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Tuesday, 27 June 2017

How to tell if you're an alcoholic

Alcoholism is a disease of fear, more, and denial. Many addicts and alcoholics try to kid themselves that they don’t have a problem; they can control it, they did but don’t anymore, they just like to drink. If you suspect that you or someone else you might know is an alkie, or are just curious, then here are signs to look out for.

You’re unable to stop once you start. Alcoholics don’t have self-control when it comes to drinking, or we have to force ourselves to control our drinking. When I was 13/14 my parents would give my brother and I wine with juice and I would force myself to drink it slowly when I wanted to dunk it down. I did this so I wouldn’t appear odd, and also I was worried that if I gulped it all down and
asked for more they wouldn’t give me any more. For an alkie, once you take that first drink the craving kicks in. This can also be after crisps, chocolate, cigarettes, marijuana, chips, exercise – it’s all about that addictive personality.  Normal drinkers can be content with sipping one glass of wine over the course of the hour. I can do that with water, but not with beer. Normal drinkers try to get drunk; alcoholics get drunk without trying (or try not to get drunk).

You drink to change the way you feel. Most people drink to enjoy themselves in social situations; parties, gatherings, dinner with family or friends, or maybe just a glass of wine ‘as a treat’ in front of the telly. Alcoholics typically drink on feelings of resentment or fear, or to make ourselves feel less anxious. It can be as simple as drinking before going to meet a friend, or after an argument, or to go to sleep, or because you feel depressed. An alcoholic will make up a million excuses to have a drink.

Bad consequences. Alcoholism is a progressive illness; you don’t have to lose your home, get thrown into jail, get into fights, beat up your girlfriend, end up in A&E, pass out and vomit in the street or ruin your friend’s party, but as you continue to drink these things will inevitably happen. As you continue to drink, alcohol slowly eats away at your life. No one will tell you that you’re not ‘alcoholic enough’ or ‘bad enough’ to be an alkie; a woman at my first AA meeting told me you can come into AA after two months. If you consistently get into trouble because you’re drinking, then you may have a problem. I haven’t had many terrible consequences – I have been in A&E, upset a few people and smashed up glass bottles (sober) which got me in trouble with the police, but nothing really awful like being thrown out of uni. However, just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it can’t happen one day.

Drinking in the morning. Watch out for this – some people might say ‘I don’t drink in the morning’ or ‘I don’t drink alone’, therefore can’t have a problem. But again, it’s a progressive illness, which inevitably leads to constant drinking. My drinking progressed very fast (and hopefully has ended fast unless I choose to start all over again one day), so I drank in the morning a lot, to stop the shaking or to come back to ‘normal’. Normal drinkers don’t drink in the morning – maybe if they’re on holiday, but not before work or uni.

Drinking alone. Again, watch out for this; not all alkies drink alone, but many do. Bribing other
people to drink with you or drinking around people who aren’t drinking are signs to look out for. If you’re sitting with a group of people and you’re the only one drinking alcohol be careful. People like to drink to socialise, and if no one else is drinking they usually won’t drink either. But an alcoholic won’t care; if an alcoholic wants to drink they’ll drink, regardless of how much their friends drink. It’s also not uncommon for an alcoholic to try and get other people drunk or more drunk than them, because then you feel like less people will notice when you get drunk and you won’t be the only plonker. But yes, if you drink by yourself constantly to ‘self-medicate’ or ‘de-stress’, that is a sign of a serious problem.

N.B: if googling pictures of alcohol for your blog post makes your mouth water, you may be an addict. 

Seeing social events as an excuse to drink. Most people get excited for the wedding or the party, but an alcoholic may just be thinking about the booze. Remember, an alcoholic will use any excuse they can to drink, so if there’s a social event and all you can think about is the alcohol that is a sign of alcoholism. Being more interested in the booze then the people around you or the conversation shows the obsession with alcohol and emotional distance from other people.

People are worried about your drinking. Doesn’t matter if it’s one or two or ten, if someone expresses concern about your drinking or makes worried looks or tells you not to get wasted or not to drink any more, then they’ve picked up on it. There’s a saying that we’re ‘always the last to know.’ Because most people aren’t alcoholics, they’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if someone is drinking strangely. If you don’t seem to have any limits, if you always have beer in your hand, if you get pissed and vomit or talk about wanting to commit suicide, if you find any excuse you can to talk about alcohol...yeah. You get the picture. Likelihood is people have clocked before you have. When I started telling those close to me I was in AA I expected them to be shocked and say ‘why? There’s nothing wrong with you!’ Instead they just said ‘good’ and didn’t seem very surprised, just relieved.

Withdrawal. Alcohol causes physical and psychological dependence, and has the worst withdrawal symptoms alongside heroin. If you are aware that you haven’t had a drink for a whole day and start to panic, that means you’re dependent. If your body starts shaking, swaying, or you start getting really anxious and can’t walk properly and act strangely and erratic, it’s all signs of the DTs and means that your body is aware of the fact that there’s no alcohol inside of it. Alcohol withdrawal is pretty scary at first, it feels like a constant panic attack, but after a while you get used to it. (Doesn’t mean you should get used to it though!) Normal people don’t shake or get DTs, and don’t really worry about whether they have or haven’t drank for a day or two.

So there is a comprehensive list of things to look out for. It’s a lifelong illness but it can be solved through deciding to seek out help. I'm four months sober and clean; should technically be eight months but I had a minor relapse four months ago. Forcing a person to go into recovery won’t work; a person has to find recovery of their own volition and some never will (those people usually end up dead). But yes, if you think you or someone around you might have a drinking problem and they tick any of the above boxes, then it’s something to look out for. Alcohol does alcoholics no good. See post: alcoholism explained

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