What Are The Telltale Signs That You or Someone You Love is An Alcoholic?

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 15 million men and women in the US have problems with alcohol. The general definition of alcoholism is a compulsive and uncontrollable high consumption of alcohol, despite negative consequences. Although this definition is generic, alcoholics come in all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities. One thing all alcoholics have in common is that the consumption of alcohol affects their social, mental and physical wellbeing.

While it may not be unusual to have issues with drinking, it can difficult to recognize when alcohol use has escalated to the point where it’s more than just a bad habit. Whether you are concerned about your own drinking or that of a loved one, it’s important to understand that help is available for alcoholism. Programs like Cliffside Malibu offer those who are struggling a chance to stop drinking and find a new way to live. Treatment at facilities such as Cliffside incorporates individualized holistic therapies and evidence-based psychotherapy.

Despite familiar stereotypes of alcoholics in the media, like images of the town drunk passed out on a park bench, or a loud, sodden neighbor who slaps her kids around with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, for many people alcoholism is nearly invisible. So, how do you know if someone has an alcohol problem? Here are a few things to consider.

Many problem drinkers develop the ability to carefully disguise themselves as regular drinkers. Often, they just look for socially acceptable opportunities to drink more than everybody else. If you suspect somebody may have a drinking problem, pay close attention to his or her alcohol consumption at a social gathering. How many alcoholic drinks do they consume? Do they drink more than everybody else and still seem sober or always have a fresh drink in their hand? When everybody else is drinking casually, do they only drink to get drunk?

But alcoholism is more than occasionally drinking a couple of extra glasses of wine with dinner or tossing a few too many beers back during a football game. Waking up a couple times a year with an awful hangover doesn’t mean a person is an alcoholic. This may be how it begins, but problem drinking is exactly that—when consuming alcohol begins to cause negative consequences in a person’s family, work or personal life.

Alcoholism is a tricky condition to pin down because the drinker might not even know he or she is an alcoholic or they may be in complete denial of their condition. They are often responsible, hardworking and functioning well in most areas of their lives, yet chemically dependent. In fact, it’s not unusual for alcoholics to compensate for their addiction by striving to be high achievers in their careers. Alcoholics often figure out how to build careers and lifestyles that revolve around occasions for drinking or alcohol. It makes it easier to drink in excess without drawing unwanted attention. Does their lifestyle depend on alcohol? That’s a red flag warning sign.

There usually comes a time in the life of an alcoholic where drinking becomes unmanageable and the negative consequences start piling up. For example, people who routinely drink too much miss work, drive drunk and have trouble maintaining stable personal relationships. Yet, they don’t stop drinking. Sometimes the denial is so strong they don’t make the connection between drinking and their lives falling apart. In most cases, alcoholics will find any number of ways to justify and rationalize their drinking.

A lifestyle of alcohol abuse often leads to legal consequences. Drunk driving kills about 10 thousand people a year in the US. While impaired driving accidents and deaths are highly preventable for most people, they are highly likely for alcoholics. Unfortunately, when it comes to those who are addicted to alcohol, making preparations ahead of time for not driving can be difficult because judgment and decision making skills aren’t great. Multiple traffic citations, parking tickets and DUI arrests are a sign that a person may have a serious drinking problem.

But sometimes when somebody with alcohol gets in trouble with the law, it’s not immediately obvious that alcoholism is the root cause. Those who are struggling with addiction routinely make bad choices when it comes to friends, lovers and activities.  In addition to illegal behavior that is clearly alcohol-related, like driving under the influence, disorderly conduct or public intoxication, alcohol abuse may drive any number of other illegal activities. This can include everything from domestic violence to fraud and theft. Alcoholics are practiced liars and great at explaining their behavior, but when they get caught it can be a wake up call. Their friends or loved ones, or even the alcoholic themselves, may be wondering: Has alcohol use resulted in legal problems? If the answer if yes, alcoholism may be the cause.

Some alcoholics never face legal consequences; their lives may look completely normal and productive to an outsider. They manage to confine their drinking to evenings and weekends. While they may feel like drinking has no impact on their ability to do their job, often the two go hand in hand. Sometimes as an individual’s career develops, so does their alcoholism. As an employee becomes more important to the company and gains more responsibility, stress increases and they naturally drink more to cope. The pressure of new increased responsibilities on the job leads to an increasing dependence on alcohol in the off hours.

Alcoholism progresses like any other disease, but this often corresponds with the alcoholic’s tolerance to alcohol, which also increases. It’s not unusual for a functioning alcoholic to consume a large amount of alcohol and not appear intoxicated to the casual observer. They develop the need to drink far more than average to feel any effects. Long-term alcohol consumption at this level can result in organ damage, cognitive impairment and a physical dependence on alcohol. With this in mind, it’s really no surprise that alcohol consumption can cause problems at work.

Many people tie much of their identity and self-esteem to their careers, so many alcoholics with successful careers are very resistant to the suggestion they may have a problem. It is also very common for the high-functioning alcoholic to hit bottom in other areas of their life—facing legal issues or problems in relationships—and use their ability to continue to maintain high productivity at work as a justification to keep drinking.

