When picturing an alcoholic, many people think of homeless guys in tattered clothes with a bottle of cheap wine in a paper bag. But, most alcoholics look like your next door neighbor. Your co-worker. Your sister-in-law. Your best friend. Your spouse. You.
What begins as an occasional social drink with friends can evolve into something much worse: a full-fledged physical and psychological addiction to alcohol. How can you tell when alcohol is becoming a problem?
- Ever increasing tolerance. Alcoholism is a sneaky thing. It starts out at a low level, like having a beer or two when you get home from work. Then, it starts to grow. Two beers turs into four. Then, six. Then, eight. Because as the body learns to tolerate alcohol, it requires more to get the same effect. If you find that you need to drink more and more to get a buzz, it is a sign your tolerance to alcohol is increasing.
- Physical cravings. When an alcoholic has not had a drink recently, the cravings can become intense. Many describe it as an intense thirst or hunger for something. It takes over the mind and the body until it is satisfied. The craving is so intense that it overwhelms everything. If you have these kinds of cravings every time you go without alcohol, you likely have a physical addiction.
- Being unable to stop once started. “I’ll just have one more” can easily become the mantra of an alcoholic. That single beer with friends turns into a drunken blackout. It is not normal to wake up, not knowing where you are at.
- Withdrawal symptoms. When an alcoholic does not get a drink for a period of time, the withdrawal symptoms become quite intense. They can include tremors, anxiety, nausea, headache, irritability, sweating and an increase heart rate among others. Do you have symptoms like these when you go a single night without a drink?
- Drinking in secret and lying about it. Many alcoholics recognize at some level they have a problem. But, they aren’t ready to get rid of the alcohol. So instead of facing questions from family and friends, they start using alcohol in secret. If someone asks, they deny. Have you recently lied about drinking to anyone?
- Hiding alcohol. An alcoholic cannot live without that next drink. And they need it no matter what. So, hiding a bottle of liquor or wine in the closet makes sense, especially if someone is questioning the person’s drinking habits. Having multiple stashes is even better. Do you have alcohol stashed somewhere to ensure you have a ready supply?
- Drinking in places or at events where it is not appropriate. Work is a big one. Coming to work drunk can get you fired. Having alcohol over lunch, then going back to work can get you fired. But, sneaking in a flask of alcohol to a non-alcohol event is another sign of a problem. If the bride and groom are having an alcohol-free wedding, it is not appropriate to BYOB.
Alcoholic beverages like wine, beer, cocktails or liquor are enjoyed by many. However, for some, it is a problem. Physical addiction to alcohol can trigger intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms, even blackouts. Behaviors can change. Drinking on the job or in secret becomes the norm. If any of this sounds eerily familiar to you, you need to seek help.
Alcoholism is a disease and it is possible to become alcohol free. It all starts with knowing the signs that you might have a problem.