By Christopher Wong, M.D.
One of the reasons I chose family medicine as my specialty was the opportunity to ask patients the right questions in order to diagnose a variety of medical issues before they become more serious and difficult to treat successfully.
One of my specialties is diagnosing and addressing substance abuse, which is a disease just like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and mental illness. When it comes to excessive alcohol use, the lines are often blurred between just laughing it off (“I like to party, what can I say?”) and realizing that drinking has moved into the driver’s seat of your life.
Alcohol abuse affects everyone around you
Often, the person over-imbibing is the last one to realize it has taken a hold over one’s life. Some years ago, I entered a treatment room for an appointment with a male in his 50s to find his wife and teenage sons in the room with him. Once we sat down to talk, the family relayed the fact they were concerned about the father’s behavior and increased reliance on alcohol just to get through the day. I was very impressed the family cared so much for the man that they accompanied him to the office visit.
Since I am affiliated with an inpatient center that treats people from all walks of life with drug and alcohol issues, I have experience identifying signs and symptoms of alcoholism. After talking with the patient, I diagnosed that he was in need of a psychiatric evaluation to determine the root cause of the issues driving him to drink. He went on to receive outpatient psychiatric care where underlying anxiety issues were diagnosed and treated. Eventually, he entered an inpatient treatment center to undergo supervised medical and psychological care to overcome the alcohol addiction.
Ten red flags that indicate your drinking may be out of hand
People who recognize their own alcohol abuse problem — before they develop into full-blown addiction — have a greater chance of overcoming it. So how can you tell if you are abusing alcohol? If you or a loved one is experiencing more than a few of these warning signs, I encourage you to seek professional guidance immediately:
- you set drink limits beforehand but can’t stick to them
- your friends, family and colleagues comment on your drinking
- the only things in daily life that really excite you involve alcohol
- you reach for alcohol when things go bad
- you secretly worry about your own drinking
- frequent hangovers cause you to miss work, school, events
- you are plagued with stomach and dental issues
- you can’t remember events that took place when you were drinking
- people comment that you seem irritable, forgetful or annoyed
- you are socially drawn to other heavy drinkers
If you stop or cut back on drinking, proceed with caution
It is not always easy to see when your own drinking, or that of a friend or family member, has crossed the line. Many alcoholics agree that the disease “snuck up on them.” It’s very important to be aware of warning signs. If you choose to stop drinking and experience any physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome — from anxiety, shakiness, vomiting, insomnia, mental confusion to more severe complications such as seizures and delirium tremens (DTs) — consult with a doctor immediately to avoid life-threatening health risks.
Everyone needs a personal physician
Everyone gets sick or sustains an injury once in a while. Don’t wait until this happens to start your search for a family doctor. If you are looking for a board-certified internal medicine doctor in central New Jersey, CentraState Medical Center’s Physician Finder provides a detailed listing of physicians from which to choose. Visit centrastate.com/physicians or call 866-CENTRA7.
Dr. Wong is board-certified in internal medicine and a staff member at the Family Practice of CentraState located in Hightstown. Dr. Wong is currently accepting new patients and can be reached by calling 609-426-1555.