RECOGNIZING A DRINKING PROBLEM
ST. JOSEPH’S BEHAVIORAL HEALTH SERVICES PROGRAM CREATES CUSTOMIZED
TREATMENT PLANS FOR PATIENTS
BY NICOLE GREGORY 7/11/2016
Few experiences are as devastating as those of patients who turn up in
an ER, having injured themselves and/or other people due to being drunk.
But for such patients at St. Joseph Hospital, this is could be where their
healing and road to recovery begins.
That’s because when ER doctors at St. Joseph suspect a patient has
a problem with alcohol, they can refer him or her to Behavioral Health
Services (BHS), a department at the hospital staffed by experts who are
trained to help people with addictions, primarily to alcohol.
Some patients will deny having a problem, thinking Hey, my drinking isn’t
so bad, or I don’t have a problem with drinking—I can control
it. They may be right, which is why addiction experts use established
tests to determine whether or not an individual needs help.
How to tell
“There’s a tool called CAGE,” says Dr. Lianjie (Jack)
Du, staff physician in BHS at St. Joseph. It’s a questionnaire with
only four questions:
Have you ever tried to cut down your drinking?
Have you ever felt angry when people have commented on your drinking?
Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?
Have you had an early morning drink to calm yourself down?
“If you have one answer that is yes, you have a 75 percent chance
of being an alcoholic,” says Dr. Du. “If you have to two yes
answers, then you have 85 percent chance. If you answer yes to three of
them—then for sure you’ve got a drinking problem.”
Answering yes to the fourth question indicates advanced alcoholism. “That’s
severe addiction,” says Dr. Du. “People don’t casually
drink in morning.”
The test on National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction’s website
(ncadd.org) features more detailed questions, such as “Do you sometimes
feel uncomfortable when alcohol is not available?” and “Do
you drink heavily when you are disappointed, under pressure or have had
a quarrel with someone?”
How bad is it?
Alcoholism can look like simply partying too much at first, then progress
over time to where the drinker’s health, work life and relationships
“There are many ways to decide if the pattern is in the early, middle
or late stage,” says Dr. Du. “If it’s early, the person
may not experience problems yet—you’re working, you’re
[maintaining] an intimate relationship, it’s just that once in awhile
you drink too much.”
People who get help at this stage are lucky, he says. “This is the
best time to change the drinking habit,” he says. “You can
see a professional, check into a rehab or go to a meeting of Alcoholics
“The middle stage is the so-called functioning alcoholic,”
says Dr. Du. This person is still working, does not have liver or heart
problems, and is maintaining relationships – though their partner
may have “complaints and comments about your drinking,” says Dr. Du.
The late-stage drinker is consuming alcohol every day, has poor concentration,
insomnia and often slurred speech, says Dr. Du. Without alcohol, such
people suffer tremors, sweating and heart palpitations. “This is
called withdrawal,” he says. At this stage, the patient should see
a doctor for medical treatment—suddenly stopping drinking altogether
could cause death, he says.
St. Joseph Hospital’s team of Behavioral Health Services nurses,
doctors and psychiatrists evaluate patients and create a tailored outpatient
program of treatment for physical and emotional problems, including depression,
anxiety and schizophrenia. In-patient services can be arranged, too. “We
work with several rehabs—Twin Town and Cornerstone—as well
as local professionals,” says Dr. Du.
Consequences of alcoholism
Getting help is critical, and the sooner the better. About 88,000 deaths
are attributed to excessive alcohol use every year, according to the National
Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction. It’s the third leading
lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation.
But Dr. Du is upbeat about the future of patients who seek help, and says
many find support at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, located throughout
Orange County (oc-aa.org).“Alcohol dependency is a treatable disease,”
he says, adding: “I have seen many people maintain sobriety for