohol has a multitude of effects on the body, some of them are recognizable like slurred speech, and some are not. Dr. Bailey says, "On the positive side alcohol in small amounts can raise HDL, the 'good cholesterol' and may help ward off heart disease and strokes." However, as the quantity consumed increases, reaction time, thinking ability, judgment, memory, and balance become impaired. This increases the risk of car wrecks, falls and other accidents.
Longer term use can have profound physiological effects on virtually all organ systems. Examples of these are, liver problems leading to permanent scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), ulcers, inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis), cardiovascular problems leading to heart failure (cardiomyopathy), heart rhythm problems (holiday heart atrial fibrillation), nerve damage (neuropathies), and even brain dysfunction such as dementia.
Dr. Bailey says it is essential to understand that risks for these problems can vary from person to person depending on genetics, coexisting medical issues, and other medications that can interact with alcohol. Hundreds of medications interact with alcohol (sedatives, pain medications, blood thinners, blood pressure medication, etc.).
Addiction, in general, is heavily influenced by genetics though other factors play a part. Dr. Bailey says, in some, the genetic component is so active that even social drinking leads to abuse, while others are highly resistant. It is common to hear at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that virtually everyone in their immediate families develop problems with addiction, even if raised far apart in different families.
People who suffer from alcoholism should get help to stop drinking. There is no way to become only a social drinker or to "control it." If someone truly suffers from alcoholism, one has to abstain to stay sober. As they say in AA, once one becomes a pickle, one can never go back to being a cucumber again."
To overcome this compulsion, some can "stop" drinking when it is becoming a problem. Many, who have genetic vulnerability cannot and need help. AA can be an effective way to overcome alcoholism as AA provides support and guidance from others who have overcome addiction. However, AA is a way to maintain sobriety, and initial treatment is often best provided in more of a medical setting by addiction medicine specialists.
It is important to note though that some alcoholics are dealing with other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Dr. Bailey says alcoholism is a primary disease that needs to be treated by doctors that specialize in addiction medicine but mental health problems, if present, need to be addressed to avoid relapse.
For more information on Dr. Bailey or to schedule an appointment, click here.