When it comes to alcoholism, knowledge is power
This is the second part of a series exploring alcoholism in Michigan written by Carly Keyes, a recovering alcoholic who is on a mission to improve awareness about the disease and ensure others find the help they need. Read her first post here.
I can’t stand the phrase, “Ignorance is bliss.” I never want to stop learning and sharing what I discover, especially when it comes to health topics. In fact, for over a year now I’ve written a bi-weekly column for the Michigan Daily on various health and fitness topics.
But when I was an active alcoholic, I never wanted to learn about the damage my hazardous binge drinking was doing to my body. I was so distraught by the external wreckage my disease was causing me–a chipped front tooth, a cigar burn on my wrist and copious cuts and bruises from nights I blacked out–that the internal damage fell low on my list of concerns.
In the first treatment center I attended, my primary therapist assigned a bunch of homework, including reading the classic book “Under the Influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism.”
As I made my way through the chapters, I realized just how ignorant I had been and got a huge dose of reality. It was the first time I fully understood what was happening on the inside of my body when I drank.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines a standard drink as 12 ounces of regular beer (about 5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (about 12% alcohol), and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol). Binge drinking is defined as drinking so much that within two hours your blood alcohol content levels reach 0.08g/dL. For women, this usually occurs after four drinks, and for men, after about five.
A rough idea of how much alcohol I was consciously consuming in one sitting towards the end of my drinking career: an 18-pack of regular beer or three bottles of wine or a fifth of liquor, by myself, every day. What’s even worse? The alcohol I consumed unconsciously makes those totals even more terrifying. I once woke up after blacking out at a party and a friend told me that he saw me running around the hotel room finishing leftover drinks at the end of the night–something I had absolutely no memory of doing.
Though I fought to preserve my ignorance, I later learned that I was experiencing alcohol poisoning on a consistent basis. According to the NIAAA, that includes mental confusion, stupor, coma or inability to wake up, vomiting, seizures, slow breathing (fewer than 7 breaths per minute), irregular breathing (10 seconds of more between breaths) and hypothermia (low body temperature, bluish skin color and paleness).
I never thought that at 22 years old I would be poisoning my body with alcohol and that I’d need to end my drinking once and for all just to survive. But that’s the nature of alcoholism; it’s a progressive disease.
If all of this makes you wonder about your drinking habits, here are a few signs and symptoms that it’s time to ask for help:
– You drink alone
– You need a drink in the morning to stop your hands from shaking
– You “bookend” (you drink before and after you go to social events)
– You’re constantly worried about when and where your next drink is coming from
– You drink to the point of losing consciousness (blacking out)
– You make promises about your drinking that you can’t keep
– You try to control your drinking and find that you can’t
– You can’t stop drinking despite serious negative consequences
The NIAAA also offers a short survey to gauge the nature of your current relationship with alcohol. You can’t take the next step if you don’t learn everything you can. Remember: Ignorance is not at all bliss.
About Carly: Carly Keyes is originally from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and currently studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where she has a double concentration in Screen Arts & Cultures and Psychology and a minor in Writing. Carly is a filmmaker, a singer-songwriter, and a film journalist and health and fitness columnist for the Michigan Daily newspaper. Find her on Facebook at facebook.com/carlykeyes, follow her on twitter @CarlyKeyes, and discover her talents and learn more about her journey at www.carlykeyes.com.
Photo credit: KOMUNews