Alcoholism is a destructive force around the globe, and Canada is no exception. According to Canada's Chief Health Officer, "At least three million drinking Canadians risk acute illness, such as injury and at least four and half million risk chronic conditions such as liver disease and cancer." In 2008, impaired driving (drunk driving) was the leading cause of criminal death in Canada.
While drinking alcohol is socially acceptable, alcohol abuse is very serious and can be life-threatening. If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol abuse, it is vital to understand what it is and how to treat it.
How do you know if you are an alcoholic?
From April of 2013 to March of 2014, $20.5 billion worth of alcohol was sold in Canada. While it's socially accepted to drink, the line between "social drinking" and alcoholism can be thin. The signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse vary from person to person, but common ones include:
- Blacking out (drinking so much you don't remember entire hours at a time)
- Building up a tolerance (needing more and more alcohol to feel the same effect)
- Drinking by yourself, or secretly
- Not being able to stop consuming alcohol (thinking or saying, "I can stop anytime", but then not be able to)
- Using alcohol as a way of handling emotional distress
- Suffering from financial, career, legal, and/or relationship issues caused by or exacerbated by drinking
- If you do try to stop drinking, experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, nausea, and the shakes
What are the risks of alcohol abuse?
Alcoholism accelerates the aging process in the human body, leaving someone who abuses it vulnerable to an elevated risk of a number of illnesses. Basically, left untreated, alcohol abuse destroys your physical health.
According to the Report on the State of Public Health in Canada for 2015, drinking alcohol is linked to:
- Brain damage, liver disease, and various cancers
- Pancreatitis, stomach ulcers, and diabetes
- Hypertension, stroke, and cardiovascular disease
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Other drug use disorders, mental health disorders, and suicide
Alcohol abuse also frequently affects those around you in pervasive and dangerous ways. Since alcohol consumption slows reaction time, those who drink are particularly dangerous behind the wheel of a car. In point of fact, Canada ranks first among 19 wealthy countries for percentage of car accident deaths linked to alcohol impairment.
It's common for alcoholics to be in denial about their addiction, but this doesn't make it any less dangerous. The truth of addiction is that it is compulsive and hugely risky, to the point of being fatal. If you or someone needs help, know that it is available and it is critical to seek it as soon as possible.
What treatment options are available for alcoholism, and what is alcohol rehab?
Rehab, short for rehabilitation, is about support and recovery from alcohol addiction. Many alcohol treatment centers offer both inpatient and outpatient services, and keep treatment confidential. Depending on the severity of the alcoholism, an inpatient alcohol rehab center may be the best option.
The first step at an inpatient alcohol rehab center is often medical detox, which can last anywhere between 3 days to 2 weeks. Heavy drinkers are likely to have become physiologically addicted to alcohol, meaning they need professional medical help while ridding their body of it.
Without structured support, detox symptoms can be agonizing and sometimes deadly. Inpatient alcohol rehab treatment centers are well equipped to help manage symptoms and keep people safe and comfortable as they detox and go through withdrawal.
After detox, you begin therapy. Depending on the rehab facility and program, you may have a combination of individual and group therapy. In individual therapy, you meet with a licensed mental health professional who guides you through the steps necessary to better understand your situation and how to recover. This, alongside peer-based group therapy, is viewed as one of the best treatment options for alcoholism.
Group therapy in particular allows people to share their struggles with one another in a safe environment. When you connect with those who've been through similar situations, you feel less alone and more equipped to move forward and heal. Many report group therapy as an instructive and inspiring experience. It allows for the opportunity for healing and growth in a truly non-judgmental setting.
The path forward
In 2012, alcohol was linked to over 3 million deaths worldwide -- more than deaths from HIV/AIDS and lung cancer combined. The risks are very real.
Drinking problems do not go away on their own, and being an alcoholic can be exhausting. Alcoholism harms not only your physical health, but can impact your career, close relationships, and future. For many alcoholics, everyday life can become a battle, often triggering depressive episodes, anxiety and sometimes even suicide.
In essence, alcohol rehabilitation is the chance to turn your life around. It is the opportunity to explore and resolve the root causes of alcoholism in order to heal, recover, and eventually thrive.
It is important to remember that millions of others have been through alcoholism and come out on the other side. They bravely came to grips with their addiction, fought for their recovery, and won.
With the right assistance, you are absolutely capable of the same. You can get your life back.