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Unmixable — alcohol, pills and motherhood


Health Point


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September 20, 2012
Dear Jeff and Debra:

My sister is divorced and has shared custody of her three little boys, ages 10, 8 and 4. Since her divorce, her economic situation isn't as good as it once was and money is always an issue. She suffers from panic attacks and is a very heavy drinker. Her drinking was certainly an issue in her marriage and probably one of the reasons her husband divorced her and married another woman.


As aunt, I am very worried about my nephews. My sister drinks during the day. The older boys are somewhat shielded when they are in school or out playing with friends, but the 4-year-old is with her all day long. She isn't passing out during the day, but she is more interested in alcohol than engaging with her boys. I found a bottle of Xanax in her bathroom, which increases my concern.

I talked with my sister about getting some professional help. She admitted she drinks too much, but insists it's the only way to diminish her feelings of anxiety. I'd like her to go into a treatment center, but she uses her anxiety as an excuse for not going. She says she will experience full-blown, terrifying anxiety attacks.

I feel like a cat chasing its tail when talking with her. What's the answer?

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Worried Aunt

Dear Aunt:

Alcohol is not the solution for anxiety. Alcohol, over time, makes anxiety worse. Add Xanax to alcohol, and you have a dangerous mix. Your sister needs to get help for her alcohol problem if she hopes to break the cycle of anxiety.

A new study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the University of North Carolina's Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies finds chronic alcohol consumption rewires the brain in a manner that increases anxiety. So, alcoholism needs to be treated if we are to successfully treat anxiety disorders.

People often mistakenly believe drinking alcohol reduces stress and anxiety. But alcohol increases anxiety in a variety of ways. It increases lactic acid in the blood, which contributes to anxiety and can trigger panic attacks. Alcohol causes fluctuations in blood sugar, which leads to increased anxiety.

Alcohol is a depressant. Feelings of depression and anxiety are linked. Additionally, regular drinking has the effect of limiting our body's natural chemicals designed to help us cope. Our resilience is diminished, lessening our ability to handle stress in our everyday lives.

Intoxication often leads to family troubles, accidents, regrets, and other problems. Experiencing negative consequences compounds depression and anxiety.

Assure your sister that professionals in treatment centers can address her anxiety in a safe and productive manner. Many people find that symptoms of anxiety are significantly lessened or disappear entirely once they achieve recovery from alcoholism. Any persistent symptoms are better treated with talk therapy than mood-altering medications that cover up problems.

If your sister continues to refuse treatment, enlist the help of her ex-husband and other family members. Elevate the children's safety and wellbeing as top priority. Learn about intervention. For a no cost intervention video workshop, go to: lovefirst.net/wpt/intervention-videos/.

The Jays are co- authors of "Love First," and Debra Jay is the author of "No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction." Both books are available through the Grosse Pointe Public Library. The Jays are professional interventionists who live in Grosse Pointe Farms. They may be contacted at (313) 882-6921 or lovefirst.net.


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Jeff Jay and Debra Jay are the authors of "Love First: A New Approach to Intervention for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction," and Debra Jay is the author of "No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction." Jeff and Debra Jay are professional interventionists who live in Grosse Pointe Farms. They may be contacted with your questions at (313) 882-6921 or at lovefirst.net.
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