I want to get my son help for his drinking

A series of articles by various writers on medical topics this one is by Edel Rooney.

I want to get my son help for his drinking

I think my son is becoming an alcoholic. He now drinks almost every night during the week and his behaviour is deteriorating. What help is available to him?

Firstly, alcoholism and alcohol abuse are two different things, even if many of the signs and results are similar. Alcoholism is often referred to as alcohol dependency. If you rely on alcohol to function, you are an alcoholic. It is a medical disease and people with this disease need treatment, counselling, or medical attention to learn how to stop drinking and to live a healthier life.

There are several signs. Can your son drink more than others without getting drunk? Does he need more and more alcohol to “feel the buzz”? Does he need a drink in the morning to steady nerves or shakes? Does he suffer withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression or nausea if he is without alcohol?

Even if your son isn’t an alcoholic, he may be an alcohol abuser. Alcohol abuse is a problem that can affect people of any age and background when they intentionally overuse alcohol. It is a serious medical and social problem. Your son may be able to limit his drinking to some extent but it may still be destructive or dangerous to his life and health. Signs of alcohol abuse include; neglecting personal responsibilities, becoming involved in dangerous situations such as drink-driving, disturbing personal relationships because of alcohol, drinking as a way of easing stress.

There is, of course, a real risk that alcohol abusers go on to become alcoholics. Alcoholism can gradually take hold as your tolerance for and dependence on alcohol grows.

If you suspect your son has problems with alcohol, there are a number of services he can avail of.

Each HSE Area provides addiction counsellors and residential programmes for those with alcohol problems. Your first point of contact is often your GP, who plays an increasingly important role in supporting patients with alcohol problems. Most referrals to addiction treatment services in Ireland come from GPs.

Alcohol addiction can be treated on both an in-patient and out-patient basis. This will depend on the patient’s circumstances and their own personal preferences. Most people are treated within the community as out-patients and they can receive treatment and counselling in out-patient clinics and day hospitals.

If a GP has recommended treatment for alcohol abuse, your son will probably be referred to an out-patient clinic with the Local Health Office for an assessment. For more details of the services available in your areas, you should contact your Local Health Office.

Residential programmes

In-patient treatment takes the client away from their usual environment and all sources of alcohol. Patients are weaned off their dependence on alcohol and begin a therapy programme, including group and individual therapy sessions and family interventions. Most residential programmes last for 30 to 42 days. Programmes will generally have a small number of both male and female clients, who are housed in a HSE-owned house for the duration of the programme.

Clients must be alcohol-free for one week before most programmes start and they may be referred back to their GP for detoxification if necessary. Referrals to most residential programmes can come from a doctor, social worker, the courts and probation services, community nurses and workplaces. You can also contact these programmes yourself and be assessed by staff. The cost of residential programmes varies, but it will generally be a small sum that will cover food, etc., for the duration of the client’s stay.

Private treatment

There are a number of private treatment services for alcohol addiction in Ireland. The services they provide are very similar to those provided by the Health Service Executive (HSE). You will have a choice of residential treatment or treatment as an out-patient. Individual and group therapy will be used to help you understand and control your drinking and programmes will usually include help for families and those affected by someone’s drinking problem. Private treatment programmes are not free of charge and prices will vary depending on the programme. However, easi-pay plans are available from a number of private centres and costs can be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. These costs may be covered by social insurance or private health insurance.