This type of cancer affects your blood, your bone marrow and then… everything else. Know what sucks even more? The chemotherapy treatment for leukemia. It is so long, so complex that the medical team taking care of Katy wouldn’t even give her the whole plan at once – they had to wait to see if she responded.The first 4-week phase actually lasted for five weeks.
She received two types of IV chemo: an oral chemo, and a spinal chemo. To check the progress of the treatments, she underwent regular bone marrow biopsies and ended up in intensive care more than once.
During the first treatment, Katy asked for palliative care to begin as she wanted to stop all treatment. She’d never really wanted treatment – she had seen her grandpa die of lung cancer and didn’t want to be sick like he had been.
The doctors pulled out all the stops to convince her to continue – brought a therapy dog up to her intensive care bed and let it get up on the bed with her. She got involved in art therapy, music therapy, and had a psychiatrist, psychologist and a pain management team.
She continued with the treatment.
During the first few weeks that she was in the hospital, I developed cellulitis in my ankles that was spreading up my legs and I popped into the ER twice to get treated. During my second bout, the doctors wanted to admit me for IV antibiotics. I needed to be with Katy and declined. Instead, I just put my feet up whenever we were hanging out in her room.
Too weak to walk any real distance, she was pushed in a wheelchair while we roamed the halls, often popping outside to have a smoke. Katy, of course, made two great friends in the smoking area – a transsexual who had heart problems and a pregnant woman, just like she’d made friends on her leukemia floor.
The ICU nurse became a friend of the family and after a particularly nasty side effects of chemotherapy – the lining of her colon separated and shed, leaving her to poop blood for a week. Katy was then put onto a liquid diet, and being my food loving child, our old neighbor made her “stringy roast” which Katy happily ate.
Oh boy, her doctor was pissed.
Katy hated that doctor and refused to speak to her, so he and I had conferences in the hallway. Thankfully this doctor was only rotating through the leukemia ward and she wasn’t stuck with him.
When Katy was discharged the first time into her husband’s care, this doctor ordered the removal of the PICC line without discussing it with us which turned out to be a major pain..
When we returned for her first outpatient treatment, they, of course, didn’t get a vein and she had to be readmitted to the hospital. The PICC line became permanent to help treat the leukemia.
The staff at The Clinic was great! Originally, one of the nurses who had a strong personality (and Katy didn’t like) started her chemo treatment but they began to open up and bonded.
The medical assistants were also good friends of Katy’s, and once, her favorite aide (who wore a wig like Katy did), so the medical assistant put on one of the wigs while Katy put on the other. They giggled and took pictures that night.
The same aide on another night made a video of the clocks turning back and Katy wanted to see it. She asked to see the video, but he misunderstood (haha!), so we had to spell out c.l.o.c.k video.
Because nothing comes easy, my husband was diagnosed with throat cancer, living in an AirBnB near The Clinic so that he was able to complete his seven week outpatient radiation treatment. He had been taking care of Rae while we were in the hospital.
While he was away getting his treatment, Katy came home and we decided that we could take care of Rae ourselves. With the neighbors help, we could go to Katy’s long treatment appointments without worry.
My stepkids saw my devotion to Katy and her treatment and felt that I should be there for their father, my husband. I felt that he wasn’t nearly as sick as she and could spend time alone while Katy couldn’t. We’ve only recently mended bridges.
More and more, Katy caught infection after infection and had to spend more time in the hospital. Her beloved PICC line was replaced she got a port placed instead. Unfortunately that too became infected and it had to be removed.
Pain was a major issue for her and while she was in the hospital, she had a morphine pump and a fentanyl patch. I was the one doling out her meds and occasionally she overdosed, necessitating Narcan.
She was in the hospital during Thanksgiving weekend and my brothers (her uncles) came to visit, which she loved. I’d given her a pain pill before they got there and was nodding off. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, my husband brought Rae – who was now ten! – to see her as well.
