EMS Health Part 4: Alcohol Abuse
As paramedics and EMTs, you've likely seen your share of incidents associated with alcohol abuse and excessive consumption. Maybe it's an accident at the hands of a drunk driver, or maybe it's responding to a victim of alcohol poisoning. But sometimes it's EMS personnel who are at risk.
Alcoholism is influenced by genetics and lifestyle, as well as who you hang out with and how readily available alcohol is. While you can't control who your relatives are, understanding how to enjoy alcohol responsibly while leading a stressful lifestyle can go a long way toward ensuring neither you nor anyone you love develops a problem with alcohol.
Most people can drink alcohol socially and responsibly. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines defines moderate drinking as no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men. One drink equals one 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
But for those who take it further, alcohol abuse or alcoholism can become a concern.
As defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a disease that includes symptoms of craving, loss of control, physical dependence and tolerance. Although not considered a disease by mainstream society, it is a disease; one that is chronic (lasts a lifetime), has symptoms and can't be cured, although it is treatable and, maybe most importantly, preventable.
According to All About Alcohol, alcohol abuse differs from alcoholism in that the drinker does not experience the same negative mental and physical effects the alcoholic doesHowever, if left untreated, alcohol abuse can lead to alcoholism, and a person who abuses alcohol may need just as much help as an alcoholic.
Consider that it can be very difficult for someone to admit that he or she has a problem with alcohol. Many people still believe alcoholism is a disease that only affects the "man on skid row." In reality, alcoholism does not discriminate, nor does it mean that a person is morally weak.
Signs of alcohol abuse can include an inability to meet work, school or family responsibilities; drunk driving arrests and car crashes; and drinking-related conditions. "Budding" alcoholics may also have an inability to control the amount of alcohol ingested, and they may have a significant personality change as a result of drinking.
If you haven't been diagnosed as an alcoholic, you can improve your life and health by cutting back. The NIAAA outlines these questions to help you determine if you may be abusing alcohol. Answering "yes" to any of them may indicate a problem:
- Do you drink alone when you feel angry or sad?
- Does drinking ever make you late for work?
- Does your drinking worry your family?
- Do you ever drink after telling yourself you won't?
- Do you ever forget what you did while you were drinking?
- Do you get headaches or have a hang-over after you have been drinking?
According to Alcoholics Information, the following signs may indicate you may not be able to simply cut back. Characteristics of alcoholic behavior include:
- Withdrawal, i.e., you experience unpleasant symptoms similar to having the flu when you stop drinking
- Efforts to cut down drinking are unsuccessful
- You drink larger amounts or over longer periods of time
- You continue to drink in spite of negative consequences such as a DUI conviction, divorce, or loss of job
- Drinking interferes with your job, family or friends
- You have an increased tolerance, meaning over time more alcohol is required to get drunk
Talk Rehab Alcoholism Help & Support also reminds people that alcoholic behavior isn't always easily identified. Here are some signs to help determine whether or not someone might be a closet alcoholic:
- Anxious feelings for unknown reasons
- Constantly leaving early or showing up late
- Telling small, inconsistent lies--anything from what they did last night or last weekend to who they’ve been hanging out with
- Disappearing--relatives, coworkers, and close friends may have no idea where the person is, and he or she may not return calls for several days, or at
- Hiding alcohol in strange places, such as basement, garage, bedroom or other unusual place
If you or someone you know experiences any of these signs, or answers "yes" to any of these questions, there are a lot of local and national resources that can offer assistance. And while alcoholism isn't curable, it is treatable with counseling and medications.