No one ever sets out to become an alcoholic. It is an insidious problem, that sneaks in the back door when you're not looking. What some people consider “normal" drinking is actually the early stages of alcoholism. Much of what you might find as socially acceptable drinking is actually in the range of addictive behavior. Understanding the early warning signs can help you to prevent the advance of this devastating problem in yourself and/or your loved ones.
The early stages and warning signs of alcoholism are:
1. Your drinking has become a concern to you. You find yourself worrying about it and wondering if it's a bigger problem than you think. You probably don't dwell on these thoughts, but they crop up from time to time.
2. Your drinking is a concern to one or more people who know you. You are aware that others have noticed your drinking patterns, and they may or may not have said something to you about it. (This would include encounters with law enforcement officials related to alcohol consumption).
3. When you drink, there is a mood change. You find yourself feeling different emotions after drinking. You may get happier, or you may become depressed, irritable or even aggressive when you have had a few drinks.
4. You experience a change in your behavior when you've been drinking. There are things you do while intoxicated that you otherwise don't do.
5. You drink to excess (beyond legal limits) on a regular or repetitive basis. While this may only happen occasionally, it is still an early warning sign because of the fact that it continues to occur—even sporadically, as in the case of “binge drinking. "
As you can see from this list, there are a lot of people who meet one or more of these criteria, who do not consider themselves to be alcoholic. Again, the alcoholic does not see the disease coming until it is in full force. For example, when your marriage is falling apart, you've been arrested twice, and you can't imagine going through a day without a drink, there is no question that you're an alcoholic. (Amazingly, some people will deny the problem even under these extreme circumstances). The beauty of knowing the above warning signs is that you can be proactive and preventive, before it's too late.
What you can do if you meet these criteria:
1. Go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Just go. Be aware that the addict in you won't like this at all. You may have an addiction, but there is more to you than that. Don't let your inner addict run the show. AA is the single most effective way to get into and stay in recovery from alcoholism.
2. Visit with a counselor or addictions specialist. Getting professional assistance will sometimes help you to put things in perspective and see what lies ahead if you keep drinking.
3. You might try just not drinking. That doesn't work for most people if they are very far along in the progression of their addiction. A few people have successfully quit on their own, however, and you may be one of these.
4. Some people have successfully shifted from excessive drinking to moderation, although this is also quite rare. You will know if you have successfully made the transition from excessive to moderate drinking when none of the above “early warning signs" apply to you any more, and that continues for a few years.
5. If none of the above work for you, or if you think you need something more intensive, you may want to check out some of the treatment centers such as The Meadows or Sierra Tucson.
Some things to be aware of:
-If the early warning signs apply to you, and you don't take any of the above actions, you are deciding to let your disease progress. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. You cannot stay at the same level, unless your drinking is healthy (meaning none of the above warning signs apply to you). Even if your job and your relationships don't suffer, excessive alcohol use can be detrimental to your health.
-There is a difference between being “dry" and being sober, in other words a difference between not drinking and being in recovery from alcoholism. AA has a term “dry drunk, " that applies to someone who has quit drinking and is not in recovery. What this means is that the person is alcohol free, but is still behaving in all of the same ways as they did when they were drinking. Joining AA is the best way to insure that you are in full recovery. Another option would be to stop drinking or shift to moderation, and get counseling to address the issues underlying your addictive patterns.
-Alcoholism (or any addiction) basically arrests emotional growth and development from the point of beginning the addictive pattern. Therefore, counseling is quite often needed for someone in recovery, so that they can take care of the emotional issues that were masked and suppressed by the alcoholism.
-You have an addict inside you, meaning you have cognitive, emotional and behavioral patterns that support your addiction. If you can claim responsibility for that addict, give it a face and recognize that it only wants one thing—to drink, you can manage your addictive behavior much more effectively. If you don't claim your addict, it is all too easy for your inner addict to claim you.
You have every reason to be optimistic. Millions of people all over the world are in full recovery from alcoholism and leading healthy, fulfilling, successful lives. You can do this too!
William G.DeFoore is a counselor, executive coach, speaker and president of the Institute for Personal and Professional Development. As the originator of the Goodfinding audio program, newsletter and website, he has also been on the faculty of the Wellness Program at Cooper Aerobics Center for fifteen years. He has 34 years of experience in helping people achieve healthy, happy relationships. Get free information, watch videos and purchase books, CDs and downloads at http://www.Goodfinding.com .