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Alcohol Use and Abuse

December 13, 2004

The latest numbers released by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) indicate that approximately 115 million people regularly ingest alcohol, which is defined as consuming alcohol at least once a month. The vast majority of those 115 million drink alcohol socially, and some occasionally will get intoxicated at a special event such as a wedding or New Year’s Eve. Truly, alcohol is a social lubricant that most enjoy responsibly. However, about eight percent (8%) of the population has a serious drinking problem, and they would be considered alcohol abusers or alcoholic. 

Defining who is an alcohol abuser or alcoholic is not an easy matter. One of the simplest definitions I’ve heard came from a recovering alcoholic who said that an alcoholic is someone whose drinking causes them problems or causes problems for those people around them. The problems can range from family issues to occupational difficulties to legal problems, and they usually occur over a long period of time. 

What can you do if a friend or family member is abusing alcohol? The one thing you must keep in mind is that you cannot make that person stop drinking, nor can you control their amount of alcohol. You can, however, speak up and express your concern directly to the individual – be very clear about how their behavior affects you and specify those behaviors that you are observing. Again, this will not stop the person from drinking, but they are now aware that you no longer are in denial about the problem. Keep in mind, the ‘success’ (continuing the destructive behavior) of an alcohol abuser depends on those around him or her not confronting the problem but rather colluding with the individual in their denial. You then can get caught in the trap of the enabling cycle which perpetuates the abuse to the stage of addiction.

Tell the individual with the abuse problem that there is help and that you will assist them in getting it, but ultimately, they have to decide that their lives are falling apart, and they must make the commitment to a different lifestyle. And make sure to take care of yourself too – there are a variety of resources available, from professional counseling to deal with anxiety or depression, to support groups like Al-Anon (a self-help group for families and friends of alcoholics).

William F. Coffey, LCSW is a Senior Staff Therapist is the Center City and Voorhees Offices. Request an appointment today.