After that visit, the nurses administered Narcan again after questioning me – and lecturing me – about giving her extra pain medications. They were very nice about it but I felt awful.
Katy then developed a serious fungal infection and was moved from the leukemia unit to intensive care.
One of her ICU nurses made friends with her and visited when she could. That night, when her favorite nurse came by to visit, she told Katy, “see you tomorrow!” to which Katy replied, “you’d better!”
Those were the last words she ever spoke.
Her brother came up for a visit and while he was there the medical staff had to remove her port. Hospice stopped by as they were putting in another line which was very painful, but I’d told hospice that I’d given the go-ahead so that she could get some pain medication.
We spoke to hospice and the hospice staff said it would be hours to days before she passed.
We asked that she could move to a room down in the leukemia unit, where the staff began to say goodbye. We saw them often as they came in to administer medication to make her feel more comfortable.
A sign was put on the door to see the nurse before entering the room; I always wondered what those signs were for. My son and I slept in the room, talking to her and holding her hand before we went to sleep.
When I got up in the morning, I said, “Good morning, Katy” and went down for coffee and a smoke When I returned. I could tell she was gone.
She was so very still.
And like that, she was gone.
I was so glad that our relationship was good during the months that she was sick, but I am devastated that she had had such a rough life and such a tough struggle with addiction.
I felt everything. All of it.
Later, I had to go home and tell Rae that her Mommy died.
That was the worst thing ever.
My grieving is a whole other story
Having addiction run in your family is one of the hardest thing to shield our children from. Sometimes, we just can’t help our children.
This is part one of a three part series from one of our amazing Facebook friends.
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My daughter Katy was always a challenge – she’d not left the Terrible Twos – and when she got older, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). As much of a challenge as she could be, she was also very pretty, smart, and funny. One of my favorite memories is how she loved to eat so much that she’d eat in her sleep – sometimes she’d fall asleep and wake up and continue chewing. No one came between her and her food.
My very favorite Katy moment was right after she was born, they laid her on me, and she lifted her head and looked right at me. Crazy, right?
I still hold that moment close to my heart – has gotten me through a lot of tough times.
Addiction runs in the family, her father was an addict, and by the time she was five, we divorced. He was a terrible, mean person, but never did anything that kept him from seeing his kids. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t just pack up the kids and leave.
By the seventh grade, Katy had begun doing drugs and skipping school.
We fought a lot and when Katy was 16, she told me that she wanted to go live with her dad. Instead of my usual, “you can go when the judge says so,” I said,
“You can go and you can come back if you change your mind, but if you do this again, you cannot come back to live with me. I can’t keep doing this back and forth.”
And that was exactly what happened, she stayed a few weeks and came home. Her father moved in with Katy’s grandfather, who was dying of cancer, and Katy helped out with him and the problems caused by cancer. She decided to stay with her dad and go to school there.
Her grandpa was on hospice which meant that he had a lot of morphine around. Later, I realized that her dad was taking his father’s morphine and giving it to Katy.
Morphine turned into methamphetamines and our relationship began to crumble.
By then, I’d gotten remarried and my new husband didn’t want her to live with us when she asked to move back in. I enforced my previous statement, telling her that she couldn’t come home.
Shortly thereafter, she moved back in with her dad.
In 2007, she married a nice guy; one who complemented Katy well. She was very manipulative and he was able to deal with it. Unfortunately, after he joined the Army Reserves and was deployed to Egypt, which left Katy alone with my newborn granddaughter, Rae. Her daughter’s birth, of course, was crippled with complications; she developed a uterine infection and a week after discharge, her uterus burst.
After her major surgery, the doctors told Katy that she probably couldn’t have any more kids.
Katy was a fierce mom. She was a good mother – very firm but fair. Rae still has excellent manners and is very well-behaved because of her amazing mother. During her ten day hospital stay, she fought the nurses to make sure she could nurse Rae. Once home, she was in huge amounts of pain. This is when I believe her addiction to opiates began.
