This post was written by Parris Wells, Director of Marketing at New Method Wellness.
Most of society has a singular view of alcoholism from a pop culture lens: Charlie Sheen’s ‘#winning’, that ‘one girl’ from The Bachelor who over-drinks and causes chaos in the house, and any college-related TV show or movie that depicts excessive drinking without consequences.
A few scrolls on Instagram, and you find exaggerated memes alluding to a humorous dependence on alcohol from popular brands.
While alcohol will always maintain a steadfast position in society (with just cause, alcohol is legal and for those who have the ability to manage their alcohol, it is fun), the term alcohol dependence is fatally desensitized.
Alcohol Use Disorder is defined by the Mayo Clinic as:
“…A pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect, or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking.”
There are 88,000 deaths per year from excessive alcohol use, and this number is growing exponentially.
If memes featuring fatal alcoholism statistics were shared 37K times, the conversation would be a little different.
Crossing the Line
The golden question: when does one’s drinking become alcoholic?
Without a specified drink cap, a religious drinking schedule, or something with which to reference to identify an alcoholic, how do you determine when you have crossed the line? When can you say you have alcohol dependence?
Unless you have personally witnessed a loved one suffer from substance abuse or you are in the depths of your own alcoholism, it is nearly impossible to articulate the characteristics of an alcoholic or an addict.
When you think of an alcoholic, images of men and women standing outside of a gas station with a brown paper bag, begging for change or a spare cigarette, come to mind. Right?
There’s no shame in this assumption; why would you think any different when these stereotypes are the most obvious?
Alcoholics come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, which makes them even more difficult to identify.
You could encounter an alcoholic in your PTA meeting, at your divorce lawyer’s law firm, on a professional sports team, in your favorite movie, or in your English 200 class at University. They can have two houses, a Mercedes, and two children in college prep school, or they can have nothing at all.
In November of 2015, you may have heard former Republican Presidential nominee Chris Christie’s speech to the New Hampshire voters about addiction and alcoholism.
In this speech, Christie shared a personal story about his close law school friend who developed a strong addiction to drugs and lost his life; this man was an Ivy League graduate, excelled in law school landing a spot at a prominent law firm right out of school later to became a partner, he had a beautiful wife, three beautiful children, and he ran run 10 miles a day. This man didn’t seem like an alcoholic, did he? No, he seemed to define success.
Dr. Robert Seliger, an employee in the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University developed this brilliant 20 question quiz you can take to determine whether you suffer from alcoholism. The questions are as follows:
- Do you lose time from work due to your drinking?
- Is drinking making your home life unhappy?
- Do you drink because you are shy with other people?
- Is drinking affecting your reputation?
- Have you ever felt remorse after drinking?
- Have you gotten into financial difficulties as a result of your drinking?
- Do you turn to lower companions and an inferior environment when drinking?
- Does your drinking make you careless of your family’s welfare?
- Has your ambition decreased since drinking?
- Do you crave a drink at a definite time daily?
- Do you want a drink the next morning?
- Does drinking cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
- Has your efficiency decreased since drinking?
- Is drinking jeopardizing your job or business?
- Do you drink to escape from worries or troubles?
- Do you drink alone?
- Have you ever had a complete loss of memory as a result of your drinking?
- Has your physician ever treated you for drinking?
- Do you drink to build up your self-confidence?
- Have you ever been in a hospital or institution on account of drinking?
It may be surprising to note that just one ‘yes’ answer to these questions is a sufficient warning that you might have a problem with alcohol.
Two ‘yes’ answers is sufficient to label an individual an alcoholic, while three or more ‘yes’ answers is indication that an individual is definitely an alcoholic.
How Many Drinks Are Too Many?
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a reference guide that determined whether or not an individual had a problem with alcohol?
1 drink minimum = not an alcoholic
2 – 3 drinks = having a good night
4 – 6 drinks = alcoholic tendencies
Lost count = alcoholic
Unfortunately, no such reference guide exists because drinking far too much on a bad night does not make an alcoholic.
The question our therapists ask clients upon arrival, to initiate conversation is: how does your drinking affect other aspects of your life?
Does your drinking affect your participation and success in the classroom? Does your drinking cause chaos in your romantic relationship? Does your drinking negatively impact your performance at work?
