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Holidays provide more opportunities to drink; AA, Dawn Center ready to help

Jack started drinking when he was in his teens, when he thought it would always be fun. As time went on, he lost control of drinking and learned it was anything but fun.

Being from a family of quite a few alcoholics, he thought it was just his destiny to die as one. It was only when his family began falling apart when he got older that he realized he had a problem that required intervention.

“When I started drinking in my teens, 90 percent of the time it was fun and 10 percent of the time it was trouble. If it had stayed that way, I’d still be drinking. Things started to change,” he said.

The Elloree resident had developed an addiction to alcohol that he could not control.

“It was a physical addiction as well as a mental obsession which I couldn’t stop. I was told by many people that I needed help. It wasn’t until I got to a situation where my family was actually falling apart that I decided to get some help. I went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and ended up in a treatment center,” he said. “I’ve never regretted it.”

While treatment was not a breeze, Jack learned he had a choice between life or death. Family problems had been only a fraction of the deterioration of his life.

“I had an enlarged liver. I was grossly overweight. I just wasn’t taking care of myself. I was having anxiety attacks and unable to maintain a relationship with anybody. Alcohol had just taken everything away from me that was important to me,” he said. “I figured I’d just die an alcoholic like the rest of my family. But I found myself in a treatment center. They had me locked up for 30 days, so I couldn’t drink.”

Jack said he was glad he seized an opportunity to improve his life through Alcoholics Anonymous, where he found a sponsor as part of an extensive network of support that he needed to get his life back on track. He has been sober since March 18, 1989.

“I found I had a choice to be an alcoholic or not. I’ve been sticking with it for 21 years, so it’s been working. I’ve never stuck with anything that long. When an urge came to pick up a drink, I was able to make a decision and say, ‘No, I want to stay sober today more than I want to drink.’ I have to make that decision every morning when I get up,” he said.

As the New Year rings in, many celebrations will most certainly include alcohol. Overconsumption and the subsequent threat of drunk driving and other bad decision making is a distinct and sometimes tragic reality, one official says.

“The Christmas and New Years holiday season is one of the most dangerous times of the year for alcohol-related accidents and deaths,” said Dr. Reuben B. Ridgeway, LPC, CAC, director of adult service treatment at the Dawn Center. “The numerous holiday parties and gatherings with family and friends held this time of year often translate into more opportunities to drink.”

Ridgeway, a licensed clinical psychologist, added, “Party-goers may consume more alcohol than usual and underestimate their degree of impairment when considering whether to drive themselves home. Whether you are a ‘holidays-only’ drinker or someone who drinks throughout the year, consuming alcohol affects muscle coordination, mental quickness and physical reaction time.”

“If you rarely drink, these impairment effects are quickly evident. In contrast, if you are accustomed to drinking beer, wine or liquor, you will initially be less aware of the impairment, but it is still present,” he said.

Jack described the holiday season as a definite “trigger” for the overconsumption of alcohol, particularly among alcoholics.

“Absolutely. It’s not just when we’re feeling bad when we want to drink. Sometimes it’s when we’re feeling good and in a festive spirit. I’ve just got to be real careful where I put myself. The old saying is if you hang around a barber shop long enough, you’re going to get a haircut,” he said. “It’s that way when we talk about alcohol. If you hang around the bar, sooner of later you’re gonna pick up a drink.”

The nationally accredited Dawn Center teaches its clients decision-making skills and emotional coping strategies to help them abstain from substance abuse.

Ridgeway said there are several reasons why people make errors in judgement concerning alcohol, particularly during the holiday season. Pride, shame and an overestimation of how “super careful and alert” they can be after consuming alcohol are among them.

“Common to all of these scenarios is the mistake of underestimating the degree of alcohol induced impairment,” Ridgeway said. He said even a person with a blood alcohol content standing at the legal BAC level of 0.08 or below can present problems on the road.

“The holiday drinker who rarely drinks may have a low BAC level but still be physically impaired. Not being accustomed to the effects of alcohol may make the impairment more pronounced even at lower BAC levels. For those accustomed to drinking, there is the problem of tolerance, or the body’s adjustment to the effects of alcohol,” he said.

Ridgeway said the more a person is used to consuming alcohol, the higher their tolerance will be.

“Alcohol impairment is present, but the person is much less aware of the effects,” he said, noting it is equally important to understand what an actual “drink” is.

A standard drink is defined as a beverage containing 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol, Ridgeway said. One 12-ounce beer, one five-ounce glass of wine and one standard shot glass (1.5 ounces) of 80-proof liquor each contain approximately 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol, he said.

“When people make their own mixed drinks, they do not always measure one standard shot of liquor per mixed beverage consumed. This leads to under-counting the number of standard drinks that have actually been consumed,” Ridgeway said.

He said the body breaks down approximately one standard drink per hour, a rate which cannot be accelerated. Alcohol impairment also cannot be lessened by any means but the passage of time, Ridgeway said. Drinking coffee and taking a cold shower will not work, he said.

“If you have any other sobering-up remedies, forget about them. Again, only time reduces the BAC level and its accompanying impairments,” Ridgeway said.

Jack said he has learned to manage his cravings for alcohol with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. Orangeburg is home to Orangeburg Alano Inc. at 590 Louis St. AA meetings are held there to help individuals cope with their alcohol problem.

“I am a member of AA and have been sober since March 18, 1989. It gets better as time goes on. If it wasn’t getting better, I wouldn’t have stuck with it,” Jack said. “I have made it my primary purpose in life to stay sober and to help other alcoholics do the same.”

source: Times and Democrat

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