With her husband away in Egypt, Katy got involved with an old friend and with her pain pill prescriptions used up, she turned to heroin. Our relationship was still very shaky – when I told her she wasn’t allowed to come to Easter, we didn’t speak for over a year. Even still, she let me see my granddaughter.
Drugs had rotted her teeth and beautiful smile. The poor thing had to have them extracted and get dentures. I was with her and it was gruesome.
For my own mental health, I had to distance myself from her. I couldn’t deal with the drama in her life – especially the drama with her father. He, and I believe Katy as well, had borderline personality disorder. She was a difficult person – always talking, needing help, wanting something, craving love, starved for attention, and it drained my husband and son. I’d try to avoid getting drawn into her drama, but she’d sense me pulling away and she’d draw me back in.
When Mike, her husband returned from Egypt, Mike began using heroin as well and the three of them moved in with my ex-husband.
On and off drugs, Katy was overwhelming.
At 56, her dad died due to multiple overdoses. He’d been a heavy drinker and drug abuser all of his life. As Katy had bought the drugs that killed him, so her half-brothers blamed her for their dad’s death. They became estranged, which broke Katy’s heart as she loved family above all.
Both Katy and my son, Chris were very relieved when their dad died because he was so cruel to them. Katy replied to someone who said that “he was in a better place” by saying that “no, he was in hell.”
In 2017, Katy began the process of getting clean and sober and had moved to a city with a friend to get away from her husband who was still using.
She’d gone to the hospital for something and called me afterward, stating that she’d been diagnosed with lymphoma – a kind of cancer.
I didn’t believe her.
I thought she was faking it and using the lymphoma as a way for us to take her in. We had a huge blowout and she turned around and left my house.
Thanks to the heroin, her husband Mike had a bad heart valve and needed open heart surgery, and, being a caregiver, she moved back in with him.
That summer, she ended up staying with us in our cabin in Pennsylvania and I noticed she was tired. Always so tired. She slept so much and so often that I wondered if she was on drugs.
Concerned, we took her to a hospital in Pittsburgh on Father’s Day 2017 where she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
I remember staring at those three awful words written on a whiteboard in her room. She had been within days of dying. Days.
And I hadn’t believed her.
The hospital started her treatment and we had her transferred to the Cleveland Clinic closer to our house. From then on, I was on auto-pilot.
I was a caretaker too: my mom was bipolar which meant that I had to take care of her when I was a kid.
I was the oldest of four and my parents divorced when I was 15, so becoming her caretaker fell into my lap. She’d made numerous suicide attempts and was in and out of the inpatient psych ward multiple times a year.
My dad had a stroke 12 years ago and was in and out of the hospital and nursing homes for seven months before he died. I went multiple times a week to visit, it was nice to spend time with him.
I was raised to be a caretaker.
I stayed with Katy constantly from the moment she had been admitted until the day she died. There were a few nights that her friends would spend time with her so that I could rest. Otherwise, I slept on a chair that converted to a bed. I showered in the family showers and drank coffee from their family lounge
Katy’s first treatment course lasted five weeks and she was stuck in the hospital for the entirety of it. The staff was awesome. They didn’t even mention the track marks on her arms or asked if she’d done drugs.
And that was the beginning of the end for us all.
Mary sat there with her eyes rolling back into her head; her mouth foaming a bit. Her newborn baby was sleeping in her arms while she jostled him each time she would nod out and try to keep focused.
She looks up at me and says, “you just want to take my baby away from me. All of you Social Workers are the same.”
I stare blankly. I am new at this, but I can’t let Mary know that. I am just 25 years old, and she is well into her 40′s. She is not new at this, not by along shot.
Little does she know it isn’t her newborn I am after, it is her disease.
“Do you have any other kids Mary?” I ask, as I fill out her assessment.
“Yeah. 4. They all were taken away from me because people like you don’t think I care about my kids. People like you think I have no heart, and all I care about is drugs.”
