Good question. Chances are, if you are asking the question, you already know the answer. Alcoholism is not a temporary ailment and is considered by some to be akin to a terminal illness and a disease. It has little to do with the amount that you drink or how often you drink – it comes with a host of other problems that don’t go away when you put the bottle down.
It is unknown how many alcoholics are out there. We do know that at the last count 5% of women and 28% of men in South Africa admitted to indulging in risky drinking behaviour (StatsSA).
Like other diseases, alcoholism is gender-blind, non-race specific and doesn’t care how sophisticated your social standing is.
How to tell if you’re an Alcoholic
If you occasionally go over the top simply because you don’t know your limits, then you are probably not an alcoholic (most alcoholics are only too aware of their limits). Many people turn to alcohol as a means of celebration or to hide from emotional problems. As long as this ‘reprieve’ from reality is temporary, you are probably not an alcoholic.
That said, if you can’t cope with daily life at the moment without a drink, you are better off talking to someone about it, asking for help or taking a relaxing break away from things for a while. The bottle does not hold the temporary relief or the answers you seek.
It is not a simple as that though. There are alcoholics among us who have never touched a drink!
What are the Symptoms of Alcoholism?
This is where it gets interesting because alcoholism is not what you think. Alcoholism is an extremely complex mental and spiritual illness with a genetic component.
If you have any of the following ‘symptoms’, you should consider that you could be an alcoholic:
- You have one or more close blood relatives that are alcoholics, you suspect may be alcoholics, or who have died from alcohol-related causes.
- You rely on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety drugs to get you through the day. While depression and anxiety are valid ailments – they are one of the disease’s preferred methods of attack and often greatly reduced during recovery.
- You battle to form sincere relationships with other people and you mistrust them.
- You have an eternal sense of ‘there must be something more’.
- Drinking used to be fun – but now usually results in guilt and despair.
- Drinking makes you feel in control. (‘Normal’ people feel ‘out of control’ when they drink.)
- You are experiencing blackouts. Not blurred parts of an evening – entire sections of your life are a haze or totally erased from memory.
- Insomnia which can only be alleviated by drinking more.
- You stay up after everyone else to drink in peace.
- You have lost interest in your work and would rather stay alone at home.
- People may have commented that you often smell of alcohol.
- You find yourself frequently trying to convince yourself that you drank less than you did.
- You avoid invitations where no alcohol is served and can’t attend functions late in the day because you won’t be able to drink beforehand.
- You drink before going out so that you can appear to drink less in public.
- At times you experience overwhelming and irrational fear.
- One or more medical professionals have advised you to stop drinking.
The list sadly goes on and on.
The Cold Hard Facts
Few measurable facts are known about this condition, and most scientific bodies have their own ideas. This is mainly because AA fiercely guards its member’s privacy and will not participate in studies.
None of this matters
The truth is it does not matter what causes alcoholism or how you define it. All that matters is which of the many recovery programs works (and keeps working) for you.
There is nothing wrong with trying and failing at several different forms of rehab – as long as you keep trying. You don’t want to end up against your will in an institution such as jail or hospital, when choosing a rehab centre is still an option.
Alcoholics cannot and do not want to learn how to drink like normal people. They do want to live fulfilling and rewarding lives free of pain and fear. If you are battling with any of the above symptoms, find an AA meeting in the Western Cape, speak to a therapist and get help.
Where to Find Help
Get hold of a copy of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous from your local library or online. See if you can relate to the stories in the back of the book.
Checking in to a rehabilitation centre is the ultimate solution for alcoholics to get the break they need and discover how to live – instead of exist, according to the whims of the bottle. If you are in any doubt about whether or not you are an alcoholic trying to deal with an illness you don’t understand, find help – sooner rather than later. They will soon suggest an alternative therapy if alcoholism isn’t your problem.
If you can’t take time out of your daily life to spend three weeks at a detox facility, attend a 12-step meeting. In fact, more than one. You have nothing to fear from these meetings. Rather, you will find people there who are just like you. Give them a chance to convince you to stay, it won’t cost you a thing.