What is Alcoholism
There has been so much written about Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Chemical Dependency that it is difficult even for professionals in the field of addictions to define the problem.
Actually, it is really easy to define and understand if we keep it simple. Alcoholism is a primary, chronic, progressive disease characterized by excessive drinking, compulsion, loss of control and observable symptoms. It is a health issue to be treated, like any other illness, not a moral issue to be resolved.
Alcoholism is a devastating disease that affects a person physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and socially. A closer look at the definition will help us understand it more.
Alcoholism is a primary condition, rather than secondary to other diseases. It is chronic in that it can be fatal if untreated. It is the 3rd leading disease killer behind heart disease and cancer. At least 250,000 people in the United States die annually from the disease.
It is progressive in that it will follow a predictable course of deterioration and moves through various stages if untreated. Incidentally, there is no cure for alcoholism. The method of arresting the disease accepted by treatment professionals is complete abstinence.
Looking further at our definition, excessive drinking simply means that one's drinking causes problems in one or more of the major life areas of the problem drinker's life including physical/emotional health, marriage/relationships, legal,work, financial and spiritual. It is the impact that alcohol has on these life areas, rather than the amount or frequency of consumption, that is a decisive factor.Compulsion for the alcoholic is continuing to drink alcohol, despite continuing negative consequences. The problem drinker will usually make promises to quit, often with sincerity and conviction, yet will continue to drink.
Loss of control is at the heart of the alcoholic dilemma. He or she loses the ability to maintain control of when they drink, how much they drink and in some cases what their behavior will be.Like any other disease, alcoholism has observable symptoms. While they are common to most alcoholics, rarely has an alcoholic experienced all of them. The symptoms fall within the framework of three stages, although some of the symptoms can be found in more than one stage.
Early Stage Symptoms:
· Relief drinking (drinking to change the way a person feels).
· Drunk driving.
· Psychological dependency on alcohol to function, fit in and have fun.
· Blackouts (temporary amnesia, not necessarily passing out).
· Pre-drinking drinking (drinking before going to the party).
Middle Stage Symptoms:
· Work and career problems
· Legal problems
· Minimizing drinking
· Moral decay
· Low self-esteem
· Blaming behaviors
· Sense of failure
· Gulping drinks
· Drunk driving
· Pre-drinking drinking
· Physical dependency
Late Stage Symptoms
· Physical dependency
· "Don't care" attitude
· Loss of marriage, family & career
· Physical damage
Most active alcoholics do not reach the late stage of alcoholism. As a matter of fact, the life span of the average active alcoholic is 15 to 20 years less than the recovering alcoholic or non-alcoholic. They usually die from:
· Cirrhosis of the liver
· Respiratory complications
Let us now move to a more specific application to the legal profession. The following symptoms represent what you might see in the legal environment.
· Shows up in the office or court under the influence
· Not returning phone calls
· Late or failure to keep appointments with clients
· Late or absent for court appearances
· Inappropriate anger outbursts
· Office disruption and tension
· Co-mingling or missing funds
· Intoxicated at Bar or social occasions
· Missed deadlines
· Blames secretary or others
· Frequently gets other attorneys to make court appearances on his or her behalf
How big is the problem?There are approximately 18 million Americans with alcoholism or alcohol abuse. It is estimated that 15% to 18% of lawyers have an alcohol problem, compared to 7% to 10% of the general population. Substance abuse is a causal factor in over 50% of all disciplinary and malpractice complaints. It is obvious that substance abuse and particularly alcohol abuse, is a major problem in the Legal Profession today.
Let us now look at what causes alcoholism. While there has been considerable neurological research conducted on alcoholics, particularly in the last 25 years, there is no known definitive causal factor. Alcoholism does seem to run in families, and while there certainly is an inherited predisposition toward the disease, environmental factors are significant as well. For the alcoholic, the issue is not "why am I an alcoholic?" but rather, "now that I am one, what do I do about it?"
Before we address the solution, I would like to dispel a few myths that surround alcoholism.
Myth #1. Most alcoholics are "skid row" bums.
Less than 3% of the alcoholic population lives on "skid row". The typical alcoholic is middle aged, married and employed.
Myth #2. The alcoholic must lose everything before he or she can be helped.
Family and colleagues can intervene in a caring way to help the problem drinker break through the denial before he or she loses everything.
Fortunately, alcoholism, unlike some diseases, is treatable. The earlier the treatment, the better the chances of recovery. After treatment, a recovery program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, is helpful in maintaining sobriety.
If you are concerned about your own drinking, or that of a colleague, please call your Missouri Lawyer Assistance Program (MOLAP) for professional, confidential information or assistance. Your call will be kept in strict confidence.