Movin' On With Nellie: Alcoholism takes its toll on brains and families

If the reader has ever caught Dr. Phil in the afternoons, then she knows that this statement is true to the cell level. Recently Dr. Phil prefaced his show with a call to action regarding the alcohol and drug epidemic across the United States. I’ve felt this epidemic up close in my heart—which is like so many in the Valley.

Every family here has known someone or had a family member ravaged by this epidemic that is both a choice and a disease, as noted by experts. Alcoholism runs in my family, too. When I looked back at some ancestors from two or more generations I found cirrhosis or alcoholism listed on death certificates. When I was raising my family, I often shared how the proclivity toward alcoholism ran in our family. Because of my knowledge of how our family reacted to alcohol, I never got drunk and still refuse to drink.

Along with alcohol in this era runs abuse of drugs: cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, and addictions to pain medicines like Vicodin and Percocet. A recent report on CBS showed viewers that in some cases pain prescriptions become addictive within one week. These drugs also lose impact and require higher and higher doses. I remember for me Vicodin or Percocet did little to lessen my shoulder pain; I had better relief with Tylenol. 

Alternative methods are finding favor in treatment too. Massage therapy, acupuncture and acupressure are touted as helping with pain. I felt immediate relief after my physical therapist gently massaged my back vertebrae. With the legalization of marijuana too, we are hearing of instances where the Cannabis Oil has relieved the severe pain with Fibromyalgia. In a recent news report, an elementary age child was allowed to take a marijuana derivative to combat seizures. The youngster had not had a seizure since being on the prescription for a year. Medical research is underway to document the uses and to one day get FDA approval.

Sometimes the alcohol user (or drug user) is sober and the personality is in tact. But for some, the drug of choice switches the personality – very much like the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I know how hurtful it is to hear a promise to fix the fence or ready the sheep for shearing which is promptly tossed aside in favor of the liquid fix. Reasoning with an inebriated mind does not work because the alcohol and drugs impact the parts of the brain where choices and reasoning register. Violence is more prevalent when a partner misuses alcohol and drugs. I experienced that first hand, too, when my ex-husband would call me names and then when he tried to kill me on the steps of the apartment. I’ve thought, that if I found out I “coldcocked” someone at the bar when I drank or that I became Godzilla or the Werewolf when I imbibed in beer or Vodka, then I would do what it would take to avoid that bar scene or dinner party.

For what it’s worth, get help if drinking or drugging is messing with your brain and behaviors.