You can often identify an alcoholic by their relationship with alcohol. Why are they drinking?
Typically, an alcoholic drinker is one that seeks to fill a void with alcohol. The alcoholic drinker seeks alcohol to help socialize, to help cope with emotional turmoil, to mask depression or anxiety, or just to feel normal.
Instead of measuring the amount of drinks, we would suggest monitoring the amount of excuses one uses to justify their drinking.
The Signs of Alcoholism
With a relatively firm grasp on the emotional state of an alcoholic, it may also help to understand the physical symptoms of alcoholism.
The following physical and emotional symptoms of alcoholism are general. Not every alcoholic exemplifies the external symptoms of alcoholism; some alcoholics may exhibit a handful of symptoms, or none at all, yet they may still have a problem with alcohol. Trust your intuition.
According to Healthline, the symptoms of an alcoholic are as follows:
- Drinking alone
- Drinking more to feel the effects of alcohol
- Becoming violent or angry when asked about their drinking habits
- Not eating or eating poorly
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Missing work or school because of drinking
- Being unable to control alcohol intake
- Making excuses to drink
- Continuing to drink even when legal, social, or economic problems develop
- Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of alcohol use
- Shaking, nausea, and vomiting when not drinking
- Lapses in memory (blacking out) after a night of drinking
- For severe cases: cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver
As you delve into this list of symptoms, you notice that your loved fits the physical and emotional descriptions of alcoholism; what do you do next?
Watching your loved one suffer from alcoholism evokes feelings of helplessness, confusion, anger, and sadness. Why can’t they stop drinking for the sake of the family? Why are they willingly destroying their lives?
Though it is impossible to coerce an individual to attain sobriety, you are not helpless.
Armed with the knowledge of alcoholism and addiction, you are a powerful source. You are a source of compassion and acceptance.
A Note to Families
Heartbreak is probably all too familiar in your world.
No matter how hard you try, your loved one cannot put the bottle down for long enough to experience sobriety. The most devastating fact of alcoholism is that you cannot get your loved one sober; each alcoholic MUST reach their own bottom at their own time. There is nothing we can do to instigate their bottom, force them into sobriety, or change their way of thinking. We are just as powerless over an alcoholic as an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol.
This concept is easier understood than applied in our daily lives.
Help from New Method Wellness
At New Method Wellness, we spend a lot of time with the family and loved ones of our clients. We understand that families struggle with the wreckage of alcoholism long after the alcoholic gets sober.
Here are four suggestions we have for our client’s friends and family at New Method Wellness:
- Join a support group (Al-Anon, Naranon, church group) or create a support group with other individuals with a loved one addicted to alcohol or drugs.
- Set firm boundaries with your alcoholic especially when it comes to finances. No matter the desperate plea or excuse your loved one places on your heart, providing money to an active alcoholic is contributing to their disease. As much as it may hurt your soul, it is O.K. to financially cut off an alcoholic, this does not make you a bad person.
- Provide love and support but not at the risk of your own sanity. You cannot help another individual if you are unable to help yourself. Love and support in the form of kind, loving words and a listening ear benefit an alcoholic more than any other form of support.
- You can help when you are asked (if you choose to do so), but forcing help upon an alcoholic is a recipe for trouble. Coercion is never a good idea with an alcoholic; rebellious in nature, an active alcoholic deep in his/her disease has to muster up their own willingness.
The last thing we want to do as family members of an alcoholic is set boundaries with them. We want to make sure they have a roof over their head, food in their belly, and a safe place to call home.
Unfortunately, our constant provisions prolong our loved one’s active alcoholism. Without consequences, why would an alcoholic stop drinking?
We strongly suggest that the family members of our clients join a support group; you will feel less depleted and more stable.
Our Outreach Coordinators and our Director of Admissions would love to speak with yourself or your loved one regarding treatment options, next steps if you desire to attend treatment, and what to expect during inpatient or outpatient treatment programs.
At New Method Wellness, our staff has over 300 years of sobriety, combined. Even those of us who have not suffered directly from alcoholism or substance abuse, have watched a loved one suffer from this disease.
You can call our 24-hour hotline at 866-951-1824 to speak directly with our staff, or you can visit www.newmethodwellness.com, fill out our contact form, and someone will contact you within 24 hours.