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Do You Know the Levels of Risk With Problem Drinking?

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Codependency » Featured Article



Is it hard for you to tell when risky behavior becomes a problem?

They say that if you place a frog in a pot of water and begin to heat the pot, the frog will boil to death without even realizing it. Conversely, if you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, the frog will make a quick exit. Now that I have sufficiently terrified my animal rights friends, let me place a much deeper context to the above metaphor.

When does drinking become a problem?

Messages of "enjoyableĒ drinking are all around us - the media: television, radio, and newspapers. Itís common for most social engagements to have alcohol available. Itís almost too common that many activities include alcohol. Too easily we become like the frog in the pot of water slowly coming to a boil. Before we know it, weíre at problem levels. How do we get a reality check on the water temperature before drinking is a problem?

How can you tell problem drinking?

Problem drinking is a broader category than alcoholism. Thereís a continuum of risk associated with different levels of drinking. Like the frog metaphor, when weíre around drinking all the time, it can be difficult to discriminate change in levels of risk. Hereís a model that helps:

At Risk (Risky Drinking)

  • Any drinking pattern puts us at some risk for an alcohol problem

  • No current negative consequences

  • Low risk for potential adverse consequences

Mild to Moderate (Problem Drinking)

  • The range of mild to moderate alcohol problem

  • When one experiences an adverse consequence due to drinking behavior

Moderate to Severe (Alcohol Abuse)

  • Role impairment

  • Hazardous use

  • Recurrent legal problems related to alcohol

  • Social or interpersonal problems due to alcohol

Severe (Alcohol Dependence)

  • Increased tolerance

  • Signs or symptoms of withdrawal

  • Drinking more or longer than intended

  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to control use

  • Decreased activities due to alcohol (social, work, recreational)

  • Use despite knowledge of physical or psychological consequences

A bit clinical, but useful

Each category melds into the next with little definition. Consistent Moderate to Severe drinking has a significant negative effect on the physical body. Alcoholism is a disease. Enough alcohol over time increases the risk of alcoholism and health problems. The higher on the scale, obviously, the more risk for the problem drinker. But donít forget about you and your family. When the risk goes up for the problem drinker it also increases the potential risk for the family.

Maybe youíre apprehensive to reach out?

First, I want to acknowledge that for someone who doesnít easily ask for help, reaching out is no small task.

If the problem has been going on for a while, Iím guessing that however youíve been handling it is your attempt at remedying the situation. Itís human nature for us to use strategies we believe will get our needs met. However, if the strategy youíve been using hasnít been working you probably need to use another strategy. When we look at this last statement from our head, itís easy to say, "This just makes sense.Ē But weíre not just our head. For us to take action our head needs to make peace with our heart and gut.

The point is, just because itís easy to understand in your head doesnít mean itís easy to do. Of course, itís not at all easy. But if you want to make a change, itís not likely to happen without your taking the first step. 

What would need to happen so you really knew the time to act is now?

Remember the story at the beginning: If you place a frog in a pot of water and begin to heat the pot, the frog will boil to death without even realizing it.

Donít let it happen to you.

Alcohol is the number one family problem

The good news is youíre not alone. The bad news is that alcohol is so prevalent on media and in our culture that itís normalized. If itís a problem for you, itís worth you taking consistent steps towards improving it.

Others have done it and you can to!

To summarize, itís difficult to assess drinking around you. The prevalence of alcohol in our culture and media creates an illusion of normalcy, when in fact there are levels of risk associated with drinking. There are risks to the drinker and risks to the family.

You can decrease the risk to your family.

About the Author...

Jeff Jones is a licensed professional counselor in Lafayette, Colorado.

Last Update: 5/21/2008

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