Alcohol Abuse/ Alcoholism: Are You Just a ‘Social Drinker’? Think Again
Most people give little thought to their drinking habits — or the risks they pose to both themselves and others, although an estimated 3 out of every 10 U.S. adults drink at levels that increase their chance for alcoholism, liver disease and a host of other physical, mental health and social problems.
The problem is even more serious among minorities. Studies show that racial and ethnic populations are especially vulnerable to alcohol-related problems, and that African-American men experience higher rates of drinking consequences and alcohol-dependent symptoms than white men at the same level of consumption. Research from CDC also shows that alcohol plays a significant role in suicides among Hispanics and American Indians.

Now is a good time for all of us to think about how alcohol may be affecting our health. Even if we consider ourselves ‘social drinkers’ without a clear dependence, we may have a pattern of regular alcohol use – or abuse – that has a negative effect on our relationships with family, friends, or employer.

Alcoholism goes a dangerous step beyond alcohol abuse.  Alcoholism is associated with: 

  • a craving for alcohol
  • inability to control our drinking in a given situation
  • withdrawal symptoms (such as nausea, sweating and shaking) following a bout of heavy drinking and
  • the need to drink great amounts of alcohol, over time, to get “high”
The risks related to alcoholism are not just health related (liver cirrhosis and cancer), but an increased likelihood of being involved with domestic violence, motor vehicle accidents, assaults and homicides.
Kicking the Habit
Many people need professional help to overcome alcoholism.  For others, small changes can make a big difference.  Here are some suggestions from the “Rethinking Drinking” campaign spearheaded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:
  • Keep track of how you drink.  Making note of each drink before you have it may help you slow down.
  • Pace yourself when you drink.  Sip slowly, and limit yourself to no more than one drink with alcohol per hour.  Make every other drink a “drink spacer” – water, soda or juice.
  • Eat food when you drink so that the alcohol is absorbed into your system more slowly.
  • Find alternatives to drinking, such as healthy activities, hobbies, and relationships, or renewing relationships you have missed.
  • Avoid “triggers” that prompt you to drink.  If certain people or places make you drink when you don’t want to, try to avoid them.  If certain activities, times of day, or feelings trigger the urge, plan something to do other than drinking.  Speaking of that, don’t smoke or go in places where there’s smoking, because smoking is often a trigger to drink.
  • Know how to say “no”.  Have a polite, convincing “no thanks” ready when someone offers you a drink you don’t want or shouldn’t have.  The faster you say no to these offers, the less likely you are to give in.  Whatever strategies you choose to curb your alcohol habit, give them a fair trial.  If you feel you’re not making progress after two or three months, then consider quitting altogether.  To accomplish that, you may need the help of a physician or other health professional.
  • Another valuable resource is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which can be reached from the Health Power Resource Directory for Minority Health.