OGDEN -- Millions of brain connections and pathways involving thinking, behavior and physiological responses that exist exclusively to support alcoholic drinking have been developed by the time a person becomes an alcoholic.
The tendency to drink alcoholically is hardwired in the brain of an alcoholic, said Dr. Dennis Ahern, a psychologist with Intermountain Healthcare. Once those pathways are established, they do not go away, despite years of not drinking. They may become fairly inactive, but they do not disappear.
"Once activated, they work as they always did. If drinking alcohol has progressed to the point of meeting the criteria of addiction ... the alcoholic has a loaded gun in his head and any drinking or use of other drugs is the same as putting a finger on a hair trigger and moving it around," Ahern said.
"What would be so important about a social drink that it would be worth taking that risk?"
But people make up all kinds of excuses and frequently deny they have a problem, said Ahern and Anthony Martinez, primary counselor at Ogden Regional Medical Center's Addiction Treatment Center.
Some of the common myths Martinez hears all the time include:
* I only drink on weekends, so I can't be addicted.
* One glass of wine daily does not make me an alcoholic.
* I have never been in trouble because of drinking.
* I'm still in control when I drink.
* I'm not an alcoholic because I only drink beer (wine, champagne, etc.).
"There are others, but I hear these from patients often," Martinez said. "All of these ideas are false. There are some other common myths worth debunking, too."
For instance, Martinez said many people believe alcohol improves sexual performance, but in reality, it usually has a negative effect in the bedroom and can contribute to carelessness with birth control and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
"There are a lot of misconceptions about sobering up when drunk. Coffee, cold showers and slaps on the face will not speed the process," he said. "Only time and your natural body responses will eliminate alcohol from your body."
Ahern agreed and said if problems occur when alcohol is involved, then alcohol is part of the problem.
"One loophole that people look for is that of identifying areas where they can still manage, like work, and focus only on that area instead of including all of the areas of their lives," he said. "Many people can ruin their health and destroy or suffocate the lives of those around them and still make it to work every day.
In addition, Ahern said, the more people drink, the more they are able to tolerate without appearing to lose function.
"I have known alcoholics who can come close to passing a field sobriety test with blood-alcohol concentrations of 0.33 or above," he said.
"The legal limit for driving is 0.08. Along with increased tolerance comes the experience of withdrawal, which is part of what is known as a hangover. The higher the tolerance, the worse the experience of withdrawal can be."
Withdrawal from alcohol in a person with a high tolerance can be extremely serious with hallucinations, seizures and even death, said Ahern and Martinez. That's why it's so important for people to be educated about the myths and facts surrounding alcohol, as well as the consequences.
"Addiction is a liar. It trades on the fallacy that the addict is living a life of pleasure," Ahern said.
"It says things aren't so bad and provides rationalization as to why the problems are due to other things. It says a little will be enough, that there will be some control this time or that there will not be a bad outcome.
"It seems to sell itself as a harmless activity that will provide the kind of euphoria that was first felt when the drinking or other addictive behavior began. All of that is a lie."
In order for an alcoholic to stop drinking, the experts said, the decision has to be made by the alcoholic. Alcoholics can't stop just because someone else says they have to. And if they do seek help without the support of loved ones, they should find support elsewhere.
"People who question their drinking should talk to a professional or someone they can trust, surely not someone who drinks like they do," Ahern said.
"The same thing with family members who question if a drinking problem is underlying the painful relationship they experience. There is help from many sources, including self-help groups, leader-led groups and professionals in the treatment field."