Alcoholism is defined as having a chemical dependency on alcohol. By this definition, many people would argue that they certainly don’t have a problem with alcohol. Defining the problem is not always so cut-and-dried. There are many different signs that can help to determine if a person is suffering from alcohol addiction, some obvious, others more subtle.
There is a misconception that those suffering from substance abuse are non-productive members of society and ‘look’ a certain way. People suffering from addiction often don’t have the signs you may think of as indicative of alcoholism. Functioning alcoholic is a term that describes many people who are suffering from alcohol addiction. They have learned tricks to disguise their problem and often can go for years doing their jobs and managing to keep their families from knowing how severe their problem is. They are functioning members of society, not homeless and destitute.
Alcoholic Self Denial
Another misconception about alcoholism is that the alcoholic knows that he or she is an alcoholic and is hiding their addiction from family and friends maliciously. In nearly every case of alcoholism, the severity of the problem is not recognized by the individual.
It usually isn’t until after the person has had a few months of sobriety do they let their guard down and accept just how severe the problem was. Never underestimate the power of the mind — it can make a person completely deny what is obvious to others.
Stages of Alcohol Dependency and Addiction
Not all who suffer from addiction are in the same stages of their struggle. The college student who drinks until they pass out on the weekends is not in the same stage of the affliction as the 60-year old man whose body is failing him. More often than not, people don’t understand there’s a problem until the later stages of alcohol addiction, not recognizing the signs associated with the earlier stages.
First Stage of Alcoholism: The Beginning
One of the first signs there may be an issue with alcohol consumption is drinking with the intent to get drunk. Wait, isn’t that the point? Surprisingly, no. The average drinker who is not afflicted with the disease of alcoholism doesn’t set out to get drunk when they begin drinking. In fact, the thought of being intoxicated and losing control is off-putting to them.
Those in the early stages of the disease typically don’t drink every day. They may be casual or social drinkers on the weekends, but when they drink, their intention is to get drunk. Many people begin to look forward to the oblivion that comes with getting drunk during this stage.
In stage one, drinking is just a pastime and downtime is not spent thinking about alcohol. The individual is a high-functioning member of society and will rarely be labeled an alcoholic.
Second Stage of Alcoholism: Maintenance
At this stage, many people begin to drink to feel better and to help deal with everyday life. After a rough day at work, they will begin to crave the after-work drink to help them cope. Instead of looking forward to the social events as they may have in stage one, they begin to look forward to the alcohol that comes with social events.
Many times, this is when signs of alcohol problems become more obvious but can be overlooked. Instead of finding stress relief by working out or taking a hot bath, the addicted individual will use alcohol as their go-to coping mechanism. They are not physically addicted to the substance, they just crave the feeling that comes from having alcohol in their system.
Third Stage of Alcoholism: Problems Arise
It typically takes others until to this stage before they begin to recognize a person may have a problem. This doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a problem previously; it just hadn’t yet been recognized for what it was. Consequences of a person’s behavior will start to become apparent, in different forms.
Have you had someone question your drinking habits or asked you to slow down? Usually, it’s a family member or close friend who will say something first. They may feel the brunt of your actions while you are drinking and begin to slowly withdraw from you. This stage can be isolating, as people begin to enjoy your company less and less.
Alcohol is a depressant to the nervous system, so it’s no surprise that depression shows up in someone’s life after long-term alcohol use. The use of alcohol as a coping mechanism is a double-edged sword, as the alcohol begins to depress the person further. This stage may also involve legal problems, such as DUIs, debt problems, or divorce. It’s likely that the person is still functioning in society but may be falling apart inside.