You Might Be Alcoholic: Warning Signs
Signs Not to Ignore as You Go Down Floor by Floor
The disease of alcoholism is baffling (actually, it's cunning, baffling and powerful). To the outside observer, the drinker's self-destructive behavior makes no sense. To the drinker him/herself, it doesn't make much sense, either. Perhaps as baffling as anything else, alcoholism is self-diagnosed.
That's right. A medical doctor can tell you if you have cancer, a broken bone, heart disease, and even mental illnesses. But, the only one who can "diagnose" you as a real alcoholic is you.
I'll briefly caveat that statement before proceeding with my self-diagnostic test. It is definitely possible for your doctor, your psychiatrist, your employer, your parole officer, your family, your neighbors—or any number of other people in your life—to suggest you have a drinking problem. Your doctor may even cite medical evidence that your liver is enlarged or that other damage is resulting from your excessive alcohol consumption. But when it comes down to it, the decision to label oneself the "A-word" can only come from one person: the "A" him/herself.
No one wants to be an alcoholic—especially not people who live to drink (e.g., potential alcoholics). Bear in mind, it is possible to drink heavily and not become an alcoholic. However, if you are worried about your drinking, here are some signs and symptoms to be alert to:
Tenth Floor: Party Hearty
A common metaphor for the progression of alcoholism is a descending elevator. If you notice yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, or exhibiting any of these behaviors, I hope you'll remember the "yets" that await you below. It's so much easier when you get off the elevator before it crashes into the basement!
Ok. So here you are at the top floor, beginning your drinking career. Thus far, you are suffering no ill effects from your drinking. You enjoy drinking, and so do your friends. You may notice, however, that you have a greater capacity or tolerance for alcohol than they do. Alternatively—or in conjunction with the high tolerance—you may be the "barfer" of the group. It seems that you always end up praying to the porcelain god whenever you party. But oh well—it's worth it, right?
Ninth Floor: Lost Time
One thing I've learned about alcoholics: their livers actually process alcohol differently than normal drinkers' livers. Wouldn't it be swell if they could create a test (I'm thinking along the lines of the glucose tolerance test for hypoglycemia) to tell you whether you've got a bum booze processor or not? That could sure save a lot of time and a lot of headaches waiting for all the signs of full-blown alcoholism to take you down!
Speaking of headaches, hangovers aren't much fun, are they? If you find yourself having more frequent and more severe hangovers, that's a warning sign. I'm not saying normal drinkers don't get hungover—they do. The difference is they practice pain avoidance. This leads them to overindulge a whole lot less frequently than alcoholics.
And while we're on the subject of hangovers, now's a good time to start noticing how often you're imbibing a little "hair of the dog" to chase away the previous night's overindulgence.
Eighth Floor: Time Warp
I've heard that only alcoholics suffer from blackouts. I don't know if this is true or not, but if you do have blackouts, it's something to think about (but not during a blackout, of course).
What is a blackout? Well, it's a period of time for which you have no recollection of what you did or said. A blackout can function as a nifty little time transport device that gets you from one place to the other -- beam me up Jim Beam!
Blackouts can last for minutes, hours, or even days. Imagine the ramifications. Alcoholics have been known to wake out of blackouts thousands of miles from their homes. They drive in blackouts. They take planes in blackouts. They engage in all kinds of behaviors (good as well as bad) with no conscious knowledge of what they're doing at the time.
If you find yourself having to rely on the accounts of friends to fill you in on your antics while partying, pay attention. Blackouts are serious.
Seventh Floor: Dramarama
Does your life resemble a soap opera? If not all the time, at least when you drink? For example, do you get jealous? Do you cop an attitude and walk out of restaurants in a huff? Do you argue or fight with your boyfriend/girlfriend every Friday night like clockwork as soon as you both get a couple of pops under your belt?
On the other side of the drama spectrum, do you lose things like your car keys or your car? Do you lock yourself out of your house? Do you find yourself stranded miles from home? Do you wake up in places you don't remember going, with people you don't remember meeting?
Yes, these are all part and parcel of the "alcoholic personality." It's not how often you drink, or even how much you drink, but how alcohol affects you (changing your personality) that is the true test. Take note of what you become when you drink—happy, amorous, maudlin, homicidal. Are you like this when you don't drink?
Sixth Floor: Get Off My Back
By now you've been partying for a while. Could be just a few years. Could be decades. Although you are confident you're handling your liquor just fine—thank you very much—people close to you have other ideas.
