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On this track, to make sure we are on the same page, we will talk about the physical effects of alcohol on your client’s body.
When Erik, age 24, a computer programmer, came to my office, he sullenly asked, "Boy do I feel like crap. It seems like the more I drink the worse I feel. I used to be able to get a really nice buzz… you know what I mean? But now I just feel crappy."
Erik had been in and out of recovery. But within a month, Erik would be back drinking. He stated, "I’ve been drinking since I was 13. Sometimes I get a little sluggish, but I really don’t think the drinking has affected me all that much, at least not physically."
Addictions: Finding the Teachable Moment
Knowing his education and background in computers I felt he might be receptive to a presentation of some facts about the destructive effects of alcohol on his body, I asked him, "Would you like to know some of the facts as to how alcohol affects your nervous, digestive, musclular systems?" He looked thoughtful and a little surprised for a moment, then reluctantly nodded "yeah, I guess."
"Regarding your nervous system. Using alcohol over a long period of time changes the balance of your brain’s chemistry. By that I mean as the receptors are filled with those foreign substances, your body’s own chemical transmitters can’t stimulate the cell properly, leading to delayed, inappropriate, or even an absence of the reaction. This hinderance of the transmitters leads to that sluggish feeling you were talking about earlier."
Do you have a client that you are currently treating that might benefit from information about the effect of alcohol on his or her nervous system?
Erik still seemed interested, so I went on, "As far as your digestive system, goes. Three bands of muscles in your stomach work like a blender to break up bits of food while your stomach acid helps dissolve the food. The stomach is naturally protected from the stomach acid by mucus, but inflammation occurs when the alcohol decreases the stomach’s ability to prevent acid from backing up into the walls. That may be one reason why you stated that Rolaids is a food group for you."
How many clients are you currently treating that pop stomach acid tablets during your session? Would this information about the effect of alcohol on their digestive track be beneficial?
"Your bones and muscles are affected by nutritional deficiencies and the toxic effect of alcohol. You have said you experience muscle pain in you upper arms and shoulders."
Erik stated, "Go on. This all makes sense. I never connect this with drinking" I stated, "As you know, your heart pumps blood throughout your body. But alcohol affects your cardiovascular system by affecting its ability to function as a pump. This is not meant to scare you, but the fact is some alcoholics experience congestive heart failure and rhythm disturbances resulting from a leaking of potassium, phosphate and important enzymes from the heart muscle."
Would it be appropriate to share this fact about leaking potassium phosphate and important enzymes from the heart muscle with a client you are currently treating?
When Erik heard the information about the heart, he stated, " My father died of a heart attack two years ago. He was a heavy drinker. I see how there’s a connection."
Addictions: Using a Mental Log
Since this seemed to be the "teachable moment" for Erik regarding the destructive effect of alcohol on his body, I suggested he might keep a written or mental log of physical symptoms he experiences between now and his next session. The fact that his father died of a heart attack seemed to be a leverage point of interest to potentially consider stopping drinking.
Do you have an Erik who deals in computers, accounting, business decisions, et cetera, where facts and figures are the main stay of their thought process? Would it be beneficial to replay the preceding portion of this track during your next session? Would keeping a health journal for a week be beneficial?
On this track we have discussed the physical effects of alcohol on a body. On the next track we will talk about addiction as a process.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Kang, D., Fairbairn, C. E., & Ariss, T. A. (2019). A meta-analysis of the effect of substance use interventions on emotion outcomes. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 87(12), 1106–1123.
Ricardo, M. M., & Henderson, C. E. (2021). The effect of the brain disease model of addiction on juror perceptions of culpability. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 7(2), 177–185.
Witkiewitz, K., McCallion, E., Vowles, K. E., Kirouac, M., Frohe, T., Maisto, S. A., Hodgson, R., & Heather, N. (2015). Association between physical pain and alcohol treatment outcomes: The mediating role of negative affect. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 83(6), 1044–1057.
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