Sometimes everybody around the alcoholic can tell they have a problem before they accept it for themselves. The US Office of Personnel Management offers some job attendance characteristics and behaviors that may reflect alcoholism, although they are not definite proof. Warning signs can include unexplained absences from work, frequent tardiness, especially after lunch, using lots of sick days, frequent Monday absences and missing work immediately following payday. In addition to red flags regarding attendance, there are some common performance issues that those struggling with addiction may exhibit. These can be a sudden decline in quality of work, missed deadlines, careless work, repeatedly missing quotas and poor decision-making.

Eventually, the impact of alcoholism can begin to eclipse the ability to handle everyday stress or workload, and job performance does begin to suffer. Unfortunately, the feeling of losing control at work can push an alcoholic to drink more and self-medicate in an effort to numb the emotional discomfort. With their career and disease progressing at the same rate, they may come to a point in their inability to handle stress where their disease becomes unmanageable. In some cases, this can lead an alcoholic to seek help. Confidential, private, personalized treatment for alcoholism is available at high-end treatment facilities, such as the aforementioned Cliffside Malibu, and can help high-functioning executives get back on track with their careers and lives.

Excessive alcohol use is frequently identified as a contributor to problems with sex or marriage. For those who consider alcohol a “social lubricant” that helps them loosen up, this may sound counterintuitive. However, for people with drinking problems, relationship problems are often part of the territory. Especially for young people, mixing drinking and sex is a bad idea. Alcohol use, and particularly binge drinking, is widely accepted as one of the major behavioral risk factors that can lead to sexual assault, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies in young adults. In other words, alcoholism makes risky sexual behavior more likely.

According to human sexuality studies conducted at the University of California, Santa Barbara, there are several key ways that alcohol can increase sexual risk taking. For example, it might make people less likely to talk before having sex, which leads them into murky territory when it comes to consent. Especially if the woman is more intoxicated than the man. Drinking too much before sex can also make it harder to remember to use condoms or use them correctly, which brings a whole slew of negative consequences. Being wasted can also increase the likelihood that someone would choose a risky partner or do things (or people) they wouldn’t consider when sober. With all these factors in mind, it follows that those who routinely drink to excess are likely to be at risk for any of these repercussions.

Married alcoholics could be in trouble, too. Successful relationships of any kind require dedication, intimacy, trust and respect from both partners. For people in a marriage or long-term monogamous sexual relationship, this is even more important. When one spouse is an alcoholic, serious and devastating problems can occur. These often include feelings of abandonment, anger, violence, financial problems, co-dependency and sexual issues. Children and other loved ones can also be impacted by substance abuse. It can create a ripple effect and have a long-lasting impact on their future relationships and personal development. 

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, some common effects of alcoholism in marriage include a lack of effective communication, frequent arguments, broken promises, lies and lack of follow through with commitments on the part of the spouse with the drinking problem. Alcoholism in a marriage can also lead to jealousy, infidelity (on the part of either spouse) and other sexual problems. Being married to an alcoholic can be a struggle since they may not be able to participate in family activities, help with household chores or join the family for meals. Beyond not showing up for everyday family commitments, alcoholics also tend to miss important family gatherings like birthdays.

Problems like communication and not living up to family commitments can spell serious trouble for relationships, but if basic needs aren’t being met there may be more pressing issues caused by alcoholism. Financial hardship caused by problem drinking and legal problems can negatively impact families and personal relationships. Alcohol can fuel disagreements, particularly those related to parenting or poor relationships between the spouse with the drinking problem and children. These situations are often likely to result in some sort of domestic violence, usually initiated by the alcoholic spouse. Not surprisingly, alcoholism can have many side effects on family members, like significant levels of stress, anxiety and depression over a seemingly hopeless situation.

Sadly, addiction in a relationship can cause it to break down and not be fixed, resulting in separation or divorce. For marriage and marriage-like relationships, it can be a long, painful and drawn out process that often includes children, homes and other assets being divided. In an already tough situation, this process can add to financial and emotional woes. Unfortunately, it is common for people facing divorce because of their alcoholism to begin to drink or use drugs more as a way to dull their emotions and ignore the issues at hand. It’s a vicious cycle.

For those who decided to stick it out, dealing with an alcoholic spouse is stressful. It’s important to understand that nobody can make another person stop drinking or get treatment. However, there are things that can be done to help and support them. Marriage counseling, self-help groups and rehab programs are all ways of dealing with the problems within a marriage that may or may not be caused by substance abuse.

While it is important to understand that nobody can make an alcoholic stop drinking, successful and healthy relationships can help a person overcome their alcoholism. This requires all parties involved to have their eyes open about the disease, understand their role in the recovery and seek outside help. Usually this means the alcoholic needs some sort of treatment. By working through issues that may have caused the dysfunctional relationship and contributed to a person’s substance abuse issues, all parties can start to move forward. Recovery is possible, with the help of professionals and loved ones, anyone can begin to heal from alcoholism and lead a productive, sober life.

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