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Sunday, 15 January 2017

Alcoholism Explained

I’m an alcoholic. I’m currently three months sober and have a video below of myself explaining my alcoholism. Here I’m going to explain the premises of alcoholism and touch on how AA has helped me. (Note: this is not an 'advert' for AA or an attempt to convert people.)

First off, alcoholism is a disease. I first started to suspect I was an alkie around the age of fourteen, and I drank heavily (as in practically daily) for over a year, when I was eighteen-nineteen. You don’t have to drink heavily for decades to be classed as an alcoholic. It’s an illness that you’re born with. Like psychopathy or autism, alcoholism is a hard-wired physiological condition. The alcoholic is affected differently by alcohol (and other drugs) then a non-alkie. We take that first drink, or first spliff or first crisp, and it sets off that craving. It’s a disease of more, a disease of fear; a disease of denial. It’s an internal illness. The illness is not in the bottle;  the illness is inside the alkie.

It’s not about how much you drink. There are people I know who aren’t alcoholics who can handle way more alcohol than I can. I used to resent nearly everyone I drank with for calling me ‘lightweight.’  I asked my sponsor why it pissed me off so much, and she said it’s cos of the obsession. I don’t get so pissed off if someone were to laugh at how weak I am cos I can’t open a jar, I’d just shrug and say yeah I’m weak. I’m a tiny little thing; I don’t have much upper body strength. Yet I’ve always wanted to prove that I can drink as much as people who can handle twice as much booze as me (and it’s failed). Mostly I drank alone.

An alcoholic, whether they’re a ‘heavyweight’ or ‘lightweight’ drinker, will take that first drink and crave more. They’ll drink to blackout, to vomiting, to get out of their head. Or they’ll just drink everyday constantly. Non-alkies can be heavy drinkers, but it must be stressed that a heavy drinker is not an alcoholic. A non-alkie can sip – I must emphasise sip – a beer over the course of an hour or two and not get drunk. And go home and go to bed and not drink again for a week.

It can affect anyone. I’m nineteen. People can come into recovery when they're teenagers. The disease is internal, and has fuck all to do with age. It doesn’t matter if you had some happy middle class utopian childhood with parents who took you out for piano lessons, or a shit childhood where your dad was an abusive drug addict and your mum was a prostitute. Alcoholism is not a picky illness. Rich or poor, male or female, any country, any age, alcoholism will get you. Neither of my parents are alkies and neither are heavy drinkers. There’s no one I’m immediately close to in my family who is an alkie. Just me.

It’s not a weakness. I’m a determinist anyway and I don’t believe in free will, but many people think that alcoholics ‘have no self-control’ or ‘willpower’ to stop drinking. That’s bullshit. It’s an illness.
Following the 12 step program, getting a sponsor, and keeping things in the day has helped me with my sobriety and hopefully will continue to do so. Finding a power 'greater than myself' (and that power doesn't necessarily mean God; I'm an atheist) has also been helpful. I think of mine as the power of other people in the fellowship, and trees and stars and earth because that stuff was all here before me and I know it’s real.

Hopefully this post has cleared up some myths about alcoholism. I think it’s important people become aware of it because so many people aren’t aware. I did a module on Substance Abuse in A level Psychology so knew what withdrawal, tolerance, AA and the like was, but there was no real explanation as to what alcoholism is. It can be defined as a mental obsession, physical compulsion and spiritual bankruptcy. Alcoholism is a terminal illness that will kill you if left untreated. Let’s toast our glasses of lemonade to sober living!

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