Do you suspect someone close to you may have a drinking problem? Do you know the signs of alcoholism? Have you wondered if your husband may be an alcoholic but are not sure how to tell? Have you been around heavy drinkers your entire life and want a new level of understanding of alcoholism? Maybe you have spent time around drinkers in your life, but have misconceptions about what truly constitutes alcoholism.
After living with alcoholism in varying degrees throughout the last 25 years, I know firsthand what alcoholism looks like. Living with an alcoholic can be difficult, but once we understand some of the signs of the disease, it becomes easier for us to know how to handle the alcoholic.
1. Changes in Personality
It is widely known, after consuming alcohol attitudes change. Alcohol is a mood altering substance, but an alcoholic will have a complete change in his or her personality whether drunk or not. When an alcoholic is not drinking his or her body is craving the alcohol, therefore the mood changes. When under the influence of alcohol, their demeanor changes. Some become funny when drunk, but are melancholy when sober. Others are abusive while under the influence. Sometimes when the alcoholic is drinking they appear to be in a good mood, but their mood can transform to sadness or anger. The alcoholic's personality is unpredictable in most cases.
2. Frequently Drinks in Excess
Having a glass of wine on special occasions does not necessarily mean one is an alcoholic. At the same time, not all alcoholics drink from sun-up to sun-down. Many only drink in the evenings or on weekends, but an alcoholic will drink often. He or she will begin to look forward to time away from work or other responsibilities. The alcoholic wants to spend as much time a possible drinking. In some cases, the weekend drinking binges turn into weekday events as well.
3. Drinking is Placed as High Priority
Alcoholics will often avoid leaving the house because they know drinking is limited away from home. Some may spend extended periods of time away from home because he or she doesn't want to drink at home. The alcoholic will place drinking opportunities above everything else in their life. More times than not, drinking is ranked before family or other social experiences. In some cases, it ranks higher than working.
4. Responsibilities Suffer
Alcoholism is progressive. The longer one drinks the more frequently one drinks. Many people will become complacent about home and work responsibilities. Some miss work so much they lose their job. Bills will go unpaid due to forgetting about anything but when they can drink again. Irresponsibility can also come in the form of reckless behavior such as drinking and driving or neglecting children.
5. Memory Loss
Alcoholics will often drink in excess, causing them to black-out. These black-out periods are spaces of memory that are erased due to the excessive alcohol consumption. A drunk person can have complete conversations and never recall them. Negative or abusive behavior will go unremembered after the alcoholic sobers up. An alcoholic will experience these black-outs frequently. This makes it difficult to communicate with an alcoholic. If important discussions need to take place it is best to not attempt them while the alcoholic is under the influence of alcohol.
6. Increase Tolerance of Alcohol
An alcoholic does not intentionally become an alcoholic. He or she begins with one drink and over time the body craves more and more. The more the alcoholic drinks, the more the alcoholic needs to drink. This increase in tolerance is the alcoholic's reaction to the alcohol. Often times, someone will start out only drinking in the evenings on the weekends. Over time he or she will begin to drink in the mornings and throughout the day.
7. Hiding Alcohol Use
The alcoholic will begin to tire of a loved one's nagging, crying, yelling, or cold-shoulder treatment. He or she begins to hide the evidence. The alcoholic believes if we don't see the bottle or can, then they can deny the drinking altogether. I will talk more about our behavior in a future post, but for now, know confrontation in the form of anger is not a way to have a conversation with an alcoholic.
When confronted with the possibility of a drinking problem, most alcoholics do not believe there is a problem with their drinking. Some may realize there is an issue but have convinced themselves they can handle it on their own. An alcoholic believes they do not need help. These are both different forms of denial for the alcoholic.
Hiding and lying are closely related for an alcoholic. An alcoholic will often lie when asked where they have been, if they have been drinking, or how much they have had to drink. Still, others will lie to family and friends about missing or borrowed money. They may lie about a lower balance in a checking account or they may never pay back money owed. They will make up different reasons why it cannot the money goes unpaid. Eventually, it becomes common knowledge the alcoholic cannot be trusted or relied upon.
10. Legal Problems
An alcoholic often lives their life on the edge. Their risky behavior will land them an jail or face hefty fines due to their negligence. There is never an instance where drinking and driving is acceptable. Alcoholics convince themselves that they are not "that drunk" and they can sober up quickly when behind the wheel. This is a false assumption. Remember, alcohol is a brain altering chemical. Someone under the influence of alcohol cannot process thoughts properly and cannot make sound judgments. This often leads to legal issues and quite possibly the death of others or themselves.
Alcoholism is a serious disease. It is important to not only recognize the signs but also know how to handle living with an alcoholic. Not all signs are present in every person. There are varying degrees of alcoholism. It is a very complex disease with many layers. It is important to continue to educate yourself on the signs, symptoms, effects, and treatment options.
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