Ways to Identify an Alcoholic

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Many people who have thought about alcohol treatment for themselves or are interested in treatment for a friend or family member, would like to be able to easily identify the signs that a person is an alcoholic. Many people who have been through substance abuse treatment, or are in a 12-step recovery program, might tell you that it is more fruitful to identify yourself as an alcoholic, rather than somebody else. I will give you some of the signs that any person might be an alcoholic, or have substance use disorder, and then I will talk about an important point closely related to this discussion. Some important factors are the early signs, as a later stage alcoholic is usually aware that they are falling apart, or if they are in denial, everyone around them knows that alcohol has become their whole life. Before that stage, a person might blackout from drinking. Most people have never experienced a blackout from drinking, so if you often forget sections of time from binge drinking, that is a serious warning sign and a dangerous one. Drinking to feel better about one’s problems or drinking to forget a loss can be an early sign of trouble to come. Many people drink socially, but non-alcoholics do not often drink as a treatment for mood or depression issues. Lying to someone you care about is a good early predictor of trouble with alcohol, and it is very uncommon for a normal drinker to need to lie about a night of regular social drinking. Drinking in the morning, drinking during the day, or drinking to get rid of a hangover is another tell-tale sign. These signs can be more serious than some others, as drinking in this way can start the vicious cycle of feeling depressed and drinking every day. Missing work or being drunk at work are also important signs of possible alcoholism, along with legal troubles (D.U.I., Public Intoxication, etc.), and being unable to stay sober at important occasions or family functions. 

Beyond the fact that it is easier to self-assess for addiction and alcoholism, ultimately being successful in treatment and recovery is heavily dependent on the person who is abusing drugs or alcohol wanting to be sober themselves. People in AA, NA, people who have completed rehab, and people that work in the field, will overwhelmingly tell you that people who enter treatment to please someone else, sometimes a spouse or family member, are more likely to fail than someone seeking sobriety for themselves. 

This is partly a question of philosophy because any alcoholic will always benefit from quitting drinking, based on the health effects alone. With that said, alcoholics and drug addicts who are intent to keep abusing their drugs of choice are incredibly likely to do just that, even if family members manage to get them into treatment. People working in the field of addiction treatment see those types of patients leave facilities early all the time. There is an especially important idea to bring up at this point, and that is the idea of an addict or alcoholic “reaching their bottom.” In 12-step treatment and inpatient rehab, you will hear counselors and therapists talk about this idea often, and that is because of the direct effect it can have on ultimate success. Nobody wants to see a person they know or care about reach a very dark and depressing point in life, or a crisis of mental or physical health, but these low points, also called a “bottom,” can bring about a profound change in attitude for many people who then want to seek out recovery options for themselves. The fact that it will be much better for all the people around them is important, but secondary to the person with substance use disorder grabbing onto sobriety and hanging on to it for dear life. The high stakes of terrible consequences are often enough to be the difference for a person facing a terrible crisis or their “bottom.” Finally, it is important to talk to family members openly about these issues, if possible. Self-assessment is a great tool, but if you read this article and think your loved one might need treatment, it is worth a conversation, especially if you think that person might not realize they have a problem at all. Even though an alcoholic might be in denial when first approached, a person who is made aware of the issue is probably slightly more likely to get to treatment soon, compared to someone who has not discussed their drinking with anyone before.

By Tim Cannon