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What Is Alcoholism? Pt. 1

Shannon Keating

Society seems to have this stereotype of what an “alcoholic” looks and acts like. I cannot count the number of friends and acquaintances that have described a significant abuse of alcohol but laugh off the idea of being an alcoholic. I think we can partially blame Hollywood and the inaccurate and generalized portrayal of alcoholic behaviors on television or in movies. 

Examples of alcohol justifications and some challenging responses:

“Well, it’s not like I start drinking in the morning.”

But how often do you drink? How much do you ingest? Why does it matter what time of day the drinking commences?

“I’m not homeless and ‘brown bag’ drinking.”

What does having a brown bag have to do with your own behaviors when drinking?

“I don’t drink every day.”

Again, when you do drink, how much? How often? How often is “too” often?

“I don’t drink by myself.”

Why would drinking six drinks by yourself be any different than in public?

“I’ve never blacked out.”

That’s not a requirement to be an alcoholic.

“It helps take the edge off.”

What makes you feel that you can’t relax any other way?

“I’ve never gotten a DUI.”

Whether you drive or not is irrelevant to behaviors and frequency of ingestion.

“I don’t get hangovers anymore.”

Does this mean you’re building a tolerance? Or have you cut back on how much you drink in one sitting?

Even if all the previous statements apply to an individual, it does not mean that the person is not an alcoholic or possibly susceptible to developing alcohol dependence. Alcohol does not discriminate. It impacts people of every race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc. It does not care who you are.

Alcoholism can be genetic, developed as a trauma response, or a combination of both. Alcoholism is a sneaky disease that holds a person’s amygdala hostage. The amygdala resides in the back of a person’s brain. The unconscious voice/feeling says, “Don’t worry. Relax. I’ll fix this. Just drink me.” This is a craving. You would be hard-pressed to find any feeling in the world that is stronger than a craving. Cravings are one of the worst symptoms of the disease.

Alcoholism is the only disease that is capable of convincing someone that they don’t have a disease. There are no health benefits of alcohol. It is literally liquid poison to the human body. When a person is abusing or utilizing alcohol to cope with life events, there is always the presence of a quiet voice in the back of the mind that encourages one to ingest the toxic liquid.

Here’s the cruel trick of the alcohol phenomena: it is never, ever, a productive and long-term solution for someone’s problems. In fact, it probably adds more issues to a person’s life. Alcohol is a drug — a depressant. Any substance that depresses the brain’s natural chemical balance will not provide any significant, positive health attributes for a person. In fact, it may relax a person during consumption, but the negative effects on a person’s mental, emotional, and physical health almost always outweigh the temporary relief that alcohol initially provides.

There are millions of people in Alcoholics Anonymous throughout the world that can attest that alcohol destroys lives. However, alcohol does not just destroy the alcoholic, but their entire nuclear family and friends who surround them. Alcoholism, when left untreated, is a slow and painful death. But the disease can go into remission with the proper “medication” of healthy coping skills, support systems, and talk therapy. Stay tuned for part two of “What is Alcoholism?” which helps identify the signs and symptoms of what substance dependencies look like.

If you would like to talk to someone about alcoholism and addiction, therapy can help. Explore our counseling services online, and contact Symmetry Counseling today to connect with one of our therapists for support.

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