Brookings register | Alcoholism … start the conversation

Alcoholism, and addiction in general, is not a character defect or a weakness in self-control. It’s a disease. And, if you’re like most of us, you’ve probably been affected by it. Perhaps you are struggling with alcohol use or a friend or family member is suffering from it. I rarely speak with someone who doesn’t have a personal story of how addiction has affected their life.

In fact, approximately 14 million adults suffer from an alcohol use disorder and there are approximately 95,000 alcohol-related deaths each year in this country.

Unfortunately, we don’t think of this like any other medical illness, so we don’t usually tell our primary care doctor about it. But it’s one of the best places to start the conversation, during your annual checkup, when talking about health goals. there is nothing wrong with saying, “I think I have a drinking problem. “

Some of the warning signs to look for in yourself or a loved one include sacrificing family ties for your addiction, such as missing a child’s ball game, a concert, or graduation. The things you used to love are just falling apart. You are tired and foggy, barely able to get up in the morning. You crave substance. You are counting the time until you can get out of work and have a drink. You risk losing your job or important relationships, or you get into trouble with the law. You tell yourself and others that you could easily quit smoking and that you will; but you never do.

By starting the conversation, you will have a clearer path to the help you need. Your doctor can guide you to outpatient counseling or support groups, or perhaps treatment in a facility.

There is an overlap between behavioral health and substance abuse in terms of risk factors. Like behavioral health, addiction has a genetic inheritance of around 60%. Mental health issues and a history of trauma put you at greater risk for addiction. And like with so many health issues, the earlier you start, the worse the disease gets. Those who start drinking before the age of 15 have a five times higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.

I have spent my career talking about and dealing with drug addiction. I see that the conversation is changing, and that encourages me. There is a growing social awareness about drug addiction. More and more, we are willing to have frank and productive conversations about it.

The next time your doctor asks you questions about drinking, take that as an invitation to have an honest conversation.

Matthew Stanley, DO, a psychiatrist in Sioux Falls, is a Prairie Doc columnist and guest host this week on the Prairie Doc TV show. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc Library, visit and follow Prairie Doc on Facebook with On Call with the Prairie Doc, a medical question-and-answer show streamed on Facebook and broadcast on SDPB almost every Thursday at 7 p.m.

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