MYTHS AND REALITIES OF ALCOHOLISM


Alcoholism is ranked the number 2 killer in this country, behind cancer. There are over 10 million alcoholics in the United States alone, and hundreds of thousands die each year as a result of alcohol-related causes. Alcohol is involved in 60% of reported cases of child abuse and the majority of cases involving domestic violence. The myths and misconceptions surrounding the disease of alcoholism and its victims must be rooted out and replaced by already established facts if we are to understand why alcoholics drink excessively and what must be done to help them overcome their disease. If the truth about alcoholism is ever to be understood, the myths must be attacked and destroyed.

MYTH: ALCOHOL IS PREDOMINANTLY A SEDATIVE OR DEPRESSANT DRUG.

REALITY: Alcohol's pharmacological effects change with the amount drunk. In small quantities, alcohol is a stimulant. In large quantities, alcohol acts as a sedative. In all amounts, however, alcohol provides a rich and potent source of calories and energy.

MYTH: ALCOHOL HAS THE SAME CHEMICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECT ON EVERYONE WHO DRINKS.

REALITY: Alcohol, like every other food we take into out bodies, affects different people in different ways.

MYTH: ALCOHOL IS AN ADDICTIVE DRUG AND ANYONE WHO DRINKS LONG AND HARD ENOUGH WILL BECOME ADDICTED.

REALITY: Alcohol is a selectively addictive drug; it is addictive for only a minority of its users, namely, alcoholics. Most people can drink occasionally, daily, even heavily, without becoming addicted to alcohol. Others (alcoholics) will become addicted no matter how much they drink.

MYTH: ALCOHOL IS HARMFUL AND POISONOUS TO THE ALCOHOLIC.

REALITY: Alcohol is a normalizing agent and the best medicine for the pain it creates, giving the alcoholic energy, stimulation, and relief from the pain of withdrawal. Its harmful and poisonous aftereffects are most evident when the alcoholic stops drinking.

MYTH: ADDICTION TO ALCOHOL IS OFTEN PSYCHOLOGICAL.

REALITY: Addiction to alcohol is primarily physiological. Alcoholics become addicted because their bodies are physically incapable of processing alcohol normally.

MYTH: PEOPLE BECOME ALCOHOLICS BECAUSE THEY HAVE PSYCHOLOGICAL OR EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS WHICH THEY TRY TO RELIEVE BY DRINKING.

REALITY: Alcoholics have the same psychological and emotional problems as everyone else before they start drinking. These problems are aggravated, however, by their addiction to alcohol. Alcoholism undermines and weakens the alcoholic's ability to cope with the normal problems of living. Furthermore, the alcoholic's emotions become inflamed both when he drinks and when he stops drinking. Thus, when he is drinking and when he is abstinent, he will feel angry, fearful, and depressed in exaggerated degrees.

MYTH: ALL SORTS OF SOCIAL PROBLEMS - MARRIAGE PROBLEMS, A DEATH IN THE FAMILY, JOB STRESS - MAY CAUSE ALCOHOLISM.

REALITY: As with psychological and emotional problems, alcoholics experience all the social pressures everyone else does, but their ability to cope is undermined by the disease and the problems get worse.

MYTH: WHEN THE ALCOHOLIC IS DRINKING HE REVEALS HIS TRUE PERSONALITY.

REALITY: Alcohol's effect on the brain causes severe psychological and emotional distortions of the normal personality. Sobriety reveals the alcoholic's true personality.

MYTH: THE FACT THAT ALCOHOLICS CAN CONTINUE TO BE DEPRESSED, ANXIOUS, IRRITABLE AND UNHAPPY AFTER THEY STOP DRINKING IS EVIDENCE THAT THEIR DISEASE IS CAUSED BY PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS.

REALITY: Alcoholics who continue to be depressed, anxious, irritable and unhappy after they stop drinking are actually suffering from the phenomenon called the "protracted withdrawal syndrome". The physical damage caused by years of excessive drinking has not been completely reversed; they are, in fact, still sick and in need of more effective therapy.

MYTH: IF PEOPLE WOULD ONLY DRINK RESPONSIBLY, THEY WOULD NOT BECOME ALCOHOLICS.

REALITY: Many responsible drinkers become alcoholics. Then, because it is the nature of the disease (NOT the person), they begin to drink irresponsibly.

MYTH: AN ALCOHOLIC HAS TO WANT TO BE HELPED.

REALITY: Most drinking alcoholics do not want to be helped. They are sick, unable to think rationally, and incapable of giving up alcohol by themselves. Most recovering alcoholics are forced into treatment against their will. Self-motivation usually occurs during treatment, not before.

MYTH: SOME ALCOHOLICS CAN LEARN TO DRINK NORMALLY AND CONTINUE TO DRINK WITH NO ILL EFFECTS AS LONG AS THEY LIMIT THE AMOUNT.

REALITY: Alcoholics can never safely return to drinking because drinking in any amount will sooner or later reactivate their addiction.

MYTH: PSYCHOTHERAPY CAN HELP MANY ALCOHOLICS ACHIEVE SOBRIETY THROUGH SELF-UNDERSTANDING.

REALITY: Psychotherapy diverts attention from the physical causes of the disease, compounds the alcoholic's guilt and shame, and aggravates rather than alleviates his problems.

MYTH: CRAVING FOR ALCOHOL CAN BE OFFSET BY EATING HIGH SUGAR FOODS.

REALITY: Foods with a high sugar content will increase the alcoholic's depression, irritability, and tension and intensify his desire for a drink to relieve these symptoms.

MYTH: IF ALCOHOLICS EAT THREE BALANCED MEALS A DAY, THEIR NUTRITIONAL PROBLEMS WILL EVENTUALLY CORRECT THEMSELVES.

REALITY: Alcoholics' nutritional needs are only partially met by a balanced diet. They also need vitamin and mineral supplements to correct any deficiencies and to maintain nutritional balances.

MYTH: TRANQUILIZERS AND SEDATIVES ARE SOMETIMES USEFUL IN TREATING ALCOHOLICS.

REALITY: Tranquilizers and sedatives are useful only during the acute withdrawal period. Beyond that, these substitute drugs are destructive and, in many cases, deadly for alcoholics.

Material taken from UNDER THE INFLUENCE: A Guide To The Myths And Realities Of Alcoholism by James R. Milam and Katherine Ketcham, Seattle, Washington, Madrona Publishers, Inc., 1981.


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