Alcoholism and what distinguishes someone as an alcoholic can be difficult to define. In many cultures and social groups, drinking heavily is normal and a regular social activity that does not represent any kind of illness or problem. How do you know if someone is an alcoholic or just someone who likes to drink? Alcoholism is a progressive disease so anyone who drinks heavily can eventually end up on the road to addiction. It is only over time that they will realize that the signs were there from the beginning. There are a number of identifying factors that can help someone determine if they are suffering from alcoholism or just drinking socially.
Loss of Self-Control
One of the biggest differences between someone who can drink normally and an alcoholic is the ability to regulate drinking habits. An alcoholic will tell themselves that they are not going to drink and still end up getting drunk the same night. They can have in their mind that they are going to drink only one beer and by the end of the day they have had ten. This lack of self-control is a big part of the illness and results from addiction, not social drinking behavior. Contrary to popular belief, a large percentage of Americans often go more than a month without having a single alcoholic drink. These are the people that drink socially and rarely binge unless it is a special occasion. A typical alcoholic can rarely go very long without drinking even if they intend to. Their addiction causes them to keep drinking and they can never stop after just one.
Hiding Drinking Habits
Often the simple question of wondering whether you drink too much can be an indication of a problem. An alcoholic may be ashamed of their drinking habits and a part of them knows that they drink in excess. They may try to hide how much they drink from others and go to exhaustive measures to keep their drinking problem a secret from those around them. A person with an addiction may inadvertently begin to lie and deceive people even if they were previously a completely honest and straightforward individual. The nature of addiction causes people to do everything they can to continue their behavior unhindered. An alcoholic may have had friends or family members comment negatively about their drinking or ask them to cut down or stop. This is a strong sign that they have a problem as others are beginning to see their drinking habits as unusual and harmful. Unfortunately, being confronted can cause an alcoholic to begin to hide their drinking to avoid being reprimanded or spoken to about it again.
Alcohol Alone or at Odd Times
A normal social drinker may have a few beers in the evening at a party or club with their friends. They could go out to a bar on the weekends to have a couple of drinks and know that they don’t have a problem. An alcoholic may crave a drink anytime and anywhere. They may even drink early in the morning before work, alone in front of the TV or need a drink every day at a certain time. Their drinking is not just reserved for social hours but has taken over their life as something they crave and need all the time. The difference between a heavy drinker and an alcoholic is the level at which drinking has become a necessity instead of a choice. Because of the power of denial, an alcoholic can experience all these things and still continue their behavior. Eventually though, events can occur that will help them understand that they truly need help for their addiction.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact us.
Cindy Nichols is the founder of 411 Intervention, a full-service intervention resource that helps individuals with addiction issues find treatment solutions. You can see an interview with Cindy here on Recovery Now TV.