Breaking the Chains of Alcohol Abuse
“My father was an alcoholic, and I followed in his footsteps. At 12 years of age, I was already drinking. By the time I married, I was getting drunk every day. I became violent; often the police came to my family’s aid. My health deteriorated. Alcohol caused a gastric hemorrhage, which I barely survived. I then developed cirrhosis and anemia. I joined self-help groups in an attempt to quit, but to no avail. I felt as if I were caught in a spiderweb and could not break free.”—VÍCTOR, * ARGENTINA.
AGAIN and again stories such as this one are told by people ensnared by alcohol. Like Víctor, they feel trapped with no way out. Can alcohol-induced problems be overcome or even avoided? If so, how?
Recognizing the Problem
First, it is imperative that the person who drinks alcohol and those close to him or her recognize it when a problem exists. Dependence is only the tip of the iceberg. It develops over a length of time from a pattern of drinking that was perhaps once moderate. Surprisingly, the majority of accidents, violence, and social difficulties caused by alcohol are not provoked by people who are compulsive alcohol drinkers. Note what the World Health Organization (WHO) says: “The best way to reduce the total of alcohol-related problems in a society is to focus on curtailing the drinking of moderate rather than heavy drinkers.” (Italics ours.) Does your drinking exceed the limits recommended by health authorities? Do you drink in situations requiring your full attention and quick reflexes? Are your drinking habits causing problems in your family or at work? Acknowledging that one’s level of consumption is potentially dangerous and reducing it accordingly is indeed “the best way” to avoid serious problems later. Once a person is dependent, it is far harder to make changes.
A common reaction among those who abuse alcohol is denial. “I drink like everyone else” or “I can stop whenever I want to,” they claim. “Even though alcohol nearly killed me, I never considered myself an addict, so I never took steps to quit,” states Konstantin, in Russia. “I tried many times to break free,” recalls Marek, in Poland, “but I did not really admit to myself that I was an alcoholic. I minimized alcohol-related problems.”
How can a person be helped to recognize his drinking problem and then to take positive action? First, he has to admit that his difficulties arise from abuse of alcohol and that abstinence will improve his quality of life. As stated in La Revue du Praticien—Médecine Générale, his reasoning needs to change from “I drink because my wife left me and I lost my job,” to “my wife left me and I lost my job because I drink.”
If you want to help an alcohol-dependent person achieve this transformation in his thinking, you may want to follow these suggestions: Listen attentively, use open questions that allow the person to express his emotions and feelings freely, display an empathetic attitude that helps him feel that he is understood, give encouragement even for slight progress, avoid being judgmental or having an attitude that could block him from open expression and from seeking help. Having him write down two lists based on the questions What will happen if I continue to drink? and What will happen if I stop? may also be useful.
When someone begins to abuse alcohol, he or she is not worthless or beyond hope. Some even manage to break free on their own. However, individuals who are alcohol dependent may need professional help to become abstinent. * For some people outpatient treatment works, but when withdrawal symptoms are severe, hospitalization may be necessary. Once the initial physical withdrawal symptoms have passed—between two and five days—medication may be prescribed to reduce craving and to continue abstinence.
Detoxification programs, however, are no guarantee of success. Medication is only a temporary measure, not a cure. Alain, in France, undertook several detoxification treatments. “As soon as I left the hospital, I started drinking again because I associated with the same drinking partners. Basically, I did not have the proper motivation to stop,” he says.
Filling the Void
In effect, many fail because the absence of alcohol leaves a void, somewhat like losing the companionship of a close friend. “I constantly thought of drinking,” says Vasiliy, in Russia. “If a day went by without a drink, it was pointless.” To one dependent on alcohol, all other activities are subordinate to satisfying the craving to drink. “My sole purpose in life was to drink and to find money to drink,” recalls Jerzy, in Poland. Evidently, it is vital for the recovering alcoholic to find a new purpose in life if he is to stay abstinent.
A manual published by WHO with advice for those trying to change their drinking habits highlights the importance of purposeful activities in avoiding a relapse. One idea given as an example is engaging in religious activities.
Being occupied with spiritual activities can help a person to break the hold that alcohol has on him. For example, after his third stay in prison for alcohol-related reasons, Alain began studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He says: “Studying the Bible gave me a purpose in life and enabled me to hold out. My motivation was not just to stop drinking but to please Jehovah.”
Coping With a Relapse
Counselors on alcohol abuse point out the importance of support and encouragement for the recovering alcoholic. Many have lost family and friends because of their deplorable condition. The resulting isolation can lead to depression and even suicide. The manual mentioned above gives the following advice for those assisting someone with a drinking problem: “Try not to criticize the person you are helping, even if you get annoyed and frustrated with his or her behaviour. Remember that changing habits is never easy. There are bound to be good weeks and bad weeks. Your encouragement, support of low-risk drinking or abstinence, and creative ideas are needed.”
“What helped me,” relates Hilario, who drank for nearly 30 years, “was the love and care of friends in the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had many relapses, but they were always by my side to give me encouragement and timely Bible counsel.”
If you are struggling to break free of alcohol, remember that relapses are likely to occur and that you should consider them as part of the road to recovery. Do not give up! Analyze what led to the relapse, and use that knowledge to prevent future slips. Identify specific situations that arouse in you the desire to drink. Could it be boredom, depression, loneliness, arguments, stress, or events or places where others drink? Then avoid them! “I learned to understand and identify the emotions that could lead to drinking,” states Jerzy, who took two years to become totally abstinent. “I now avoid any trigger situations. I stay away from places where people drink alcohol. I do not eat anything with alcohol in it, and I even avoid body care products or medicines that are alcohol based. I also don’t look at any advertising for alcohol.” Many have found that praying to God for “the power beyond what is normal” has been fundamental in mastering their urge to drink.—2 Corinthians 4:7; Philippians 4:6, 7.
While it can be an ongoing challenge, escape from the shackles of alcohol dependence is possible. All the individuals mentioned in this article have succeeded. They are healthier and are reaping benefits on a family and a professional level. States Alain, “I now have the freedom not to drink.” Konstantin observes: “Getting to know Jehovah preserved my family. I now have a purpose in life. My happiness does not depend on alcohol.” Víctor comments: “I feel like a free person. I have recovered my dignity and my identity.”
A person can make changes whether he is at risk of an accident through misuse of alcohol, is suffering problems because of abusing alcohol, or is alcohol dependent. If your drinking poses a threat to your well-being, do not hesitate to make the necessary changes. It can be for your own good and for the good of those who love you.
^ par. 2 Some names have been changed.
^ par. 10 There are many treatment centers, hospitals, and recovery programs that can provide help. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not endorse any particular treatment. Care must be exercised so that one does not become involved in activities that would compromise Scriptural principles. In the final analysis, however, each will have to decide for himself what type of treatment is needed.
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Admitting the problem is the first step
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Many need professional help to break free
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Prayer can help
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You can find the strength to abstain!