I clarify for her that people like me what to see her clean, healthy, and safe.
After an hour long assessment I learned Mary has been using for more than ten years. She doesn’t even remember how old she was when she started, but she does remember the first time she sold her body for a hit of heroin. She tried rehab too many times to count, and currently she is high on the doctor-prescribed methadone mixed with a hit of heroin.
The air is thick with concerns, and I am forced to send her back out on the street with her newborn wondering if she has a warm place to stay tonight. I asked her and she laughed at me and said, “yes where else would I bring this baby?”
She still thinks I want her baby. She doesn’t know I want her disease.
I want Mary to claim war on it. I want her to fight with me. I want her to have the ability to see herself as more then just a drug addict. I want her to see herself not as a prostituting drug whore, but as a loving Mom.
It is clear she is an addict, but it is also clear to me she is a loving Mom as well (the baby is swaddled in a blanket, fed, and she is cooing at him. She bathes him in kisses, and opens her diaper bag for a pacifier). That baby deserves his Mother to fight the war. That baby deserves a better life then getting passed around the drug world, because if he stays he will never get out.
I really don’t want to take her baby.
After a few more meetings and evaluations, Mary refuses my advice to go into family residential treatment. It is the only way for her to keep her newborn son, and for them both to be safe. She isn’t ready for the fight. Her disease is telling her that it is more important then her kids. Her disease is running Mary.
Mary isn’t fighting because she hasn’t “hit bottom” or reclaimed the right to her body, her life, her choices.
By now I am sure you know the outcome, Mary lost her baby to the state. Her 5th child to the system. I was just another Social Worker that had to report it. I was, what she said I was, a baby snatcher. I wish I could explain why, but nothing I said comforted her. She refused treatment, and I, ethically, could not let her continue to take care of her 1 month old on the streets she sells herself and buys drugs on.
You may be reading this and thinking “I’ll never get this low,” “This isn’t me” “my story is different” or “it hasn’t consumed me” “I have control of it”.
Don’t fool yourself, Mary thought all of these things as well.
Addiction is all the same disease.
It will consume you if you don’t choose to consume it. It will make you give it everything. It can push you to do things you never imagined you be willing to do. It will cost you not only years of your life, but your loved ones. It will take all of who you are, and what makes you “YOU”, and give it a slow and painful death.
It is violent, and abusive, and it needs to stop.
As a professional in the field of Addiction I can tell you this: You can not do it alone. You shouldn’t have to do it alone. If you needed surgery to remove tumor, do you take the scalpel and do it yourself? No. It is the same thing my friend, the VERY same thing.
A disease is a disease is a disease.
We (professionals) aren’t here to take your babies. We aren’t here to pass judgment and tell you how bad you are. We didn’t get a degree in this to make fun of you, or to watch you pee in a cup.
We did it to help you fight. We are here to reclaim you.
I am no longer 25 years old, and I may not be in the business of rehab anymore (instead I am a stay at home, blogging Mom). However, Mary, and all the other people I sat with in various rooms at various locations will always be in my heart.
I will always feel like I am a warrior against Addiction.
I will always want to win the war, support addicts and their families. And I am here to tell you….
you are not alone with that monster.
Don’t let the Addiction win.
Reclaim yourself, your life, and what you rightly deserve.
Seek help, and fight the war.
Alcoholism What Is?
Alcoholism is a chronic, often progressive disease in which a person craves alcohol and drinks despite repeated alcohol-related problems. Problems with alcohol can run the spectrum from mild drinking problem to life-threatening, and affect not only the alcoholic, but the alcoholic’s family as well as the general population in many negative ways.
Despite the focus on all of the illegal drugs of substance abuse (cocaine, crystal meth), alcohol is the number one substance abuse problem in the United States. 1 in 6, or almost 18 million adults are dependent upon alcohol, or have other alcohol-related problems. Teenagers most frequently abuse alcohol as well.
