Identifying Alcoholism

How to look through the barriers of denial and arbitrary scales 

Most often, rigid, arbitrary standards are not so helpful in defining alcoholism. Then what?

Obliviously, a large number of people who drink alcohol are not alcoholics. These people, virtually all nonaddictive individuals, make up the large proportion of people commonly referred to as social drinkers.

When they drink, they almost always do so in a social setting, and there is usually a specific limit (different for each individual) to the amount they want and do drink.

Of course, all alcoholics start as social drinkers and then graduate rapidly or slowly to problem drinking. Somewhere down the road, they cross the line into the realm of alcoholism.

Types of alcoholics

Some drink regularly or daily to “relax after work”, to use the time-worn phrase. Others drink only at cocktail parties or dinner parties as a social event. Even under those circumstances, many drink only because it is a socially accepted and expected thing to do, and they don’t want to seem different – not because they particularly want the alcohol.

The limits that these people observe usually are not with the amount of alcohol they feel comfortable with, which is generally not much. They dislike the loss of control. These people are equally comfortable at a gathering where no alcohol is served, where only white wine is served, or where a fully stocked bar is available. When their home liquor supply unexpectedly runs out, such people may not get around to going to the liquor store to replenish it for a week or two.

Another group of people distinguishes itself from this first group not so much by the amount of liquor they drink but by their attitude toward booze and drinking and how they drink. These people are actively interested in drinking to the extent that it occupies an important place in their lives.

They use social events, and many other kinds of events, as excuses or justifications for drinking. They seldom are found at dry parties. As for their home liquor supplies, they almost never run out, unexpectedly or otherwise. They are usually way ahead of any possible shortage.

The denial trap

Do these people recognize their addiction, or that they are in jeopardy of becoming addicted? The vast majority does not. If you were to take a poll of every actively drinking person in the country and ask each individual if they were alcoholics, the chances are that you would find that there were few alcoholics anywhere in the country.

A great many of the respondents would know other people who were alcoholics but not report themselves. Most individuals who freely and sincerely admit t to being alcoholic are recovering alcoholics who have stopped drinking.

This inability to recognise the drinking problem within themselves is part, or symptom, of the disease of alcoholism. It is usually challenging to initiate treatment for alcoholics since they are not open to any solution for a problem they believe does not exist.

A few individuals might say, “Sure, I’m an alcoholic, but I don’t let it bother me.” But they are the ones who are “only joking” (or imagine that they are). Some who deny alcoholism know perfectly well that they are alcoholic and deny it when asked. However, many do not know where they stand on the scale or what danger they may be in.

One way of identifying alcoholism is to look at some patterns of drinking that are highly characteristic of alcoholism or developing alcoholism. Another way is to consider specific telltale signals that alcoholism is or may be present.

A qualified addiction therapist can do a professional assessment and diagnose if the person has a serious drinking problem. 

Are you concerned about a loved one’s drinking?

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