Alcohol & Drug Abuse
Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive alcohol consumption. It's defined as 4 or more drinks in a few hours for women and 5 or more drinks in a few hours for men. Heavy drinking for women is 8 or more drinks per week, and 15 or more drinks for men. The gender difference is based solely on average size and weight.
The CDC's Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol define moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Many are surprised by these recommendations. They think they can "hold their liquor," and point to how frequently heavy drinking is shown on TV and in the movies--with few negative consequences.
Many look to family and friends for comparisons. However, since heavy drinkers tend to associate with other heavy drinkers--and shun those who drink in moderation, or don't drink at all-- these comparisons just feed the denial.
By the time someone comes to my office wanting help with their alcohol problem, the women are drinking at least a bottle of wine a day, and the men are drinking at least 4-6 beers or drinks per day. At the higher consumption levels, alcohol can create problems on the job, with a spouse, children, health, and problems with the law.
Everyone I've known in my professional and personal life who had an alcohol (or drug) problem has damaged their children and spousal relationship(s). Even for those who aren't heavy drinkers, I always suggest that when both people have been drinking, that's not the time for an argument with a loved one!
So, is alcoholism a disease? Although medical societies, hospitals and treatment facilities lobbied to get it classified as such, I don't believe it is a disease. This classification allows healthcare providers to bill insurance companies for their services, but it actually does not fit the disease category. If you are curious about this point, you can click this link to find an excellent article: "Is Alcoholism a Disease?"
Does alcoholism run in families? Researchers have found some (minor) genetic propensities, but that is not the most important reason it runs in families. The reason is behavioral. Alcoholic parents not only serve as role models for their children, but they also damage their children. Those children have a greater likelihood of becoming an alcohol abuser themselves, and/or marrying an alcoholic.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was founded in 1935. You probably know someone who has been "clean and sober" for years or decades thanks to this program. I've known those people, I've had some as patients--for issues other than alcohol.
The problem is, research shows that only 5-10% of AA members are able to quit drinking permanently. The track record for most residential treatment programs is not much better. Some people have been able to successfully stop drinking on their own, but the reasons vary. Sometimes a serious health problem arises, or a beloved spouse makes a credible threat of divorce.
My program for people who are heavy drinkers involves getting to the heart of the (subconscious) causes and healing them. I work with people who could be classified as "functional alcoholics." With treatment over time, they are able to decrease their consumption and many have been able to become social drinkers with no worries about "going off the deep end" again.
I do not treat those with alcohol dependence--those who are not able to maintain their responsibilities, and have no control over their drinking. Similarly, I do not work with those who are physically dependent upon drugs.
However, after they have been through a detox facility and get clean, I'm able to help them to minimize their chances of becoming addicted again. I've also been very successful with those who frequently smoke or eat marijuana recreationally and want to cut back or stop.
It is possible to enjoy life without being tipsy, high or drunk!