One in every three motor vehicle fatalities involves alcohol, 50% of drownings are due to alcohol, almost 20% of fire-related death, and almost 50% of murders are related to alcohol use. These shocking numbers are proof that we must work to help those who struggle with alcohol.
Alcoholism is often termed “a family disease” as alcohol negatively impacts the lives of family members and others close to the alcoholic in many ways. For the alcoholic to recover from alcoholism, family members must take part in recovery from alcohol abuse.
For people who are physically dependent upon alcohol, withdrawal from alcohol is far more dangerous than withdrawal from other substances of abuse.
What Is Alcohol Abuse Versus Alcohol Dependence?
Alcoholism can manifest itself in the forms of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence:
Alcohol Abuse is defined as excessive, problematic use of alcohol in addition to one (or more) of the following:
- Failure to fulfill obligations at work, school or home.
- Legal problems or other problems with the law.
- Continued use of alcohol despite having problems caused by drinking.
- Recurrent alcohol use in dangerous situations.
Alcohol Dependence is a far more serious disorder, which involves extreme and maladaptive usage of alcohol, leading to three or more of the following:
- Increased tolerance for alcohol, requiring more and more to get the same effects.
- Inability to stop or cut back on drinking.
- Spending much of the time drinking or recovering from drinking.
- Drinking despite knowing the alcohol is causing problems.
- Drinking more alcohol (or drinking over a longer period of time than intended).
- Withdrawal symptoms if an attempt to stop drinking is made, or using alcohol as a means to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay.
- Giving up social or work activities to drink.
- Binge drinking, or drinking several drinks in a relatively short period of time.
What Causes Alcoholism?
There is no one single established cause for alcoholism. There is mounting evidence that there are both genetic and biologic predispositions for alcoholism, but it has not been proven.
Generally speaking, a number of factors lead to a person developing a problem with alcohol. Social factors, like peer pressure, familial influence, societal influences, as well as the availability may play a part in developing a problem with alcohol.
Psychological factors, like increased levels of stress, improper coping mechanisms, and reinforcement of drinking alcohol from other alcoholics can also play a factor in the development of alcoholism.
Twice as many men are dependent upon alcohol as women, and alcohol problems are highest within the 18-29 age bracket. People who begin to drink before age 21 are also at increased risk for the development of alcoholism.
Who Is At Risk for Alcoholism?
While alcoholism may not have a single cause, it is known that there are a number of risk factors that can lead to the development of problems with alcohol. These risk factors include:
Men who drink 15 or more alcoholic beverages a week (one drink equals one 12 oz beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of liquor).
Women who drink 12 or more alcoholic beverages a week.
Any person who has 5 or more drinks per occasion per week.
Individuals whose parents exhibit alcohol abuse or dependence.
Individuals who begin drinking at a young age.
Individuals who struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
At great risk for the development of alcoholism are children of alcoholics. These children of alcohols are also at risk for a multitude of other problems, such as:
- Substance abuse
- Conduct disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Mood disorders
What Are The Five Types of Alcoholics?
1) Young Adult Sub-types are the largest sub-type of alcoholics. Alcoholics by age twenty-four, they rarely seek treatment for alcoholism. They do drink less frequently than other types of alcoholics, but engage in binge-drinking when they do drink.
2)Young Antisocial Sub-type are twenty-six years old on average, often smoke cigarettes and pot but tend to become alcoholics by age eighteen. This sub-type doesn’t overlap with Young Adult alcoholics. Over half of them have antisocial personality disorder.
3) Functional Sub-type are generally middle-aged working adults who have stable relationships, higher education and higher income than other alcoholics. They drink every other day, five or more drinks on drinking days.
4) Immediate Familial Sub-type who typically began drinking at seventeen and became alcoholic by age thirty. Over half of these have an immediate family member who is an alcoholic.
5) Chronic Severe Sub-type is the rarest type. Mostly includes divorced men who frequently use illicit drugs.
What Are The Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse?
