How To Identify an Alcoholic

Alcoholism is Nothing New

Unsurprisingly, alcohol is the single most commonly abused substance in our country, perhaps even the world. Alcohol has been a part of every culture across the globe, consumed in celebrations, rituals, mourning, and everything in between. Unfortunately, it is also often consumed to excess and stories of alcoholism have been happening since the earliest days of history. Perhaps it didn’t have a name, but drinking too much is a common theme in many stories throughout the ages.

Despite what many people may believe, alcoholics are not restricted to homeless people drinking out of brown paper bags in dark, dirty alleys behind diners in the bad part of town or angry, abusive father figures. These are stereotypes perpetuated by television and movies but in reality, alcoholism can strike anyone, from any walk of life, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or class.

Identifying An Alcoholic

It’s important to note the distinction between an alcoholic and an alcohol abuser. The main difference is that an abuser has at least some ability to set a limit on their drinking, whereas an alcoholic does not. This does not mean alcohol abuse isn’t harmful, however.

There are several signs of alcohol abuse to watch for, one of which is drinking to de-stress or relax, which is how many drinking problems begin. Drinking in spite of physical danger, such as operating machinery, mixing alcohol with prescription drugs, or drinking and driving is another warning sign to watch for. Another telltale sign of alcohol abuse is habitual neglect of one’s responsibilities due to one’s drinking, such as skipping commitments because of hangovers, neglecting one’s children, problems at work, or flunking classes. Alcohol abuse can also lead to arrests due to fighting or drunk and disorderly conduct.

Alcoholism is the most extreme drinking problem and includes all the symptoms and signs of alcohol abuse but also includes physical dependence. A good indication of alcoholism is an inability to function without alcohol or a physical compulsion to drink. The first warning sign of alcoholism is building a tolerance to it. If it takes more and more alcohol to feel the same effects, that’s the tolerance that’s built up. The second sign, and a major red flag, is withdrawal symptoms. These can include headaches, insomnia, loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, sweating, irritability, depression, anxiety,

jumpiness, and uncontrollable shaking. If you need a drink in the morning just to calm the shakes, that’s withdrawal and it’s a major problem.

Common Myths About Drinking

There are several myths that surround alcoholism, often told by the abusers and those who try to shield them from the consequences of their addiction. One of the most commonly heard lines is that they can quit drinking any time they want to. Maybe they can, but more than likely, they can’t and they don’t want to. Telling themselves this lie, however, gives them the comforting illusion of control, regardless of the damage and evidence that they are anything but in control.

Another commonly heard myth is that an alcoholic’s drinking problem is their problem, that it doesn’t hurt anyone else, so people should just mind their own business. The decision to quit drinking is solely up to the alcoholic, yes, but the belief that it doesn’t hurt anyone else is a lie. The people closest to the alcoholic often suffer the most, almost as much as the alcoholic themselves.

Some people claim they can’t be alcoholics because they maintain their job, only drink wine or beer, or that they don’t drink every day. Alcoholism is defined by the effects of one’s drinking, not the type of alcohol they drink or the amount or frequency of their drinking. Being able to maintain a job just makes them a high-functioning alcoholic. Over time, however, the consequences of their drinking will eventually catch up to them, sometimes to devastating effect.

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