Becoming Aware of the Signs
Although many people know that alcoholism is harmful to the person who suffers from the disease, not as many individuals are aware of the numerous ways that the condition affects an alcoholic’s family members and friends.
Friends of alcoholics struggle with several issues during the course of a loved one’s addiction, including guilt, concern and rejection. They may also have trouble understanding exactly how severe the problem is and whether a friend is actually an alcoholic.
Because friends and family members are often the ones who encourage an alcoholic to get help, it’s important for them to be informed about the common symptoms of the disease. Friends can look out for the following behaviors and actions for help in determining whether a loved one is an alcoholic and could benefit from professional help.
#1: Devotes Large Amounts of Time to Drinking
One of the most telling signs of alcoholism is that a person spends a significant amount of time drinking, planning out ways to drink and recovering from the effects of being inebriated.
Although many people drink casually or occasionally, an alcoholic will take that behavior to a different level by insisting that drinking becomes a part of all their activities and social engagements. This intense focus on drinking can be so strong that alcoholics may actually reject any opportunities that won’t permit drinking or that don’t directly involve alcohol.
#2: Has Trouble Controlling Drinking Habits
Another common sign of alcoholism is a person’s inability to control decisions and actions surrounding alcohol use. For example, even when alcoholics truly want to limit their drinking, they feel compelled to drink more and are unable to cut themselves off.
An alcoholic may be well informed about the dangers of certain situations that revolve around alcohol – such as drinking and driving or drinking while taking care of children. However, even though alcoholics are completely aware of the potential risks, they often continue to engage in those highly risky behaviors.
This situation can come up even when the stakes are high. For example, a friend may promise to stay clean for a child’s birthday party or a job interview. From an outsider’s perspective, when a loved one becomes inebriated at important events like these, it can seem completely irrational and selfish. However, even alcoholics who have the best intentions and the greatest desires to remain sober simply lack the ability to control their behavior or to stop.
#3: Neglects and Activities and Responsibilities
Many people first notice that a friend suffers from alcoholism when that individual consistently neglects important responsibilities. These problems often manifest in the workplace, where an alcoholic can have difficulties with attendance, performance, behavior and relationships with colleagues.
In fact, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management reports that alcoholics and alcohol abusers are absent from work between four and eight times as often as people who don’t suffer from drinking problems. In addition to absenteeism, alcoholics may also have the following difficulties at work:
• Late arrival
• Inability to keep up with deadlines
• Low productivity
• Absences that display a pattern (occurring every Monday, for example)
• Sloppy assignments
• Isolation from other coworkers
• Short-tempered behavior
These signs can also manifest themselves among students, who may stop showing up for class, turning in assignments or participating in extra-curricular activities. In the worst cases these ongoing issues may lead to an alcoholic’s firing or expulsion from school.
As serious as it is to neglect professional activities, it can be more devastating when an alcoholic puts personal interests and duties on the backburner for the sake of drinking. This can be especially shocking to friends and family members who watch their loved ones lose interest and motivation in pursuing hobbies they used to enjoy, such as recreational activities, physical fitness goals and social events.
Family Issues Become a Problem
This apparent lack of interest and motivation can also affect a person’s family responsibilities as well. An alcoholic may fail to perform basic duties like cleaning, cooking or picking up kids from school. The neglect may escalate to isolation, as some alcoholics choose to spend time alone and avoid interacting with family members and friends.
Loved ones may also notice that their family member or friend is having financial difficulties. Alcoholics sometimes stop paying their bills or they may exhibit uncharacteristic behaviors – such as stealing or borrowing money – in order to secure more alcohol.
#4: Shows Physical Symptoms
There are numerous physical clues that a person is an alcoholic, starting with a frequent and ongoing state of inebriation. Friends may be very familiar with the physical effects of intoxication, which include:
• Loss of motor coordination
• Slurred speech
• Poor reaction times
• Loose muscle tone
• Unstable gait
However, alcoholics who have been drinking over the long term may actually develop a tolerance for alcohol. This means that even after drinking large amounts of alcohol, they will stop exhibiting these classic physical reactions, or they’ll display them at less intense levels.
Unfortunately, alcoholics who develop tolerance often increase how much they drink in order to achieve the same level of intoxication that they are accustomed to. As they steadily drink more and more alcohol, they can put themselves at greater risk for long-term physical damage, including conditions like dementia, pancreatitis, liver dysfunction, heart damage and digestive tract bleeding.
#5: Exhibits Denial
Even when alcoholics are showing numerous signs of addiction, they may still insist that they don’t have a drinking problem. As adamant as a person may be, this insistence might simply be a sign of denial, which is another symptom of alcoholism.
Alcoholics can start the process of denial by simply being dishonest about how much they’ve had to drink. They may rationalize their heavy levels of drinking by blaming their drinking on a stressful or triggering situation.
Denial can become even more intense when alcoholism causes adverse effects in a person’s life – such as separation from family members, loss of a job, an accident or a loss of child custody. Even if alcohol was the direct cause of these problems, alcoholics will often insist that their drinking levels had nothing to do with these outcomes. They may point to other sources of blame, such as an unfair boss or an overly sensitive family member.
An alcoholic’s denial can be so strong that friends and family members may actually start to participate in the denial by accepting the alcoholic’s misplaced blame and excuses. Loved ones might make excuses for an alcoholic and insist that the problem isn’t so bad. While this is fairly common, it’s important for the loved ones of an alcoholic to remain honest and clear about the severity of the problem. When friends and family members are realistic about the condition, it can help an alcoholic move past these stages of denial, and get addiction help.
While it can be troubling and difficult to accept the reality of a friend’s alcoholism, the good news is that there are ways to help a loved one overcome an addiction, no matter how severe it is. By seeking assistance from professional treatment programs and rehabilitation facilities, friends and family members can help an alcoholic work toward recovery and achieve a healthier existence.