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Alcohol Use Disorders - Taking Their Toll

Fermented beverages have been part of human culture and traditions for thousands of years. Altering our brains and achieving intoxication is pleasurable to most humans and some animals. Intoxication, like sex, is fun, or we wouldn't do it. Ron Siegel, who has studied the subject extensively, says we seek intoxication to experience something outside our normal experience and take "a holiday from reality". It goes deeper than that, though. When we are in pain, be it psychic or physical, we need something to calm and sedate us and when we are depressed or bored we seek stimulation. The observations of psychoanalyst Carl Jung influenced the founding of AA when he found that a patient's "craving for alcohol was the equivalent...of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness...the union with God."

Jung goes on "You see 'alcohol' in Latin is '
spiritus' ...use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as ...the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum." About 75% of people in the US consume alcohol and almost 25% report abuse or dependence problems. That means we all know and love someone affected by this illness. Men are 2-3 times more likely than women to have alcohol related problems and there is strong evidence of a genetic predisposition to alcohol dependence. Male children of alcoholic fathers are at greatest risk for being alcoholics themselves. Native Americans have a genetic susceptibility to alcoholism. Native Americans have the highest rates of alcohol-related deaths of all population groups in the US.

Costs of alcohol dependence and abuse in terms of violence, traffic accidents, lost productivity, illness and premature death are over $185 billion per years. Complications of chronic alcohol abuse are :
        • gastritis, ulcers, esophagitis, hepatitis, cirrhosis, hepatitis. All of these except cirrhosis can be reversible with alcohol abstinence
        • peripheral neuropathy, dementia, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Alcohol abstinence and vitamin therapy can improve these.
        • high blood pressure, fast heart rate - both of which improve with alcohol abstinence
        • macrocytosis, folate deficiency, splenic enlargement
        • decreased testosterone levels in men, decreased libido, impotence, menstrual irregularities
The National Institute of Alcohol and Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) offers a wonderful guide for clinicians, Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much. The guide provides a clinical approach to assessment and treatment of at-risk drinking and alcohol use disorders. The key is to ask about drinking. Five or more drinks per day for men, four or more for women is an at-risk drinker, requiring further assessment. A referral to an addiction specialist may be indicated.

The important thing for family, friends, clinicians who are concerned about problem drinking is to talk to the person calmly and say
"I am concerned that you have an alcohol use disorder. It is not a weakness, it is an illness. There are medications and treatment that can help you. If you would like me to help you get help, I would be happy to."

Addressing the problem, treating alcoholism, does not get to the root of chemical dependency - seeking to escape reality, seeking wholeness. That's not a medical problem, but some how we have to make it part of our lexicon of healing chemical dependency. Working with the individual and family to find alternative ways to find peace and wholeness - in church, in prayer, in ritual, in dance, in meditation - has to be part of treating the whole person.

Thank you yeimaya for use of photo of Rehearsal 15.

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