Alcoholism is a disease that is most often diagnosed through behaviors and problematic effects upon functioning, rather than a set of specific medical symptoms. In fact, only two of the diagnostic criteria are physiological (tolerance and withdrawal).
Abuse of alcohol and alcoholism are associated with a wide variety of social, legal, medical, psychiatric, occupational, economic, and family problems.
Most people who have problems with alcohol remain unrecognized by health care professionals, as an alcohol will often conceal the amount and type of drinking, deny that drinking is leading to problems, the onset of alcoholism is slow, the effects of alcoholism develop subtly, and the human body can adapt to the increasing amounts of alcohol in the system.
Family and loved ones of an alcoholic often deny or minimize the problems of the alcoholic, unintentionally contributing to the alcoholism, such as protecting the alcoholic from the problems associated with drinking, taking over the responsibilities of the family.
When confronted, alcoholics will usually deny that they drink too much or have a drinking problem. Because alcoholism, like other types of addiction, is influenced by the personality of the alcoholic, the symptoms and signs of alcoholism vary widely.
Some of the symptoms that a person has a problem with alcohol can include:
- Frequent falling
- Many different bruises
- Blacking out
- Missing school or work
- Losing a job
- Marital separation
- Multiple car crashes
- Weight loss
- Appearing intoxicated often
Chronic alcohol abuse has medical conditions associated with the disease as well. Medical conditions associated with alcoholism can include the following:
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Alcoholic Neuropathy – malfunctioning of the nerves
- Cerebellar atrophy
- Alcoholic cardiomyopathy – heart disease
- Wernike’s encephalopathy – abnormal functioning of the brain
- Korsakoff’s dementia
- Peptic ulcers
- Bleeding in the GI tract.
Those who abuse alcohol are at great risk for mental illness and suicide as these individuals feel guilt, shame, and depression, especially when their disease causes significant losses in their lives (such as a divorce or losing a job).
How Is Alcoholism Diagnosed?
A diagnosis of alcoholism is usually made by observing a person’s behavior, unless the person is going through alcohol withdrawal or has other significant medical issues that warrant medical intervention.
Alcoholism is defined as the consumption of alcohol to the point that it interferes with a person’s personal, social, occupational or medical life. Because no two alcoholics are alike, it can be a challenge to make a diagnosis of alcoholism. However, there are several screening tests that health care providers may use to identify those at risk for alcoholism. These screening tests include:
Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (MAST), which is a twenty-two question test often used by counselors.
CAGE Questionnaire: this screening tool asks only four questions. The more the “yes” answers, the greater the likelihood the person has a problem with alcohol:
- Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
- Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt Guilty about your drinking?
- Do you have a drink first thing in the morning (an Eye opener) to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
TACE Questionnaire is similar to the CAGE Questionnaire. The more “yes” responses, the higher the likelihood the person has a problem with alcohol.
- How many drinks does it Take to get you drunk?
- Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
- Do you need an Eye-Opener drink each morning to steady your hands or get rid of your hangover?
Medical testing may be done to ascertain the extent of damage that alcohol has caused. These may include:
Laboratory blood draws may be performed to determine liver function, presence of anemia, electrolyte imbalances. Additional testing will be performed depending upon any medical complications.
What Is Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?
Alcoholic ketoacidosis (AKA) is a condition in which emergency medical treatment is necessary. Alcoholic ketoacidosis typically begins within four days after an alcoholic has stopped the consumption of alcohol, fluids, and food, generally from another medical problem, such as pancreatitis. AKA often occurs alongside alcohol withdrawal.
The signs of alcoholic ketoacidosis include, nausea, dehydration, and abdominal pain. These symptoms are caused by the burning of fat cells for energy, which releases ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are acids that accumulate in the blood, causing the person to feel increasingly sicker, perpetuating the viscous cycle.
How Is Alcoholism Treated?
