Even though we have more access to information regarding Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) than ever before, there are still many misconceptions surrounding the disease. Over-generalizations and assumptions can be toxic roadblocks that prevent those who struggle with overusing alcohol from getting the help they need.
Leslie Martin is a licensed clinical social worker who serves clients with addictions in her private practice. She explains how mislabeling and “[Seeing] the disease as an all or nothing dichotomy [is a] challenge that prevents people from being able to seek care.”
Insensitive terms like “alcoholic” or “alcoholism” fail to acknowledge Alcohol Use Disorder as the gradual disease that it often is. Martin says that “extreme terms can be problematic because addictions are a progressive brain disorder. It’s not a problem that occurs overnight; it is a problem that occurs over time.” She explains that the disease’s progressive nature ranges from mild to moderate to severe, and engaging people in corrective language makes it easier for those in need of help to seek it out. “If we can get out of thinking in rigid terms, then we have the ability to help people see this on a spectrum.”
Negative stereotypes perpetuate the toxicity of the term “alcoholic” and lead people to believe that if they are not checking certain boxes, there is not a problem. Often, people think that not drinking daily and attending work regularly translates to not having a problem with alcohol, which restricts them from pursuing treatment when it may be beneficial. Since seeking help early on can be a key factor in effective alcohol recovery, it is important for people to recognize that problems arise in different levels of severity and Martin says, “It’s a philosophy of thinking [that] if it’s creating friction in your life, then it’s probably worth stepping back and taking a look at.”
Over time, alcohol tolerance is built up for those who drink regularly, and cumulative drinking habits can be hazardous to the body. Increased tolerance demands more alcohol to feel its effects and leads to more and more drinking. Over time, higher tolerance can also cause resistance to hangover symptoms, leading people to believe that their body is not reacting to the alcohol.
A common fallacy is that if you are not experiencing hangover symptoms such as nausea, headaches, fatigue, or light and sound sensitivity, there is no problem with overusing alcohol. Everyone’s body reacts differently to alcohol, and there are several reasons why, including food consumption, type of alcohol ingested, and genetics. Studies show that roughly 20-30% of people don’t experience hangovers at all. A hangover is not an indication of AUD because tolerance and genetics can impact the reactions of alcohol in the system. According to Martin, “People [say] ‘oh, I don’t get sick the next day’ and say it’s a good thing when in reality, it can be an indication that your body is changing and adapting to accept more and more alcohol… and it may lead some of those individuals to drink larger amounts of alcohol because they don’t experience what other people would the next day.” In her practice, she notes that this is a common assumption with college students and young adults that continue to engage in binge-use or excessive alcohol use.
Whenever alcohol becomes a problem, seeking help is always an option. Leslie Martin believes that “There’s always an opportunity for people to adjust behavior.” A situation doesn’t need to be severe to seek support and help from professionals or loved ones. Martin helps her clients by meeting them where they’re at and working with them on the best program and process for each individual. She tries to find a solution that fits every client’s needs. “Some clients like tangible tools like a workbook. Some people like 12-steps…and some people want their families [or] sponsors involved. I try to create a support network that is going to be tailored to each person.”
For some clients, alcohol monitoring can be used as an important tool in their treatment approach. Martin says that she recommends Soberlink alcohol monitoring because, “It is a really helpful component to putting together the puzzle pieces for someone’s successful recovery.” Soberlink is a remote alcohol monitoring system that uses wireless connectivity to deliver real-time test results to a user’s Recovery Circle. It provides accountability for those using it, and Martin has seen clients motivated to remain sober by using Soberlink. “It’s a method to demonstrate sobriety to other people. It’s an opportunity to help them provide documented proof to other parties that are involved in their recovery…[it’s] a component of treatment that helps increase accountability.” Using facial recognition software and advanced tamper detection, Soberlink provides fast, Advanced Reporting that can support the recovery process and offer peace of mind to the user’s network and loved ones. “The accountability and decrease of anxiety for family members is huge…I’ve seen that as the biggest benefit for family members,” says Martin.
Myths and misunderstandings surrounding AUD can be harmful to users and their loved ones because negative stereotypes may prevent users from seeking the help they need. Understanding when to get help, and utilizing tools such as Soberlink, can assist in looking at AUD as a disease on a spectrum. With understanding and acceptance, we can open the dialogue to recognize problems when they are mild instead of waiting until the problems are severe.