What is Alcoholism Part 1
by Ned Wicker
The old line is “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m just a problem drinker.” There is humor to that statement, but at the same time sadness. Sometimes the line between addiction and abuse is a narrow one, but in either case, it's a serious issue.
The narrow line defines a progression from wanting a drink to NEEDING a drink. Exactly where the line is drawn depends on the individual, but in simple terms, addiction is when the person craves alcohol and has lost control over how much he/she drinks.
Alcoholism is a chronic condition, a progressive disease that can cause a variety of serious health issues and even death. In most cases, alcoholics experience a physical dependence on alcohol. They need to drink to receive the effect the alcohol gives them.
A definition of alcohol addiction is drinking too much. A person’s drinking may be getting in the way, they might get ticketed for DUI, they might have some troubles at work or home, but they have not necessarily lost total control over their lives.
Again, it’s different for each person. It’s a matter of degree. As the condition progresses, the line becomes more evident.
Alcohol depresses the central nervous system. At first it may stimulate, but as they continue to drink, they become sedated. The more sedation, the more risk for complications such as heart failure, respiratory failure, etc.
As the disease progresses, it can be life-threatening. If a person goes on a “bender,” they may be in jeopardy of falling into a coma.
Alcoholism is a disease that “sneaks” up on its victim. If a person has another kind of disease, there is a much greater likelihood that they will admit to being sick. Those abusing alcohol, or are already in the grip of alcoholism, do not think they have a problem. That makes the possibility of them receiving treatment more difficult. If I break my arm, I’ll gladly allow a physician to treat it, but an alcoholic doesn’t have a problem. It’s your problem.
What to look for
One of the first things to look for is how many times a person wants or needs a drink. Frequency of drinking is a huge contributing factor. Perhaps they are slipping away to “sneak” a drink. They drink alone. They have a small bottle in their desk drawer, or they go into the restroom to have a drink.
Another sign is their inability to control how much they drink. For the alcoholic, one drink is too many and all of Lake Michigan isn’t enough.
As drinking becomes a more important activity in their life, a person loses interest in other things, in friendships, or will even create an elaborate ritual for their drinking.
Maybe it’s routine for them to hit the bar right after work, or they make a cocktail before dinner, then they continue drinking during the meal and after. If you say anything, they get angry. If they don’t have access to alcohol when they want a drink, or when their drinking ritual is set to begin, they become angry.
Forgetfulness another sign
Another sign is the person forgetting conversations, or not remembering tasks at work. You’ve probably heard of someone “blacking out” after drinking. That’s another indicator. They guzzle drinks, like an athlete taking Gatorade on a hot day.
While others in the group might order a regular mixed drink, they order a double. They drink to get drunk, because drunk is what feels “normal” to them. They want to feel good.
DUI a major cause of traffic deaths
We mentioned DUI before. I live in Wisconsin and DUI is huge here. Nearly half of all traffic deaths in the U.S. are linked to alcohol. You can see that excessive drinking is not just personal problem; they are serious public health problem.
Because alcoholics deny they have a problem, their problem becomes everyone’s as soon as they get into the car and turn the key. In Wisconsin, tens of thousands are convicted of a DUI every year.
In addition to DUI, so many other problems arise for the drinker. Alcohol gets in the way of marriages, work situations, social situations. It causes financial troubles and, of course, legal troubles.
Alcohol takes over and there is no room for reason, no room for relationships and no room for any action other than what the alcoholic brain wants. It’s a cruel, unyielding destroyer of lives.