It's not difficult to drink too much. Alcohol consumption is part of our culture. We drink to celebrate, to mourn and enjoy social activities. Finally being old enough to have a drink is a rite of passage.
Most people can control their alcohol intake. Others aren't as lucky. The transition from becoming a social drinker, to a problem drinker, to an alcoholic can happen quickly or take years.
Forget the stereotype of the wino passed out in the alley or the buffoon with the lampshade on his head. There are many people who are highly functioning alcoholics. They may be your doctor or your lawyer. They may be your husband, your wife, your mother or your brother. They may be you.
Functioning alcoholics often have a good job, a home and a family but eventually the excessive alcohol consumption has a negative impact on their health, their finances and on their happiness.
Often these people appear to be doing fine until they reach a state of crisis, so it's important to recognize the warning signs before it's too late.
A problem drinker rarely appears drunk. In fact he or she may be the only one who appears sober at a party despite drinking as much alcohol as the other guests.
Over time it may take more and more alcohol to get a buzz on.
Needing a Drink
It's not uncommon for people to say they need a drink in stressful situations but if someone needs a drink to combat the early symptoms of withdrawal it's a problem.
The symptoms often occur early in the morning when a person has not had a drink for several hours.
They include shakiness, anxiety, depression, irritability, tiredness, lack of appetite, headache, inability to sleep and nausea.
Inability to Stop
Often people recognize their drinking is getting out of control. In the morning they promise themselves they'll quit and still drive to the liquor store by early afternoon.
They may set a self-imposed limit on how much they will drink or for how long but find they are not able to stay within that limit.
They may be aware of how their drinking is effecting their health, their job or their family, but still be unable to quit.
A Smaller Social Circle
Drinkers often prefer to be alone or spend time with other drinkers. They are rarely interested in going to any social event where alcohol won't be served.
Over time their favorite hobbies or interests may take a back seat to drinking. They want to spend less time with their friends and family.
Hiding the Evidence
People who abuse alcohol often try to keep it a secret. They hide bottles in places like dresser drawers, in the garage, or the laundry room. They may become upset or irritable if they can't remember their hiding places.
People who have a bar set up in their home often replace or refill bottles so it looks like nothing is being consumed.
Needing the Buzz
Most people experience a feeling or relaxation or a mild high after consuming alcohol. It becomes a problem when that is the only reason a person drinks.
They are not happy until they have that buzz and of course, over time, it takes more and more alcohol to get the desired effect.
A person suffering from alcohol abuse may become hostile when confronted about their drinking. They will deny they have a problem and be angered about unwanted interference in their life.
Unfortunately that response can make friends and family afraid to raise their concerns.
Problem drinkers often choose alcohol over food. That means they may be severely lacking in vital minerals and vitamins. They may not get enough protein or good carbohydrates to maintain even a minimal level of physical fitness. They may have a large layer of fat around the abdomen, also known as a beer belly. Others may become very thin and have little muscle mass.
The liver is damaged over time. It is a remarkable organ with the ability to repair itself but with enough abuse, the liver becomes fatty and scar tissue builds. This leads to cirrhosis which is often fatal.
Drinkers often take risks. They may be injured while fighting or after taking a fall.
Alcoholics have a high divorce rate which has an impact on the entire family.
Drinking causes personality changes. Some people become louder and more animated. Others become hostile or belligerent. Others may become morose or withdrawn.
Eventually a mate may tire of living with the drunk personality more often than the sober personality. He or she may fear for the safety of their children.
Alcohol abusers can't quit, even when their home and marriage is on the line.
Work and Money
Alcohol abusers are more likely to call in sick from their place of employment. They may be truly ill as a result of their drinking or injuries, or they may just want an extra day to drink.
They may have a pattern of calling in sick on Mondays or Fridays to add an extra day to their weekend binge.
Drinking cost money and over time it adds up to a substantial sum that could have been put to better use elsewhere. People often make bad financial decisions when they are drinking.
What Can You Do
If you are experiencing any of the signs of alcohol abuse, it's time to tackle the issue before it becomes a major problem in your life. Come clean to your friends and family. Problem drinking has a social stigma attached to it but the embarrassment is a small price to pay to regain control over your life. Talk to your doctor, or counselor about the problem and treatment options.
If someone you love has a drinking problem confront them. It may be painful, but remind yourself it's for their own good. Set out consequences and be prepared to stick with them. Encourage activities and interest that do not involve consumption of alcohol. Talk to your health care provider or local Alcoholics Anonymous branch for help. You can be a major influence in helping your loved one get sober and keeping them that way.