Updated: Mar 6, 2019
A glass of wine after work, some beer with friends...the culture of social drinking makes it easy to forget that, like any drug, alcohol can be addictive. Once the social aspect fades, the feeling of relaxation can give way to anxiety and soon the need for alcohol takes over. Inhibitions are reduced. You are at risk of experiencing alcohol abuse.
Over time excessive drinking can lead to alcohol dependency, both the physical and psychological inability to quit, and medical intervention may be required. At this point, the ability of the body to resist alcohol is dangerously low, and you are at risk of causing permanent, irreversible damage. You are not alone. Alcohol dependency is the most common addictive disorder in our society.
The expat lifestyle in Bangkok can often exacerbate alcohol dependency, with street bars, pubs and cocktail bars that are open all day. Alcohol is a familiar and, to some, a welcome presence in our daily lives. But for others, it means more than a nice bonus at the end of a hard day or a good time out with friends. The importance of alcohol can preside above all other anxieties and become the most important factor in a person’s daily routine. If this behaviour continues unchecked, it is likely to escalate and lead to a long-term adverse impact on health. This is a key sign of alcohol dependency, and medical advice should be sought out.
Are you drinking too much? Here are some pointers. How many boxes do you tick?
Inability to control alcohol intake after starting to drink.
Surrounding yourself with heavy drinkers.
Getting drunk before actually arriving at parties/bars (pre-partying).
Increasing sense of denial that your heavy drinking is a problem
Always having to finish an alcoholic beverage or even another person's unfinished beverage.
Living a double life by separating drinking life from professional or home life.
Binge drinking (more than 5 drinks in one sitting).
Having chronic blackouts about what happened the night before
Engaging in risky sexual behavior when intoxicated.
Not being able to imagine life without alcohol.
If you suspect that you, or someone you know, is developing an unsafe dependency on alcohol, then your doctor may order a blood test to check for biomarkers. In a suspected alcoholic individual, a blood test may reveal raised liver enzymes and CDT (Carbohydrate-Deficient Transferrin) levels which point towards heavy alcohol consumption.
The effect of excess consumption of alcohol on your health
A known common effect of alcohol dependency, cirrhosis is a late stage of liver scarring which depletes the healthy cells of the liver. This scar tissue can make it harder for blood to pass through the liver, lowering its function. Alcohol dependency can also lead to high blood pressure, diabetes and erectile dysfunction.
Medical treatment and recovery strategies
Take Disulfiram (Antibuse) medication - When taken in combination with alcohol, disulfiram interferes with the metabolism of ethanol, producing unpleasant side effects in the body. It is the knowledge of these side effects that deters individuals from consuming alcohol whilst taking this medication, proving it often very effective.
Monitor your test results – Making sure to keep track of your fibroscan or blood test results can help you monitor your progress, which is an important step in recovering from alcohol abuse. Fibroscan can access the degree of scarring in the liver tissue, and blood tests can account for biomarkers which become elevated due to excessive alcohol consumption.
Enter rehab - There are some wonderful rehabilitation centers that are of easy access which some patients have attended, two of which are the Cabin in Chiang Mai (Lanna centre in Chinag Mai, “Asian Health Channah” center in Koh Chang and also Inspire in Bangkok). Sometimes escaping the hectic life of Bangkok, and the temptations it presents, can be a positive experience and encourage a long way towards recovery.
Treat underlying depression and anxiety - Some medicines which target anxiety and depression can help address addictive behaviours as well. Targeting the psychological source of alcoholism is often very effective.
Set a realistic goal for your alcohol intake. Decide ahead of time how much and how often you would like to drink.
Keep an honest journal of your drinking. This helps you become mindful of your drinking.
Start with a non-alcoholic drink to quench your thirst. When you’re at a social event make sure you have a non-alcoholic drink to start. Thirst can make you drink more alcohol than you need. This also helps you become more mindful of your drinking.
Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Make eating part of the experience. Hunger can also make you drink more alcohol than you need.
Alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Don't have all your alcoholic drinks at once, or you may be tempted to drink more than you planned. Instead have at least one glass of water before each alcoholic drink.
Avoid heavy drinking situations. Some situations are associated with heavy drinking, and it may be difficult to stick to your plan. Learn to recognize and avoid heavy drinking situations.
It is important to remember that recovery from alcohol dependency is a long-term process, and it is common to suffer a relapse. However, it is imperative to not let this discourage you from seeking help and continuing to make healthy lifestyle choices.