In answering this contentious question, so frequently debated by individuals,
significant others, and the public at large. I hope to provide insight for those wishing
to understand the condition, and resonate with those, who are questioning their own
drinking patterns and behaviour.
It is often assumed you have to be drinking ‘around the clock’ or ‘hit rock bottom’ to
have an indisputable problem with alcohol. Unfortunately, physical, and psychological
dependence can develop long before these cliched traits do. Because Alcoholism
presents on a sliding scale of intermittent binging, regular, or daily use. Defining and
marking the essential difference between enjoying a drink, in the truest of sense of
the word; with the ability ‘to take it or leave it’ to compulsively wanting or needing
“When I tried to control my drinking, I didn’t enjoy
it, and when I enjoyed it, I couldn’t control it.”
No one of us immune, all vulnerable to alcohol’s intoxicating lure, but the majority
maintain moderation respecting this toxic liquid, while others gradually slip or
rapidly fall onto the spectrum of dependency. A state which uses alcohol to block
the worst of times and magnify the best; and for about 10% becomes
dangerously very much part of their identity and sense of self. This group further
stigmatised into functioning or non-functioning, when diagnostically no different.
The renowned addiction expert Dr Gabe Mate, describes the state as:-
“Any behaviour which a person craves, gets temporary relief
and pleasure from, produces long term negative consequences
but is unable to give up.”
In the last 30 years alcohol is 60-70% more affordable, with sales in the UK more
than doubling to over £20 billion per year. Advertising and marketing campaigns
promote lifestyles which glamorise drinking, suggesting they equal superior, happier
times. Endorsing its chemical cocktail of artificial highs and relaxing properties to
enhance a sense of collective belonging. Everyday messages and slogans skilfully
used to sell, tap into our subconscious, normalising daily and excessive alcohol use.
Seen in social media posts boasting drinking exploits, and confidently sharing
hungover selfies the morning after. According to Public Health England (2017/18), an
estimated 82% of dependent drinkers are not accessing treatment.
Alcoholism is not:-
• Confined to any specific, gender, race, or class.
• A matter of self-control or willpower.
• Always visible or obvious to the onlooker.
Defining an alcoholic is clearer cut than you might imagine, because it is in the
‘reason why’ someone drinks. Why there is a need to change mood and feelings
with the quick fix, and instant gratification alcohol delivers. The original euphoria
long gone, but still there exists an internal force, a need which is often described
by those afflicted as “to just feel normal again.” Why there is an unrelenting
craving, a secretive self-talk and chatter which justifies the idea another drink is
deserved, and the reason why control is still an unproven notion.
Pay attention to your patterns.
The way you learned to survive,
may not be the way you want to continue to live.
• Is a progressive life threatening, relapsing mental disorder.
A short term coping mechanism and solution to a deeper problem.
• A condition of poor mental health awareness and management.
With long-term negative consequences, to self and families.
• A medical and treatment paradox, with no definite cause or cure;
with the shared symptom of denial, and most common prevention, stigma.
Alcohol is a perfect solvent: It dissolves
marriages, families, and careers.
In the main drinking lifestyles begin as a hospitable ritual, where society and
tradition encourage us to embrace alcohol’s feel good factor. Used to mark a
nervous expectation and give a fun-loving sense of social assurance. If and when
drinking increases to become a habit, a routine, consistently rationalising and
acting upon a prompt or cue; behaviour is vulnerable, and at risk of progressing
towards addiction. This may not be a daily way of life, but none the less
subconsciously a shift in thinking has changed the way a person drinks. One that
without intervention, is in danger of becoming an automatic process. A way of
being, where alcohol becomes a safety net, a contingency plan, a self-medicating
Learn the difference between your intuition
guiding you and your trauma misleading you.
Mainstream thinking judges the criteria to be linked largely to those who replace a
morning coffee with a swift vodka or two. A timeworn misconception, far less
significant than on-going drinking patterns, which may increase over just a few
months or few years.
The key to understanding the root of alcoholism is when drinking is used to gain a
temporary emotional or mental relief, through life’s trials, and tribulations. But
equally through life’s, milestones, highlights, pleasurable and agreeable times
which are rewarded with a drink. Alcohol becomes a ‘prop’, an associated connection
to navigate private and public ups and downs; to fast forward and stimulate ‘our
happy mode’. The manner of drinking, seldomly recognised, as self-destructive
behaviour, with low self-worth at its heart.
What triggers you also reveals what you need to
Social drinkers on the other hand enjoy an occasional drink, able to apply
moderation and pace themselves. They do not lose control, personalities don’t
dramatically change, becoming argumentative or over emotional. Nor become
agitated if drinking is out of bounds, unlike those whose drinking is imbalanced,
increasingly preoccupied with thinking and planning their next drink. Prioritising
time and money over previous interests and hobbies, over professional and
personal responsibilities; and certain friends who appear judgmental are side
stepped or neglected. Particular circumstances and specific emotions to the
individual are “drunk on”, easing tension initially, but over time accumulate to a
new norm of increased anxiety and low mood. A perpetuating list of unique and
subjective issues, problems, memories, or narratives are used to fuel drinking.
Hoodwinked by alcohol, caught between the illusion of self-control; and the
inability to recognise or accept their own reality.
I never knew I was addicted until I tried to stop.
It is in the relationship a person has with alcohol which determines the true
answer. Health Professionals and Psychiatrists use the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manuel o Mental Disorders (DSM) to diagnose an ‘Alcohol Use Disorder’ the latest
terminology and less controversial definition of Alcoholism. The number of units
and type of alcohol never questioned in the eleven criteria but focused on the
individuals relationship, and behaviour around alcohol, how it has negatively
impacted a person’s life.
You never really understand something unless it
happens to you.
In defining an alcoholic, I hope I have provided an informed, personal evaluation of
what alcoholism means to me, and I have supported others to overcome. For those
who have a loved one or close friend afflicted and suffering from this condition
understanding that as long as the drinker does not recognise the negative impact
alcohol causes them, overcome their denial in admitting their unmanageability and
loss of control over alcohol, will they recognise there is a problem that needs
addressing. Not until the drinker is willing to ‘get out of their own way’. To ask for
support in a place they can trust, to practice honesty with a will to succeed, over
vulnerable egos and imagined fears... will recovery be wished for.
Denial has to be broken and honesty achieved
before the drinker is ready to change.
For those who resonate with these words, and still are doubting, or questioning their
own drinking patterns and behaviour.
Consider two different groups of drinkers...... those that have to rationalise or justify
to others and more importantly themselves; why ‘they are NOT an alcoholic’ - to
those who do not ruminate or explain this dilemma to others. Because without any
negative impact or problems caused by drinking, they are in a very different place.
There simply is no need to try and justify or rationalise their relationship with alcohol,
to others or themselves..
I would rather go through life sober believing I
am an alcoholic than go through life drunk trying
to convince myself that I am not.
Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong | Johann Hari
The Power of Addiction and The Addiction of
Power: Gabor Maté at TEDxRio+20