Saturday, 15 August 2015

How to Tell If You Are Becoming an Alcoholic

Alcoholic, alcoholism, quit drinking
I wrote this article about three years ago just after I had been discharged from psychiatric hospital and was living in a hostel for the homeless.  I don’t want to make this a blog about alcoholism, but I was an alcoholic and I will not pretend that I wasn’t.

You will notice there that I used the terms ‘was an alcoholic’, which will get right up the noses of some people, so let me explain. There are some people who say that a recovering alcoholic can never touch a drop of alcohol again and that may well be true for some people. I am now drinking again, but my drinking is firmly under control and I know a number of other people who have learned to control their addiction too.


Am I still an alcoholic now? Who knows, but I don’t ever come rolling home drunk, I don’t ever need a drink and I am probably even more careful about how much I drink than most people are. Alcohol did wreck my life, though, so I am republishing a series of articles that I first published on Hub Pages in the hope that they will be of some use to someone.


Step 1. Admitting it to you is the hardest part

The first step in the twelve step program of Alcoholics Anonymous seems so simple doesn't it?

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.”

There you go that was easy, wasn't it? Now you’re on the way to being cured.

If only it were that simple. Many were the times that, following an extreme episode of drinking and my doing something foolish in public, I sat in my room on my own telling myself “That’s it, I'm an alcoholic, I’m going to stop drinking right now.”

I’d Google the internet for phrases such as help me stop drinking or I need to stop drinking. I’d read the blogs, re-read the AA site and, my mind made up, I’d go down the pub for one last drink. A few hours later, I didn't have a problem anymore.

Once you are a full-on alcoholic, you really don't need to ask 'am I an alcoholic, the signs are fairly obvious:

Loss of appetite
Neglect of personal Hygiene
Severe shakes in the mornings
Dry heaving in the mornings
Heavy cold sweats
Constant craving for a drink
Depression and anxiety

Once you have reached this stage, you are quite probably alcohol dependent. That is, your body has been fooled into thinking that you need alcohol just as much as you need food.

At this point, your need for alcohol takes over your life completely. Many were the times that, when my money had dried up, left with the choice of buying food or alcohol, I chose the latter.

Oh, how I wish that I had spotted the signs earlier. Stopping drinking would have been so much easier. For a start, when I searched for I need help with my drinking on Google, I might have taken the answers a bit more seriously.


I’m no expert, but I have been there
First up, I must stress that I am no medical expert nor am I a psychologist, so any advice I may give to a person give up drinking are purely based upon my personal experience.

My drinking evolved over a period of time and I believe that, had I recognised it as a problem sooner, I may have been able to stop it getting out of control.

My genuine hope is that by sharing my experiences and thoughts on the topic, I can help someone else who is currently sitting at a computer asking themselves am I an alcoholic find the answer early.

If you are drinking heavily and you are thinking of stopping; be careful. Detox is not only unpleasant; it can be dangerous so always seek advice from your GP before you start.

The rewards of stopping excessive drinking are fantastic. I wish I’d done it years ago. You really don’t know what you are missing out on by being under the influence all the time. It's not easy quitting drinking, but it's not impossible.


Sobriety Can Be Fun
If you’re sitting there, drink in one hand, mouse in the other, thinking; yeah, yeah, yeah sobriety is fun, what a load of old cobblers; put the drink down for a second and see if any of the following ring true:

When did you last read a book?
When did you last watch a film on TV – All the way to the end?
When did you last wake up in the morning and think “What a lovely morning”?
When did you last actually enjoy the food you ate?
When did you last go for a walk, just for the sake of it?
When did you last enjoy a simple moment with your children, perhaps played a game with them?
When did you last get through the night without having to go to the bathroom?

There’s a danger, of course, that you might read this and think that none of the above apply to you so you're OK. But you know what I mean; It’s the simple things that you can you start to enjoy again when you are sober.


How do you know if you have a Drink Problem?
I think that the key differences between a heavy drinker and an alcoholic, the tipping point, if you like, is when you cease to just enjoy alcohol and you start to use it.

Once you have started to use alcohol to achieve a purpose rather than drink alcohol because you like the taste, or for its mildly pleasant intoxication qualities in a social situation, you may be tipping into the alcoholic level of the scale.

