While many people may think that an alcoholic goes through life in a haze of fumes, the reality is that alcoholism can be very easy to conceal. Alcoholics can hold down jobs and be considered responsible members of their community, or they can be the wreck staggering down the street looking for the next bottle of cheap wine. However, all alcoholics have one thing in common, regardless of their position on the social scale – a dependence upon alcohol.
Alcoholism does not necessarily mean that the alcoholic is falling down drunk, either, some alcoholics never actually become drunk; they simply maintain themselves on a lower alcohol level to create a constant ‘buzz’. The late naturalist Gerald Durrell is an example; he sipped alcohol steadily all day but never actually became intoxicated.
Signs of Alcoholism
Many alcoholics will deny that they have a problem at all and will say that they can control their drinking. However, there are a number of signs that will indicate that the person is, indeed, an alcoholic, regardless of their statements to the contrary:
- One of the outstanding aspects of an alcoholic is the ability to make home life miserable. It is unlikely that any home that contains an alcoholic is happy.
- Alcoholics spend money that could be better used for the family on alcohol. In some cases, the alcoholic will use money that was supposed to go for necessities such as food and rent or mortgage payments on drink.
- An alcoholic will often watch the clock, waiting for that happy hour when they consider that they can start drinking.
- Drunk drivers kill and maim thousands of people every year, and driving while drunk is a hallmark of the alcoholic.
- An alcoholic will often put his or her job at risk because of their drinking. Tardiness, absenteeism, and lessened efficiency at work all contribute to a higher rate of job loss among alcoholics.
- While many alcoholics will drink alone, just as many enjoy the ‘conviviality’ of the bar, often with people who are their social inferiors.
- Blacking out and being unable to remember what happened the night before is another sign that the alcoholic will exhibit.
- Everyone has worries and troubles, but only an alcoholic will drink in an attempt to forget about them temporarily.
Every trait on the list will not necessarily be displayed by every alcoholic, but being able to identify with several means that drinking has definitely become a problem.
Is Alcoholism a Disease?
It can be argued, of course, that becoming an alcoholic is a completely voluntary act and that alcoholism is not really a disease. This point of view does have some merit, but there are other factors that contribute to someone becoming an alcoholic, other than simple self-indulgence:
- Growing up in an alcoholic household increases the chance of any individual becoming an alcoholic themselves. Children learn by example, and if the example is a parent who is often drunk, a negative behavior pattern can be set.
- Peer pressure is extremely strong during the teen years and many young people start drinking at the instigation of others when they want to fit in with a particular group. Those who refuse to drink are often made fun of or ostracized.
- Social drinking is an ingrained part of our culture. Unfortunately, it is often easy to slip from being a social drinker to being an alcoholic.
However, alcoholism does become a legitimate, chronic disease once it has effected changes in the chemistry of the brain and body. Once the normal functioning of the organs has become impaired because of alcohol use, alcoholism should be considered an actual disease that will need both medical treatment and counseling to overcome.
Dealing with an Alcoholic
Living with an alcoholic can put one in mind of one of the lower circles of Hell. The uncertain behavior – maudlin crying interspersed with uncontrolled anger do not make for a particularly happy household. The use of funds for drinking rather than for household needs makes the existence of all but the wealthy uncertain.
The alcoholic should be given the opportunity to overcome his or her problem with the help of professionals and support of the family. It is possible to leave alcohol behind and live life normally. Many alcoholics will agree to treatment either because they are sick of the problem themselves or they are threatened with divorce or expulsion from the home. An alcoholic should be given one or two chances to sober up permanently, but if they keep ‘falling off the wagon’ it is the responsibility of the sober partner to take steps to preserve themselves and any children present because the situation will never get better.
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