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The first step to getting help for an alcohol abuse problem is to recognize you have one. If you don’t have a problem, you don’t have a solution. Alcohol abuse problems can be distinguished by many factors impacting different parts of life, including the physical, emotional, relational and financial.
Recognizing the Problem
- Physical Effects – Long-term alcohol abuse can often lead to direct and indirect health consequences. For example, many problem drinkers can go long periods without health insurance due to job loss. Drinkers also commonly go long periods without visiting a doctor, out of shame or protectiveness about the amount they are drinking. The prolonged time between doctors means problem drinkers are especially prone to illness or deterioration of pre-existing conditions. Even less serious health issues such as bloating, red eyes, lethargy, and weight gain can still limit the quality of life.
- Effects on Relationships – Chaotic relationships and instability are common for problem drinkers. Uncontrollable moods lead to extreme highs and lows and limit the possibility for healthy relationships. An inability to show up for and honor commitments with family and friends creates more turmoil, and eventually loss of relationships is inevitable. Narrowing social circles and engagement with others is a potential sign that someone’s alcohol abuse is getting in the way of their ability to connect.
- Emotional Effects – Feelings of shame and guilt commonly accompany alcohol abuse. Remorse for harms done to others begins to pile up. Negative self-image increases after each scene caused during intoxication. Feelings of intense loneliness and despair are pervasive. Other emotional consequences are a persistent sense of not belonging and not being understood as well as an increasing sense of sadness and frustration.
- Effects on Finances – Increased drinking can mean poor performance at work. Often problem drinkers begin shirking responsibilities at work, sometimes making a habit of tardiness or not coming in at all. Even if a drinker manages to keep their job, changes in behavior and productivity don’t go unnoticed. Work relationships begin to suffer and opportunities for advancement, career development, and personal growth diminish. Legal and financial consequences as a result of driving under the influence, or alcohol-fueled altercations which result in charges, can also affect job retention and earning potential.
Perception is Key
It’s been shown that there are better success rates when people perceive that their issue is more severe because they are more willing to set the various treatment options in motion and follow through. For example, while research is limited on the effects of 12-step programs, studies already show how greater involvement in 12-step programs (which goes hand in hand with the recognition of a drinking problem) can predict a longer-term success rate in sobriety. Therefore, once you perceive you have an issue with alcohol, you’ll be better positioned to take responsibility for your recovery, by optimizing your various treatment options.
There are a lot of different approaches to recovery. There are 12-step programs, inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, cognitive-behavioral and motivational-enhancement therapies, smart recovery programs, religious affiliations, fitness programs, spiritual practices, and many other methods. In short, no single treatment approach is effective for everyone. A combination approach is therefore usually most successful. Research compiled through studies like Project Match confirms the effectiveness of alternative treatments based on an individual’s needs and characteristics rather than a one-size-fits-all model.
These three approaches to abstinence have proven successful:
- Detox and Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) are often a necessary first step before rehab so that physical withdrawal effects can be managed in a safe environment.
- Inpatient treatment provides a sober refuge, particularly when an individual is living in a toxic environment or cannot abstain from alcohol for any length of time.
- 12-step programs are a good option if finances or other situations prevent accessibility to treatment centers.
Ideas for Long-Term Recovery Help
During the early abstinence from alcohol, an important concern will be maintaining sobriety in the longer term. Solution and treatment options may vary, but the following strategies show consistently positive recovery outcomes:
- Pursuing new and constructive recreational activities – Boredom, loneliness and other uncomfortable feelings can and do come up. Negative moods and attitudes are not uncommon when weaning off alcohol and are especially prominent in the beginning stages of abstinence. Identifying and pursuing new and old interests and activities can help ex-drinkers keep their mind off the drink. New routines create better habits and can facilitate recovery. The pursuit of recreational activities can also create an avenue for meeting healthier, more balanced and active people.
- Expanding one’s social support network – Building or re-building supportive social systems is essential. This is especially important because people who decide to stop drinking have often suffered the loss of many relationships as a consequence of their drinking. The strain on these relationships makes it less likely for those same people to be willing to support a person in the beginning of their recovery.
An easy way for ex-drinkers to find an understanding and compatible social network is by attending groups for self-help, therapy, 12-step recovery and the exploration of shared recreational interest.
- Focusing energy and attention on the future – Goal setting and action planning are pivotal in creating a new, sober life. Developing or enhancing job-seeking skills, for example, can create new and exciting career possibilities. Gaining and practicing interpersonal skills can increase self-esteem and the possibility for healthy and fulfilling relationships. Developing positive life-coping skills in place of the numbing effects of alcohol can lead to better jobs, relationships and an overall higher quality of life.
If you think you or someone you know may have a drinking problem, take our alcohol questionnaire today.