It’s recommended that any alcoholic person seeking treatment for alcoholism utilize a team of medical professionals and therapy to ensure a safe, stable, and successful treatment. Treatment of alcoholism is divided into three stages:
1) Stabilization – the treating doctor must first make sure that person undergoing treatment for alcoholism is medically stable. This may include treatment of medical issues related or not related to the alcoholism. Alcohol withdrawal is treated with IV fluids and medications to reverse the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
2) Detoxification – during the detoxification stage (usually lasts a week) of alcoholism treatment, all consumption of alcohol will stop. As one can imagine, this stage is extremely difficult for an alcohol-dependent person and requires strict discipline and extensive support. Detox often occurs in an inpatient setting, where there is no alcohol available.
3) Rehabilitation – any treatment of alcoholism must include a long-term program to help treat those who are extremely dependent upon alcohol. Goals for rehabilitation include developing the skills not to drink, build a proper support system, and prevent relapses. Alcohol rehabilitation can occur in the following forms:
- Short-Term Programs – these rehabilitation programs last less than four weeks and involve therapy, education, training of skills, and the development of a long-term plan to prevent relapsing.
- Outpatient Counseling – this type of therapy is often the “step-down” after a stint in a rehabilitation center and can include individual, family, or group therapy. This type of therapy can help teach former alcoholics not to drink and spot early signs of a possible relapse.
4) Follow-Up – a person who suffers from alcoholism must make the decision on their own to stop abusing alcohol. Without such resolve, the goal of long-term sobriety may fall short. This can include:
- The recovering alcoholic should find – and attend – a social support group or counseling.
- The person should avoid any social situations that involve alcohol consumption.
- Home should be kept alcohol-free to avoid an impulsive relapse.
What Are The Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal?
Withdrawal from alcohol requires medical treatment and care as alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be life-threatening. The 4 phases of alcohol withdrawal are as follows:
1) Tremulous Stage – tremor of hands and legs, especially evident if the person going through alcohol withdrawal attempts to hold out his or her hand. This stage of alcohol withdrawal is often accompanied by restlessness, anxiety, and agitation.
2) Seizures often follow the tremulous stage of alcohol withdrawal in 25% of people. These seizures are most often generalized seizures, during which the whole body shakes uncontrollably until the person loses consciousness.
3) Hallucinations affect 25% of people during the late stages of major alcohol withdrawal. Visual hallucinations, such as insects or worms crawling the walls or on their skin. Many times, these visual hallucinations are accompanied by tactile hallucinations; the alcoholic going through withdrawal may also feel the insects on their skin (where there are none), which is called formication. Less commonly, auditory hallucinations occur during alcohol withdrawal.
4) Delirium Tremens (DT’s), the most dangerous stage of alcohol withdrawal, affect 5% of people withdrawing from alcohol and begins 48-72 hours after alcohol use ceases. The hallmark of the DTs is pronounced delirium – the alcoholic is awake, but confused, agitated, sweating, hallucinating. The DTs also cause hypertension and tachycardia. The Delirium Tremens is a medical emergency. If untreated, death may occur in almost 35% people. Even with medical treatment, the DTs is associated with 5%-15% death rate.
Can Alcoholism Be Prevented?
Because there has been no research that has conclusively determined the root cause for alcoholism, the only way to prevent alcoholism is through abstaining from drinking. In order to become an alcoholic, one must first become dependent upon alcohol.
If there is a strong family history of alcoholism, there is an increased risk for the development of alcoholism. Knowing that there is, indeed, a risk for developing alcoholism can help modify the attitude toward alcohol.
Ensure that you have a strong social support system in place and if you should find yourself drinking too much or becoming dependent upon alcohol, seek immediate treatment for alcoholism.
What’s The Prognosis for Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a chronic disease, much like heart disease or diabetes. A treatment success rate of 50% is very similar to those suffering other chronic conditions.
Being able to maintain sobriety is a challenge for anyone with an addiction, and with alcohol use being so prevalent in our society, it is understandable that many recovering alcoholics may relapse. For those who don’t seek follow-up treatment after alcohol detoxification, the relapse rate is as high as 60%.
