MYTHS ABOUT PROBLEM DRINKING, versus ALCOHOL DEPENDENCE

MYTHS ABOUT PROBLEM DRINKING, versus ALCOHOL DEPENDENCE

“Problem drinkers are irresponsible people.”

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High-achieving students, dedicated professionals and safety-minded tradespeople can all have alcohol misuse problems. They carry on bravely and responsibly, despite inner struggles. And they worry like hell that it could affect their work. Rightly so.

“Students drink. It’s a phase. Get used to it.”
Long-term drinking problems have post-secondary origins, for most. After graduation, stress levels don’t zoom to zero. Likewise, healthy ways to cope don’t automatically replace drinking. (Even if a good salary does replace that student budget.)

“Drinking problems always worsen in the long run.”
The majority of people with problem drinking never become full-blown alcoholics. The impact on their lives, families and careers can still be major.

“The only way to drink safely is to NOT.”keynote-address-left
That is true for alcoholics (people with a history of alcohol dependence). If you’ve EVER been in that boat, then yes: Stick to shore for life. No experimenting. On the other hand, turning problem drinking into safe drinking is generally more successful than quitting completely. This particular beast is easier to tame, than kill. But first, make VERY sure you have the right beast.

“AA is the only effective approach. But you really have to really want it.”  For the person who truly needs AA, their philosophy can work miracles. NO-ONE should mess with the One True Light where it actually works.  But people who have never had full-blown alcoholism can’t relate to it. For them, it may do more harm than good.

“Problem drinkers are just self-medicating and should see a psychiatrist.”
Too simplistic. A problem drinker may OR MAY NOT have another disorder that would require medication (or psychiatric care). If they do have another disorder, usually they can feel or see the impact of it, separately from their drinking.

“Medical model just makes a weakness into a sickness.”
Must we rewind 45 years to that? Alongside AA, psychological and medical interventions have been saving careers and families at steadily improving rates. If there was such big money in the treating problem drinking, we could afford to be so cynical.

“Problem drinkers are binge drinkers.”
Yes and no. It depends. What day is it? Are there deadlines are coming up? Do I have to drive tomorrow? Are the kids safe? Which day do we fly home again? Honey, do you think you can deal with the realtor just during my fishing trip?

“Docs are just going to give you medication and a lecture.”
That would be unfortunate, but let us not pretend it’s a total myth. Most physicians realize you can be a serious person, yet, have a serious problem.

“Psychology is just talk therapy. That’s not the answer.”
Results speak for themselves. Less talk. More action. THAT’s modern psychology.

“Treatment doesn’t work. It just feels lousy and costs money.”
Motivational interviewing and relapse prevention (MI & RP) work. If you don’t also have another major psychological disorder; and if you do stick with an RP support group; and you deal with your setbacks positively; your risk of relapse keeps dropping. After several years, relapse becomes rare.

So take the first steps: See a psychologist AND your physician. Let them communicate. Listen to both. If they’re worth their salt, they’ll listen to you. Stop either one of them if they say, ‘zero or nothing.’ They may mean well. They may be out of date. Remind them (if it’s true) that you’re not alcohol dependent. You’re an accomplished person with some major skill sets. You’re looking to add one more. For you, safe drinking is safer than no drinking. No joke!

Yours in health and development,

Ken McCallion, Registered, MA, CPsych Assoc