Some of us may have the experience of going to the doctor and being asked how much we drink in a week. Some of us may have also received education about medical guidelines/limits for alcohol consumption (two drinks or less in a day for men or one drink or less in a day for women). In my world as a licensed professional counselor specializing in substance use disorders (and the Colorado Access substance use disorder (SUD) program manager), I have assessed countless individuals to determine whether or not they have a substance use disorder. When I learned that Medicaid would be expanding the substance use disorder benefit to cover the continuum of care (including outpatient, intensive outpatient, residential treatment, and detox), I took on some extra work to ensure my knowledge and experience of working with addictions was current. I worked the floor in a social detox, taking vital signs and assessing for level of withdrawal. I worked in a community corrections setting where individuals were court-ordered to participate in intensive substance use disorder treatment. I also worked in a residential treatment setting, where individuals stay for 14 to 30 days receiving education and counseling about how to make significant changes in their lives (stopping the substance is just one part of recovery from addiction!).
Did you know that we don’t use the actual quantity of alcohol or drugs consumed to make a SUD diagnosis? What actually determines if someone has a substance use disorder is the degree of functional impairment that the use of drugs or alcohol has on someone’s life (or, what kinds of problems the individual has encountered because of their substance use). The types of questions I ask might include:
- Has your alcohol use ever gotten in the way of your everyday responsibilities (such as work, home, or school)?
- Do you have relationship problems (with a partner, friends, or family) as a result of your alcohol use?
- Do you do less of the things you used to enjoy (social events, hobbies, work activities) because of your alcohol use?
- Do you use alcohol in situations that could be physically hazardous (such as buzzed or drunk driving)?
- Are you spending a lot of time obtaining alcohol, drinking alcohol, or recovering from hangovers?
- Do you drink alcohol even when it makes physical issues (such as pain, high blood pressure, or stomach issues) or mental health issues (such as depression or anxiety) worse?
- Do you drink more alcohol or for a longer amount of time than you initially planned?
- Have you ever tried to cut back or quit drinking alcohol and have been unable to do so?
With the normalization (and often, glorification) of alcohol use in our society, things that may be considered acceptable may have been things you might answer “yes” to in the questions above. Addiction is a progressive disease, so it’s important to identify areas of our life where drinking might be causing problems—and get help. There are many different options for treatment of substance use disorders, such as seeing a therapist on a weekly basis, attending groups two to three times per week to learn about the effects of substance abuse and how to make changes, or admitting to a residential program.
April is Alcohol Awareness Month. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, why not join us for National Alcohol Screening Day on Thursday, April 7th? Talk to your doctor, find a therapist, or check out the many self-help groups in our community (such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Recovery Dharma, SMART Recovery, and Celebrate Recovery).
Colorado Access now covers a continuum of SUD benefits for our members, from outpatient treatment to residential treatment/detox. We work tirelessly to ensure our members get the right care, at the right time, at the right place. Call us at 800-511-5010 for more information.