The key factors that influence the relapse rate are:
- Higher levels of anger and frustration.
- Less education about addiction and ways to avoid urges to drink.
- Longer history of cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
- More frequent alcohol consumption prior to treatment.
If a person who struggles with alcoholism continues to drink after many ongoing treatments, the prognosis is very poor. Those who are persistent heavy drinkers often succumb to the effects of alcohol.
What Are Some Warning Signs Of Alcoholism?
If you or someone you love find yourself saying “yes” to a number of these questions, you may be abusing alcohol.
Do you or a loved one find yourself drinking alone?
Are you unable to decrease the amount you drink or stop drinking entirely?
Do you find yourself making excuses to drink?
Do you try to hide your drinking?
Do you become hostile when confronted by others about your drinking?
Do you miss work, school, or other social activities due to drinking?
Do you need alcohol to function during the day?
Are you irritable when sober?
Do you need alcohol to feel “normal?”
Do you find your hands shaking or trembling when you’re sober?
Are you taking care of yourself physically?
If you answered yes to a number of these questions, you may be abusing alcohol and should make an appointment to speak to your health care provider.
What Are The Signs of Alcohol Dependence?
Alcohol dependence is a very serious condition that comes with many medical, social, and lifestyle concerns. If you, or someone you love, can answer “yes” to a number of the following questions, you should immediately seek the care of your doctor.
Have you said yes to some of the above symptoms of alcohol abuse?
Do you experience black-outs (black-outs are memory lapses during periods of heavy drinking)?
Do you experience withdrawal symptoms during periods of sobriety?
Do you need greater amounts of alcohol to feel “drunk?”
Do you have an alcohol-related liver disease?
If you can answer yes to the above questions, seek immediate medical treatment. One should never attempt to stop drinking without a medical treatment plan.
If You or a Family Member Has a Drinking Problem:
Join a support group for people who are struggling with the same problems you are. Al-Anon, Alateen, and Adult Children of Alcoholics are all excellent support groups.
See a therapist, talk to a friend, or someone you can confide in. Isolation makes the situation much harder for you and your family.
Denying that there is a problem is damaging to you and to the rest of the family. As hard as it is to admit there is a problem, it can be liberating.
What Not To Do If Your Loved One Has A Drinking Problem:
Don’t cover up the problem or make excuses for the alcoholic.
Don’t take over responsibilities for the alcoholic as that will remove their dignity and sense of importance and enable their negative behavior.
Don’t be a martyr. Emotional appeals may further push the addict to abuse.
Don’t hide the bottles or shelter someone from situations where alcohol is present.
Don’t try to punish, threaten, preach or bribe the alcoholic.
Don’t ever, ever, EVER feel guilty or responsible for the behavior of the alcoholic. It’s not your fault. It cannot be your fault. You cannot make someone else do something they aren’t ready to do.
Additional Alcoholism Resources:
The 12-step programs, the Anonymous Programs, cover almost every addiction:
Alcoholics Anonymous The most widely used recovery and support group for alcoholics.
Al-Anon/Alateen 12-step recovery program for the families of alcoholics as alcoholism is a family disease.
Adult Children of Alcoholics– an anonymous 12-step program for adult children who grew up in an alcoholic home.
Additional Resources for Alcoholism:
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse– Research, publications, and resources about alcohol, alcoholism for families, health care providers and the general public.
Adult Children of Alcoholics, Janet G Woititz. This book provides wisdom and information for all adult children of dysfunctional families of alcoholics. It’s easily one of the best and most powerful books out there about growing up in an alcoholic home.
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc Information and resources on alcoholism and drug dependencies, as well as support for parents, young people, and recovering addicts. Online tests available to help you determine if you or your loved one should seek help.
Reflections Rehab Center’s page offers a quiz to determine if you or a loved one are addicted to alcohol.
Page last audited 7/2018