When it’s more than just a drink with dinner

Use the CAGE acronym to figure out if you or a loved one might have a drinking problem. Credit: Colourbox
Use the CAGE acronym to figure out if you or a loved one might have a drinking problem.
Credit: Colourbox

My boyfriend drinks way too much around the holidays. Sometimes, he blacks out. He comes from a family of heavy drinkers and often gets drunk with his friends on the weekends throughout the year. How do I know if he’s an alcoholic and what can I do?

After graduating with a master’s degree, I spent the first three years of my social work career performing intake evaluations at an outpatient addictions counseling center in Maryland. My job was to screen adults who had been referred from the courts — for drunk driving or other substance-related offenses — to determine whether they needed extensive alcohol and drug treatment, the 11-week substance education course, or both.

Unless they’re in recovery, alcoholics typically deny having a drinking problem. Even though we administered urine tests and sprang breathalyzers on people who reeked of booze, that wouldn’t deter craftier folk from scheming to evade detection. But the test that usually gave them away didn’t require any lab work or electronics. It was a four-part questionnaire, commonly referred to as the CAGE.

CAGE is an acronym used to recall the telltale signs of alcoholism.
1. C – Cutting Down: Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
2. A – Annoyed: Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
3. G – Guilty: Have you felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
4. E – Eye-opener: Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover (eye-opener)?

One “yes” to any of the questions, other than question #4, is considered a sign of alcohol abuse. Two or more “yeses,” or a “yes” to question #4, is considered a sign of alcohol dependence. Why is #4 enough to diagnose alcoholism? People who are addicted to alcohol — or alcoholics — have developed a physiological dependence. Not only is there a constant craving and high tolerance, but they also experience withdrawal symptoms when they unsuccessfully try to cut back or stop. If you need to drink to function, you obviously have a problem.

While alcoholics are usually the last to admit they drink too much, loved ones are usually the first. That’s why being annoyed by someone about your drinking, combined with trying to cut back and/or feeling guilty, is often an indicator of problematic drinking, which could be either a sign of abuse or dependence. What’s the difference? According to the Diagnostic Statistic Manual of Mental Health (DSM), people who abuse alcohol develop problems — blacking out, getting into fights, driving drunk — as a result of their impaired judgment from alcohol consumption, even though they are not physiologically dependent. They may engage in binge drinking, which causes or exacerbates an ongoing relationship, work, financial or legal problem. Or, they might drink under circumstances that are physically dangerous, such as driving while intoxicated.

People who abuse alcohol have a greater chance of becoming physically dependent than those who don’t drink or do so moderately. Chances are even greater if someone in your family was or is an alcoholic, as studies suggest that genetically predisposition contributes to dependence. That doesn’t mean that those who occasionally hit the bottle too hard, who have alcoholism in their families, will become full-blown alcoholics. But given the higher probability, the earlier the problem is addressed, before dependence sets in, the better.

If you’re concerned about your boyfriend’s drinking, the best thing to do for yourself is to be honest with him about it. You can also try to CAGE questionnaire. If he continues to binge, and it affects your relationship, you can encourage him to seek help, but don’t try to control his drinking by hiding the liquor bottles. Instead, I suggest you attend an Al-Anon meeting to learn about alcoholism and get support in making the best decisions for yourself. Good luck.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Sister of accused Boston Marathon bombers arrested for…

The sister of the accused Boston Marathon bombers was arrested in New York City for threatening a woman over the phone, saying she could "put a bomb on you," police…

Local

Mayor announces public housing improvements

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem on Wednesday, calling for the scaffolding to come down at NYCHA complexes across…

National

Peter Theo Curtis: American released by Syrian militants…

An American writer freed this week from two years in the captivity of insurgents in Syria spoke briefly outside his family's Cambridge home Wednesday of…

Local

Bratton defends 'broken windows' work as NYPD support…

Sixty percent of those polled said they support the "broken windows" theory approach popularized by Commissioner Bratton since his first term in the 1990s.

Television

'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: Season…

Season 11’s top four dancers gave their final performances before America’s Favorite Dancers are announced next week.

Going Out

Labor Day in NYC: Make the last weekend…

Soon, it’ll be time for wool accessories and knee-high boots. Even the Pumpkin Spice Latte has already arrived — but we still have one last…

Going Out

Things to do this week in NYC, Aug.…

MUSIC The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees…

Going Out

5 things to do this weekend in NYC

The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees expected. David Guetta,…

NFL

Mario Manningham on the bubble as Giants play…

Former Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham hopes his second go-around with Big Blue doesn’t end with Saturday’s final cut day.

NFL

Source: Stephen Hill 'faces a battle' to make…

A team source says Stephen Hill, who has battled injuries and poor performances during his first two years, is no lock to make the Jets’ final roster.

Sports

Serena Williams leaving legacy of talented American women…

It seems only a matter of when, not if, Serena Williams will win her 18th career grand slam championship.

College

When are 2014 college football playoffs? (Schedule, date,…

When and where are 2014 college football playoffs? A look at the schedule, date, TV, time for the semi-finals at championship game.

Style

Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

4 healthy ingredient swaps to make your meals…

When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…