Counselors Assess Alcohol Problems In Patients

Admitting a Problem is First Step to Getting Sober

Kelly Timmers sees the realities of alcoholism every day. A substance abuse counselor with ThedaCare Behavioral Health, she assesses patients to determine if they have a problem with alcohol or other drugs. If there is a problem, they receive help to beat their addiction. September is national Recovery Month, an opportunity to bring awareness to alcohol and substance abuse and recovery.

“Alcohol is deeply engrained in Wisconsin’s culture and people do not realize their behavior is problematic,” Timmers said. “When we talk about what they drink, people often say ‘that is what people do in Wisconsin.’ I work to educate patients about what is normal and what is not.”

In 2014, statistics showed that approximately 8 percent of Wisconsin adults may have an alcohol use disorder, said Michele Crawford, another substance abuse counselor with ThedaCare Behavioral Health.

Crawford said people should not be ashamed if they have a problem with alcohol since alcohol disorders are recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V. The DSM-V includes a series of questions regarding how alcohol affects someone’s life.

“If they answer yes to two or more of the questions, it implies there may be a problem,” she said. “Some warning signs to look for include how often they drink, are they hiding or lying about their drinking and do they lie about how much they drink.”

Another way to uncover a problem is asking situational questions since people may identify with those more, Timmers said. Some of the questions she asks include:

  • Do you miss work, school or a family event because of your drinking?
  • Are you using larger amounts of alcohol over time? “For example, did you used to have two beers after work, but are now having five? If yes, that’s concerning,” Timmers said.
  • Do you have family members with an alcohol problem? Some people are predisposed genetically to struggle with alcohol so it is good to have that information.
  • Are you changing behavior to control your drinking? Some people switch from drinking vodka to drinking beer, thinking beer is not as serious, Timmers said.

“When you ask more personalized questions, people are better able to see themselves and their behavior,” she said. “I am not trying to catch patients with lies. I want to educate them about problematic behaviors.”

Crawford said some people binge drink, which is defined for women as consuming three drinks in one day and for men consuming four drinks in one day.

In addition, people sometimes think they do not have a problem since they have never been arrested for driving under the influence, said Timmers, adding that drinking affects a person’s decision-making process, health, finances and family relationships.

“A lot of poor choices are made when people drink. As for health problems, how does the alcohol interact with any medications that you’re taking? And drinking too much alcohol is hard on the liver,” she said. “What about your relationships: has drinking affected those? Those are all signs there may be a problem.”

Crawford said substance abuse can affect anyone at any time. “In my experience, there is no certain population that is more prone to a substance use disorder. I have worked with people from all walks of life: wealthy, low-income, men, women and people of all races,” she said.

The first step in any recovery is asking for help and accepting there is a problem, Crawford said. “Recovery is a personal journey and everyone’s journey is different. No two recoveries are going to be the same,” she said. “People need to find out what works best for them, but they need to be open minded to receiving the help.”

As to where to turn for help, Crawford said patients should contact their primary care physician or ThedaCare Behavioral Health for an assessment. In addition, many employers offer confidential Employee Assistance Programs where workers can turn for help. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous can also provide support to people who have problems with alcohol.

“There are many resources available for people battling problems with alcohol,” Timmers said. “You have to be willing and open to the help.”

For more than 100 years, ThedaCare™ has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 6,800 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 32 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.  For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.