I recently attended an event geared towards young, working professionals. Throughout the course of the event, I spoke with several people about their concerns for their parents, friends and siblings:
“I think that my dad is an alcoholic, but I’m not sure. How can I tell?”
“I have a friend that I’m really worried about. She drinks a lot. How do I know if she needs professional help?”
“My brother’s drinking scares me sometimes – but does he really need to go to rehab?”
In a society where alcohol is legal, determining whether a person is addicted to the beer, wine or liquor isn’t always easy. It can be difficult to distinguish between casual drinking and abuse or addiction. It can be even more difficult to decide to do something about it.
Social And Casual Drinking vs. Abuse, Addiction And Alcoholism
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), over 87% of people 18 or older report that they’ve drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime. Roughly 57% of those 18 or older report that they’ve drank alcohol in the past month. It is quite common for people to enjoy an occasional glass of wine with dinner or a cocktail at a social gathering. That being said, there are many others who drink more frequently, more heavily or with different intentions.
Because addiction can take on various shapes and forms, understanding what it looks and feels like can be challenging for loved ones. Some people who are addicted to alcohol drink every single day, while some only drink on the weekends – every single weekend. Some people drink beer, justifying that it’s better than drinking liquor. Some people maintain their jobs and lifestyle, considering themselves ‘functional alcoholics’ – while others have lost a great deal to alcohol consumption.
For loved ones, it isn’t always easy to assess the situation. For those in active addiction, it can be an even greater challenge. The following are nine solid indicators that a person may be addicted to alcohol or on the path to alcoholism. As addiction doesn’t look the same on everyone, some of the following may apply to you or the person you love, others may not.
- Increased Tolerance
When it comes to addiction, most people are using the substance of choice to feel a certain way. For example, drinking to become intoxicated. A person who does not drink often or heavily may only need a drink or two to feel an alcohol buzz. However, when the body deals with an overdose of alcohol on a regular or daily basis, it learns to adjust – compensating and minimizing the damage done by alcohol. When a person then expects to feel the same type of buzz, they’ll have to consume more to get to that point. Consistent or heavy drinking over a period of time is what leads to an increased tolerance of alcohol.
- Inability To Control Consumption
In active addiction, many people find themselves making promises that they simply cannot keep. Often times, one of those promises is to limit or manage consumption. For example, telling themselves or others that they will not drink for a certain period of time – or only planning to have a two drink maximum. Unfortunately, with addiction, these plans don’t hold. Addiction takes away the choice to refrain or control consumption. Inability to control actions or behaviors, despite the consequences, is a sign of alcoholism and addiction.
- Drinking As A Coping Mechanism
Drinking a glass of wine to unwind after a long week or relaxing with friends over a cocktail or two isn’t an unusual coping mechanism for many people. However, for those in active addiction – there is a mental obsession that can happen before the drink. Anticipating that first beer after a disagreement with a coworker or mentally obsessing over a bottle of wine to cope with the stress of the day; Drinking to deal with frustration, drinking to celebrate, drinking to escape everyday realities. Each time a person drinks to deal with a situation, they reinforce the pattern – creating a vicious cycle. When drinking becomes the go-to method of dealing with any negative (or positive) emotions, it’s a sign of alcohol addiction.
When a person isolates or hides alcohol use from loved ones, close friends or family – it often starts with the justification that they don’t want others in their business. Feeling the need to be secretive about alcohol use, drinking alcohol alone or after others have left or gone to bed can be an indicator that something is wrong. Whether it stems from a feeling of embarrassment about drinking or the need for extreme privacy, isolating can become extremely dangerous in addiction.
- Legal Problems
An arrest for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI) is a clear indicator that alcohol may be a problem. However, driving over the legal limit isn’t the only legal issue that can indicate signs of addiction. Because alcohol impairs judgment, it can lead to violent outbursts or domestic disputes, attempting risky or harmful activities, or even stealing to support the addiction. Whether the legal issue comes in the form of monetary fines, jail time, probation or loss of employment – it is a sign that alcohol has taken priority over any legal consequences.
- Neglected Responsibilities
Maintaining daily life can become especially difficult in active addiction: From hangovers to lack of motivation, or becoming too intoxicated to be productive – the effects of an alcohol addiction can cause many things that were once a priority in life to slip away. For example, failing at school, missing a child’s baseball game, failing to meet commitments or losing a job. A person in active addiction is unable to choose anything over his or her drug of choice.
When a person has been drinking alcohol for an extended period of time and then suddenly stops, the body can experience withdrawal symptoms. Depending on body weight, metabolism and how many drinks, withdrawal can begin 6-12 hours after a person stops drinking and can last days – even weeks, in less severe forms. Symptoms of withdrawal can include anxiety, depression, shaking, vomiting, sweating, tremors, confusion, hallucinations and even seizures. Alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening and should ideally occur only under medical care.
Alcohol is a depressant – and can act as such inside the mind and body. In chemical form, alcohol can begin to make a person feel down and hopeless. As noted in sign number three above, when feeling depressed or hopeless, a person may return to the bottle to deal with the pain. When alcohol becomes the only way of coping with stress or unhappiness, drinking more of it only deepens the depression.
- Destroyed Relationships
Alcoholism knows no limits: It can destroy marriages, friendships, relationships – and it can tear families apart. With addiction of any kind, trust goes out the window first. Addiction can lead to things we’d never would have imagined would be in our world: violence, neglect or abuse. Alcoholism destroys relationships.
With the above signs, it’s important to note that they are significant – but not the only symptoms. While each of them could be due to other issues, often times they accompany alcohol or drug addiction – and support the need to seriously consider rehab.