The Warning Signs of Substance Abuse
The spectrum of behaviors that gradually lead to alcohol or drug abuse and addiction begins with experimentation, usually in adolescence. Experimentation progresses to casual use, which can easily become regular use, heavy use, abuse, and ﬁnally dependence. Once a person becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs, he often conceals his use, abandoning family and friends in favor of the social group that abuses the substance. The only way out of the cycle of drug depend- ence is abstinence, fortiﬁed by a formal substance abuse treatment program. Relapse is not uncommon following treatment. The warning signs of substance abuse vary, depending on the substance being used. In general, however, certain behaviors such as the following may indicate a problem with alcohol or another drug. Call your doctor, an employee assistance program, or a substance abuse hot line if you or anyone you know displays any of the following warning signs:
• absenteeism or a decline in quality of work at job or school
• uncharacteristic outbreaks of temper
• avoidance of responsibility
• deterioration of appearance and grooming
• wearing sunglasses indoors or at night, or a glazed appearance to the eyes
• wearing only long-sleeved shirts, even in hot weather
• repeatedly borrowing money
• stealing from home or employer
• secretive behavior, including frequent, unexplained trips to the rest room or basement
• acquaintance with known drug abusers
How to Treat a Hangover
Ahangover manifests itself as a combination of symptoms, including headache, dry mouth, and mild dizziness. It is still unclear exactly why overindulging in alcohol produces a hangover, but several factors come into play. Alcohol causes your body to lose water by stimulating your kidneys to excrete more water than you drink, resulting in dehy- dration. The more alcohol you drink, the more water passes out of your body. Alcohol also widens blood vessels, and the widening of vessels around the brain may cause pain, much as it does in a migraine headache. Once you have a hangover, there isn’t very much you can do to make yourself feel bet- ter. You just may have to let it run its course. Be sure to drink plenty of liquids, such as water, fruit juice, or bland soda. Avoid drinking coffee because the caffeine it contains will make you even more dehydrated. Never ﬁght a hangover by having another alcoholic drink in the morning because your body will take even longer to eliminate the alcohol cir- culating in your bloodstream. Use an over-the-counter pain medication such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen if you have a headache, but remember that these painkillers can irritate your stomach, and excessive doses of acetaminophen may be toxic to your liver when combined with alcohol (see warning box below). The best way to handle a hangover is to avoid getting one by not drinking too much in the ﬁrst place. Always have a couple of glasses of water with your drinks, and drink more water before going to bed to avoid becoming dehydrated.
The Effects of Alcohol on Your Sexual Performance
Social drinking lowers your inhibitions and may make you feel more ready to have sex, but too much alcohol can actually impair your sexual function. Alcohol is neither an aphrodisiac nor a stimulant. It is a central nervous system depres- sant that slows down your responses, making it harder to get an erection or to ejaculate. Drinking alcohol also can impair your judg-ment, making you less likely to practice safer sex (see page 181).
But the sexual problems that can arise after having a few drinks are mild compared with the effects of chronic alcoholism on your body. Alcoholism can obstruct the blood supply to the nerves in the penis, resulting in erectile dysfunction (see page 146). The liver damage caused by alcohol can increase the lev- els of the female hormone estrogen and lower the levels of the male hormone testosterone in your body, leading to breast enlargement, shrunken testicles, and a reduced sperm count.
Warning! Acetaminophen and
Alcohol Can Cause Liver Damage
Taking doses of a painkiller contain- ing acetaminophen that are in excess of those recommended on the package can cause serious liver damage if you regularly consume more than two alco- holic drinks per day. Never take more than six doses of regular-strength aceta- minophen in 24 hours if you consume moderate amounts of alcohol regularly.
If you have a problem getting or maintaining an erection and you think it may be related to excessive alcohol consumption, cut back on your drinking for a few weeks to see if your ability to have an erection improves. You need to get help for your drinking problem. Ask your doctor what kind of alcohol-treatment programs are in your community, or call the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous.