Alcohol is the most commonly misused substance in the United States. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 6.2 percent of adults and 2.5 percent of adolescents in the US had an alcohol use disorder in 2015. That’s more than 15 million Americans who struggle with alcohol use. America has a culture that accepts and even celebrates drinking. Most Americans drink at least occasionally, and some drink far too much. It’s not always easy to tell when social drinking has gone too far. There are also many myths and misconceptions that surround addiction in general, and alcohol use disorder in particular. These myths can make it difficult to discern when someone has a problem or serve as excuses not seek help.
Many people have a stereotypical image in mind of someone with alcohol use disorder as a person who stays home drinking all day instead of going to work or someone who is homeless, begging for change to buy alcohol. While a large percentage of homeless people do have substance use issues, it doesn’t follow that most people with substance use issues are unemployed or homeless. Many people with alcohol use disorder have good jobs, nice families, and comfortable homes.
Unfortunately, they may point to these things as proof that they don’t have an alcohol problem. Typically, when someone has an alcohol use issue, work is the last thing to suffer. We value work not just for the money, but out of pride as well. For many people, their work is an important part of their identity and sign of social status. Therefore, many people with substance use issues go to great lengths to keep their drinking from affecting their work. This is possible for a while, but addiction is a progressive disease and it will eventually affect your work. Although many people fear that taking time off work to treat a substance use issue will harm their reputation or cause them to miss out on opportunities, it’s far better to address addiction on your own terms rather than let it bring you down.
A 2018 poll by AP-NORC found that a slight majority of Americans now see addiction as a disease that requires treatment. Unfortunately, a large minority, 44 percent, also believe that addiction is the result of a lack of discipline or willpower. The idea that you can prevent or overcome alcohol addiction by willpower alone is popular, but ultimately wrong. Willpower has very little to do with addiction, and people who try to stay sober through willpower alone typically don’t get very far.
There are many factors that contribute to addiction. About half of addiction risk is genetic and you can’t do anything about it. However, another big risk factor is having a co-occurring mental health issue, which you generally can do something about. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, personality disorders, trauma, and childhood abuse are all contributing factors to addiction and it’s crucial to address these problems if you want to sustain recovery. Finally, lifestyle factors play an important role in sobriety. Chief among these is finding a supportive sober network. These are people you can confide in, who can help you solve problems and keep you accountable. Other lifestyle factors include getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, and eating nutritious food. More and more studies are finding these support mental health and help prevent relapse. Notice, willpower plays a part in some of these factors — for example, you may not always feel like going to a 12-Step meeting or exercising — but recovery is primarily a process of personal transformation and building a better life.
Another common image we have of people with alcohol use disorder is that it’s someone who drinks all day every day. Again, sometimes this is accurate, but often it’s not, especially in the early stages. Alcohol use disorder is more about your relationship to alcohol than about how persistently you drink. If you feel like you have to have a drink to cope with stress or difficult emotions, or just to relax after work, it might be a sign of trouble. Primarily, it indicates you’re trying to numb difficult emotions rather than deal with them and that can lead to bigger problems later on. Also, many people with alcohol use disorder don’t drink every day, but once they start drinking, they can’t stop. If having a drink always turns into a bender, it’s a clear sign of a problem.
One of the most persistent myths about alcohol use disorder and addiction in general is that you have to hit rock bottom before you can quit. The biggest problem with this myth is that 88,000 people every year die from alcohol-related causes. Those people either never hit rock bottom or they did and it wasn’t enough to convince them to quit drinking, or at least not in time. Most people who enter treatment aren’t actually sure they need treatment or that they want to quit drinking; they just know that what they’re doing now isn’t working for them and they’re willing to try something else. If you feel like your drinking has become a problem, try taking some small steps towards changing. Talk to a therapist, look into treatment options, or visit an AA meeting. If someone you care about is drinking too much, share your concerns without being critical or judgmental. There’s no need to wait for a catastrophe.
When many people first think about getting sober, their first thought is AA. AA can be a good option for many people. It’s free, it’s widely available, and it provides a ready-made sober community. Many people owe their sobriety to AA and other 12-Step programs. However, it’s important to keep in mind that no single approach works for everyone. For example, as noted above, many people with substance use disorders have co-occurring mental health issues, which AA can’t address. These people need to at least supplement meetings with professional therapy, and they may need a more intensive approach altogether. While AA may be a part of your sobriety equation, it’s important to be aware of your options and make decisions based on your specific needs.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 714-559-3919.
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