“LifeLines is a monthly column dedicated to addressing issues of mental, behavioural, and social health. The column appears on the 1st weekend of the month, and is written by professionals in the field of social work, mental health, and community medicine”.
By Dr. Mary Jo Cannon,
Alcoholism – what have we learned so far? It is a disease. In fact, it is a brain disorder that can be traced to a defect in a specific area in the brain, the Limbic System, also called the “emotional brain”. It is not something that can be cured; someone with alcoholism cannot learn to drink safely. It is a chronic, progressive, and (if untreated), fatal disease. It can also be difficult to identify in its earliest stages. A key indicator that one suffers from the disease of alcoholism is continued drinking after suffering clear negative consequences while under the influence. Yet alcoholism is not only survivable, it can serve to catapult those who suffer it, into a life previously undreamed of! Recovery from alcoholism, for those who seek it, is attainable and available.
We know that Alcoholism affects one (1) in ten (10) randomly selected adults in any population; therefore it is a fairly common disorder. It progresses insidiously over time and goes through three distinct stages which demonstrate distinct characteristics, begin with picking up the first drink, and progress with continued drinking. The disease progression involves loss of the capacity of choice in the act of picking up a drink. In the beginning, a person chooses to drink. The experience is better than expected and ensures that drinking will happen again. The person continues to choose to drink. As time goes on, somewhat unbeknownst to the drinker for whom drinking will become a problem…the “choice” factor gets lost. In the second stage of drinking the problem drinker develops a habit of drinking. The future alcoholic simply drinks, it is just the “done thing”…the drink of choice is always in the home and always available.
The friends the drinker spends time with also drink. Activities always involve drinking and often are opted for in favor of the availability and expectation of the drinking involved. Habit takes over. It is in this interim or second stage that negative consequences occur with regularity. It is not so much that every time the alcoholic drinks there is trouble; it is that every time there is trouble, you can be sure that alcohol is on board or is playing a role in the situation.
Relationships become strained; role obligations go by the wayside; problems ensue. Usually the last thing to go is the job. In the final stages of alcoholism the drink takes over and choice is lost. The drinker no longer has the capacity to choose to drink…it becomes necessary to drink, although the alcoholic is the last person to know or recognize this fact. Ask any person actively engaged in “problem” drinking and they will have a million excuses for their problems (none of which entail the choice to drink) and, what is more, the drinker believes they can stop at any time.
If someone is in question as to whether or not their drinking is a problem, it is suggested that they engage in “controlled drinking” ONLY. What is this? What is “controlled drinking”? This means never consuming more than two alcoholic beverages per event, thereby limiting your own consumption. If an adult can always stop at two, meaning no more than two (2) ounces of hard liquor; no more than two six (6) ounce glasses of wine; or no more than four (4) bottles of beer per one entire event, then one can be assured that one is NOT a problem drinker. Controlled drinking is one means of helping the drinker see for themselves if drinking is a “problem” for them.
Alcoholism is a disease that must be self-diagnosed if someone is to recover. It is essential that the individual suffering the disease see that there is a problem, for the choice not to drink has to be sincere and will only come from someone who is ready to stop. For those in active recovery, this process of self-diagnosis is called “Surrender”, and it is the only step that is required for full recovery to take place. It requires brutal self-honest… “To Thine Own Self Be True”. That is why it is said that, before recovery, it is necessary for one to “hit bottom”.
So, what is this “hitting bottom”? Hitting bottom means getting entirely honest with ourselves about what we are doing, how our actions are affecting us, and how our actions are affecting others…in particular those nearest and dearest to our hearts.
It is said that anyone’s “bottom” comes when he or she is ready to put down the shovel. When the hole they’ve dug themselves into is “deep enough” and they find themselves ready to try to climb out. Yet the climb can’t begin until the person is ready to stop the digging and recognize what they did to get themselves where they now find themselves to be.
Probably the greatest challenge to entering into recovery is finding the courage to ask for help. That has got to be the hardest thing in the world for anyone to do…yet none more so than the alcoholic. For it is the alcoholic who must come to the realization that the solution…alcohol, is now the problem…and recovery is not a one man job, it requires help and a team effort!
The good news is that help is free and available to those seeking it from others who, like the alcoholic, have been there and done that! Recovery is a team process and there’s no “I” in team…there’s an “e” and it is the same “e” as in the word “we”. It is a “we” process. Recovery is available in many ways…yet the most universally available and simply found is the 12 step recovery process offered through the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA.
Many persons first access help through a visit to a family Doctor, clinician at a Community Health Center, or through a visit to a counselor or advisor. These persons can provide further information on recovery services available in St.Kitts-Nevis, including Alcoholics Anonymous. The greatest thing you can do is reach out and ask for help. In the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis there is also a fellowship of recovery available via a simple phone call to the following number 869-469-2263.
Dr. Mary Jo Cannon, is Professor, International University of Nursing