What it’s Like to be an Alcoholic: An Empathetic Exploration of Alcoholism
Answering the question “What does it feel like to be an alcoholic?” requires more than a casual explanation. Alcoholism affects not only the person drinking, but his or her family as well. In fact, the roots of alcoholism are often found within the family. There are specific steps to explaining what it feels like to be an alcoholic, the first of which involves exploring the prevalence of alcoholism in America.
The Scary Statistics on Alcoholism
The statistics on alcoholism in America are, no pun intended, quite sobering. Alcoholism has been a struggle for far longer than drug addiction. Archeological evidence shows that beer was a favored drink of the Sumerian culture some 6,000 years ago.
In the modern day, unlike drugs, alcohol can be obtained relatively easily. With a high frequency of bars in most American cities and beer in nearly every grocery store, alcoholism eclipses drug abuse in health care, crime, and lost productivity costs. Here are the statistics:
The devastating numbers don’t stop there:
Alcoholism has every hallmark characteristic of dependency, and the statistics prove this fact. It would not be hard to dedicate the rest of this article to nothing but the statistics related to alcohol abuse. It’s a topic that has been well studied – and the raw numbers are easily accessed.
So now that we know the devastating numbers behind alcoholism, the next step in explaining what it feels like to be an alcoholic lies in discovering what alcoholism really is.
What is Alcoholism?
The American Medical Association (AMA) defines alcoholism or alcohol dependence as a “primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.” Much like drug addiction, people are not alcoholics simply because they had a few celebratory drinks at a family wedding. Alcoholism is brought on through prolonged use that results in changes within the brain.
Alcoholism is thought to be influenced by genetics and environmental factors. And though this has never been directly proven, studies show that among separated identical twins, there is a greater chance of both becoming alcoholics than that of separated non-identical twins.
Modern day society has embraced alcohol, negating its serious consequences. Alcohol manifests itself in many different ways; this fact, coupled with society’s general acceptance of it, can lead to unfortunate outcomes. A large number of people today engage in at least moderate drinking, which can often make it difficult to spot the signs that point to dependency.
Signs of Alcoholism
Almost half of all Americans are occasional, non-dependent alcohol users. But this does not mean that half of the country are alcoholics. Alcoholism occurs when the casual drink becomes a necessity. Watch for the following behaviors, which may indicate a possible alcohol dependency:
- Consistent / Prolonged Drinking: Even if it is only a few drinks a night, those few drinks are indicative of a problem because they are consistent. It is a common misconception that a person must drink from morning to night every day to be an alcoholic. This is not true.
Lack of Control when Drinking: In normal non-dependent drinkers, one glass of wine with dinner may be good enough. For alcoholics, it may seem like multiple drinks is an inevitability after the first is consumed. If your first drink starts with a toast and your last with lost memories, it is a sign of a serious lack of control while drinking.
Withdrawal Symptoms: If stopping alcohol consumption causes serious physical and emotional side effects, it is a serious sign of alcoholism. Alcohol effects the nervous system, so when it is suddenly removed it could lead to the following:
- Increased heart rate
- Mood swings
- Uncontrollable sweating
Tolerance: Tolerance to alcohol begins, for example, once that occasional beer has turned into an occasional six pack. The increase in habitual drinking to achieve the same effect is a common sign of alcoholism.
Life Problems: Prolonged drinking, much like prolonged drug use, will often lead to negative consequences.
Common social and familiar problems that result from alcoholism include the following:
Withdrawing from friends and family
Inability to manage finances
Problems at work
An anonymous Quora user aptly and succinctly describes the signs of alcoholism saying:
“There were warning signs; people I wouldn’t hang out with because they were boring (didn’t drink more than a glass or two on weeknights) and classes I missed because I was too hung-over to make it in. I had to borrow money to pay rent and bills, because I was spending my earnings and savings on booze and drugs. Time passed and I dropped out of university because, I told myself, ‘I don’t want this.’ Actually, I was failing that semester because I was drinking and drugging so heavily that I couldn’t do course work or pass exams.”
The signs of alcoholism are usually noticed first by friends and family. Though it is possible for one to kick alcoholism on their own, it is rarely the alcoholic that first acknowledges the problem.
But that acknowledgment is required for eventual and sustained recovery.
The next step is getting right to the heart of what it actually feels like to be an alcoholic, which unsurprisingly closely parallels the signs of alcoholism.