How dare your wife suggest your cut down? Doesn't she know how hard you work? You deserve a little relaxation time after work, dammit! How dare your kids make snide comments. Why do they bring those stupid education programs into schools anyway? Kids are too young to really understand the full picture of adults and socializing.
The thing is, drinking is part of adult socializing. Only your high school and college friends have scaled way back on their drinking as their lives demanded more of their full attention. You, on the other hand, continue to drink like the "old days" or even more. As you do so, you find new friends who like to drink the way you do.
What's that you say? Even the gang at your local watering hole is starting to notice and comment? Who the hell do they think they are? Why, you don't drink any more (or any less) than Joe here. Or Sally. Or Dan. You may find yourself saying, "Hell, if they have a problem with me, I'll just find me another bar to call home."
Fifth Floor: Change Is Good, Isn't It?
Alcoholics are notorious for doing something called a "geographic." This means when things get too difficult in one place, they move somewhere else. They change jobs. They change cities. They run roughshod over relationships, including those with spouses and SOs, kids, employers, and friends, leaving trails of broken hearts behind them.
Why is this? Because alcoholics dwell in a place called FEAR. Fear can be defined in a number of ways. FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real. Or F$%@ Everything And Run.
If you find yourself restless, irritable and discontent, a typically alcoholic way to deal with that feeling (besides drinking) is to seek out the greener grass somewhere else. Truth be told, you may not even recognize you're doing this until you look back later and spot the pattern.
Fourth Floor: Fun Mixed with Trouble
I've heard recovering alcoholics laugh about their old habits, saying, "Every time I drank I broke out in handcuffs." This is the floor where you start noticing some negative consequences to your drinking.
Sure, you're still more or less holding it together. You're going to work. You haven't lost anything major—yet. However, you find yourself getting into scrapes. Bar brawls, perhaps. You have a brush (or several) with the law.
You may be shocked to get pulled over for DUI. That's a wake-up call if ever there was one. You may even serve jail time on charges directly or indirectly related to your drinking.
Third Floor: Life On the Rocks
Would you believe people get two, three, four and even more DUIs and still keep drinking? One way to solve the DUI problem is to only drink at home. Alone. The only problem with that is you need to venture out and resupply at some point...
You become more and more isolated. Disgusted, your spouse walks out, taking the kids. Your boss has given you one too many 'one more chances'. At first, you feel liberated. Heck, with no job and no family monitoring your consumption, you can drink whenever you want to!
But that gets old. And you get lonely. Since you are now officially unemployable, there's no point in looking for a new job. If you don't have a chunk of money in the bank, you may soon lose your car and your home. It happens more often than you might think.
Second Floor: Stop the Ride, I Want Off
At this stage of the disease, drinking becomes an obsession. You try not to think about it. You tell yourself—and meant it—"I will NOT drink today." Shocked at your own lack of willpower, you become desperate. You make up little tricks to control your drinking. You may swear off the "hard stuff" and only drink beer. You allow yourself only two drinks but are so preoccupied with this unnatural limitation that you can't enjoy them.
You make and break a thousand small promises to yourself each day. With each broken promise, you become more disheartened and miserable.
The harsh reality is you are no longer in control of your drinking. Drinking is controlling you. You look in the mirror and don't even recognize yourself. How did I get here?
First Floor: In Between Life and Death
You have to ignore an awful lot of signals to allow your drinking to get to this level. And yet, many alcoholics do. Their denial and self-will keep working for them long after alcohol ceases to.
And that's exactly what happens in end-stage alcoholism. Alcohol stops working. Your mind continues its craving for alcohol. But your body totally rejects it. You continue pouring booze down your gullet just to prevent the symptoms of withdrawal. However, you no longer achieve any sense of ease and comfort from alcohol. You can't get drunk, but you can't get sober.
You exist in a frightening netherworld in between life and death. You're miserable every day and every night. You've forgotten what real life feels like. You suspect death would be preferable, although you lack the energy to kill yourself. You're completely and utterly beaten down.
This is the living hell that many alcoholics must go through before they FINALLY decide enough is enough.
Into the Dark Scary Basement
Below the incomprehensible demoralization of the First Floor is a subterranean basement. Only the most obstinate or ignorant of alcoholics stay on the elevator to the very bottom. They end up with irreversible physical ailments like cirrhosis of the liver, heart failure, neuropathy. They lose limbs to diabetes. They succumb to malnutrition.
Their brains are fried and they get something called "wet brain."
They can no longer stand to live within their own skin, inside their own heads.
Ultimately, if left untreated alcoholism will lead you to one of three places:
2. Mental Hospital.
The fourth option is sobriety. No matter where you get off the elevator, recovery is possible.