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What to do if your friend drinks

April 02, 2001

What to do if your friend drinks



By Elizabeth Suh


According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, www.niaaa.nih.gov, alcoholism includes:

Craving - A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.

Impaired control - The inability to limit one's drinking.

Physical dependence - Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness and anxiety, when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.

Tolerance - The need for increasing amounts of alcohol to feel its effects.



If you think a friend has a drinking problem, the worst thing you can do is cover for him.

continued

"Any time a person keeps someone from experiencing the consequences of his actions, you become part of the problem," says Tom Menter, Washington County Health Department adolescent addictions counselor.

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Even though the legal drinking age is 21, Menter says most teenagers have experimented with alcohol or other drugs, based on the number of kids he sees and what they say.

"Those who are trying to stop ... it's difficult for them to find a peer group that doesn't use," Menter says.

The age of first use also is dropping, Menter says.

It used to be unusual for Menter to counsel middle school students. Now he says he occasionally sees elementary-age children.

If you suspect that a friend has a drinking problem, the best thing to do is tell a trustworthy adult.

You can also learn about alcohol and how it affects the central nervous system.

A depressant, alcohol can cause anxiety, tension, inhibitions and decreased activity.

Alcoholism is a disease characterized by craving alcohol and continued drinking, despite repeated alcohol-related problems.

Alcoholism can lead to liver cirrhosis, immune system problems and brain damage. It can result in alcohol overdose and alcohol poisoning.

"It is chronic, progressive and potentially fatal," Menter says.

Risk factors include a history of alcoholism in the family and drinking at an early age. But increased risk does not necessarily result in a problem. The guaranteed preventive measure is to "absolutely not consume alcohol," advises Menter.

Problems associated with alcohol are not limited to alcoholics.

Drinking during pregnancy, for instance, can have harmful effects on a newborn, such as mental retardation, hyperactivity and learning and behavioral problems.

Nondrinkers can be affected by a drinker's behavior.

AlaTeen is a support group for teens in this situation.

For information, call 301-293-3803.

Elizabeth Suh is a senior at North Hagerstown High School.

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