You don’t have to be the scruffy, unkempt wino sitting in the local churchyard with your bottle of white cider to be an alcoholic either. There are many alcoholics who still manage to lead a relatively normal life. A functioning alcoholic can be a person who abuses alcohol, but who can still function in normal, everyday life. This might be a secret drinker who always has a quick one before going into a meeting, the guy who ‘knows how to knock them back at a party, or a person who always has a drink to wind down at the end of the day.


Where are you on the Alki-meter?
If my theory, and it is only a personal theory, is right then, if you find yourself anywhere beyond the green scale of the Alki-Meter, you might want to start thinking about your drinking habits a bit more seriously. These stages of alcoholism are the ones that I believe that I went through to end up being alcohol dependent:

Social
At first, as you might expect, I only drank on social occasions. I started when I was quite young simply because everyone else was drinking. I remember that, to start with, it was decidedly not a pleasurable experience; Being sick, the room spinning and storming hangovers the day after and I didn’t even like the taste. In fact, we used to drink lager and lime to make it a bit more palatable.

When I got a bit older, it was still just normal social drinking, but it became more frequent; the odd drink at lunchtime, parties and nights out – but nothing out of the ordinary really.

Recreational
Then I started to enjoy the actual sensation of being drunk. Instead of getting legless being an unfortunate side effect of a good night out, it became the purpose of the night out. Looking back, it was at this stage that I stopped being sick and finding the bedroom spinning when I tried to go to sleep and hangovers became much less severe. I still had no idea, though, where this was leading, but I had started to drink to get drunk, not get drunk because I got carried away and drunk too much.

The lack of the unpleasant side effects of drinking was possibly the first warning sign. If you don’t get hangovers then your body is probably becoming more tolerant of alcohol, which probably means that you are starting to drink too much.

Medicinal
I discovered that drinking alcohol also calmed my nerves and gave me confidence at work doing presentations to large numbers of people, a task that didn't naturally come easy to me. This is when I started to drink in order to deliberately to alter my state of mind, to give me confidence. For some, the desired effect might be to calm the nerves, for others it might be for cheering you up, and for other people it could be to forget, or escape from something that you don’t want to face.

Habitual
The next stage for me on the road to alcoholism was that the drinking became a habit. I drank so often that it became an ingrained part of the routine of my life and I started drinking without even thinking about it. In this state, you miss it, if it’s not there, but you don’t physically crave it. I started to drink at lunchtime every day and I always had a few drinks in the evening. It became the natural thing to do; get home, put the TV on, open a beer and relax.

Addict
Addiction is a completely different ballgame from habit though one leads to the other without you even noticing. Addiction is not just missing alcohol when it’s not there; it is a real craving. It’s going into the shop on the way home and getting the beers first and then looking to see how much cash you have left for your food.

One of the warning signs that I didn't take notice of was how much more irritable I had become. If, standing at a bar waiting to be served, the bartender took too long to serve me, I wasn't just getting annoyed by the poor service; I really needed that beer.

Dependent
In the final stages of my addiction, I became physically dependent on alcohol and was officially diagnosed as suffering from Alcohol Dependency Syndrome. At this stage I simply could not function without a drink. In the mornings, despite the fact that I was probably still way over the drink drive limit anyway, I would get severe shakes and sweating. The shakes were so bad some days it was difficult to even make a cup of coffee and using the computer was completely out of the question.

Alcoholism – You can Beat It
Alcoholism is not an incurable disease and it can be beaten. Where ever you are on the scale right now. But, the earlier you recognise the signs, the easier it will be to learn how to control it.

One of the biggest problems is that alcohol weakens your resolve to do anything about your alcoholism. It’s so easy to say to yourself; ‘I don’t have a problem’, or ‘I’ll stop drinking tomorrow’, especially when you have a drink in your hand.

You might need the help of AA, you might need to defer to your higher power but, at the end of the day, with or without help; the one person that you really need help from is you, because you are the only person that can really say I’m an alcoholic get me out of here!

Alcoholism – Food for thought
I sincerely hope that this post is of some use to someone, somewhere and, if it has given you food for thought, then think on. Just being aware that the addiction to alcohol can creep up on you without you even noticing is a start. It really can happen to anybody and I’m sure that no one living in the hostel where I lived ever dreamed that it would happen to them. I certainly never did, and it was too late when I asked the question; am I an alcoholic?




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