Alcohol addiction can have devasting consequences for the person suffering from it as well as their families and loved ones. The longer it goes on, the more severe the consequences. Over time, the financial cost, emotional cost and relationship cost has the potential to destroy lives.
What is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol addiction is a form of alcohol abuse. It is a pattern of drinking that carries high risk to your physical and mental health.
The charity Drinkaware states Chief Medical Officer’s recommendation of no more than 14 units of alcohol a week for men and women, spread over 3 or more 4 days if there are heavy drinking episodes.
A lot of people are able to drink in excess of these quantities and carry on living their lives with a sense of normality. This can still be dangerous and damaging to your mental and physical health. Alcohol abuse often is. Drinking excessively and frequently may also be indicative of some underlying issues that, if not addressed, might pave the path to alcohol addiction.
What happens when you drink?
When alcohol is absorbed by your body and gets to your brain, heart and muscles, it has the effect of relaxing, lowering your inhibitions and increasing your confidence. This can happen very quickly – either during the first drink or soon after.
Blood alcohol concentration increases as you drink. And because alcohol is a depressant, it works to slow down the functions of the body, makes you less co-ordinated, and impacts your judgement, clarity and decision-making. Your blood vessels will dilate and will make you feel warmer. Your body loses heat as a result of this.
The initial "happy" feeling after the first drink is replaced with loss of control over mind and body. Alcohol will make you uncoordinated, impair your decision making and the speech will become slurry. You may be unable to stand, vomit and/or become unconscious too.
Why do people drink?
People drink for all sorts of reasons. This can be social, fun, celebratory, festivals, and many other reasons. Drinking in moderate amounts in these categories does not necessarily quality as Alcohol Addiction.
There is another category of drinking in which people drink to forget, to emotionally regulate or to deal with other issues that they battle with in a sober state. These often take the shape of traumatic events, relationship issues, work pressures, personal challenges or other emotional issues. It is this category that is much more prone to leading to excessive and repeated alcohol consumption which can then lead to addiction.
How does alcohol addiction start?
The addiction never starts in an obvious way. It is a habit that is acquired, probably at a young age, through curiosity, experimentation or peer pressure. But, with repeated usage over time, grows to become an addiction.
The habit is usually sustained by an unmet emotional need or some kind of emotional pain. Inability to deal with this pain and emotionally regulate your feelings around it can keep the addiction going.
It is possible to end up in a cycle of dependency created and intensified by the usage. Repeated attempts to disengage with it can end up making things worse if they are not successful. Self-esteem and self-worth are lowered as failures set in. And the need to feel better or to re-engage in the addiction becomes stronger.
How does alcohol affect relationships?
Alcohol addiction always comes with negative consequences for the family of the loved ones. Spouses or partners, parents, children (regardless of age), siblings and friends are all impacted by the addiction. Most will react in their own way to the addict's behaviour. Some will become angry and frustrated whilst others might consider it their duty to help the addict. It is inevitable that the relationships will become strained and might break.
It is possible and probable that the addiction will create a dependency in the family members. The loved ones can get so wrapped up in the life of the addict that they end up modifying their own behaviour and actions. Young children are particularly prone to some of this behaviour and are often referred to as the forgotten victims of the addiction. Their sense of wellbeing is derived from the wellbeing of the addict and the dependency for the loved ones is not on alcohol but the person – the addict.
There are additional impacts like domestic violence, money problems, legal issues, driving bans, work problems or disciplinary action, and various other issues that can also come with alcohol addiction.
In addition to the addict, I also work with partners, parents and grown children of the addict to help them understand the impact on their lives and work through their own dependency.
Overcoming the addiction
The first step to dealing with the addiction is to acknowledge that something needs addressing. This is the hardest step of them all. Admitting the problem and taking the first step towards overcoming it will start the journey to healing.
A family member wanting to help someone is unlikely to work unless the addict is willing to take responsibility for their behaviour and decide what they want to change in their lives.
You can try to overcome the addiction yourself by reducing the amount you drink gradually over a period of time or go cold turkey. Cold turkey should only be done in consultation with your GP if you have been drinking excessively for a while. You might want to try and detect a pattern in your usage. Maybe you drink when you feel a certain way or at a certain time of day. Identifying that pattern and creating alternative ways of coping is usually a good start.
If you have already done this before and it has not worked then maybe you need to speak to a counsellor or a specialist service that can help you overcome the addiction.
How I can help you through Counselling
I can work with you to understand and work on your alcohol addiction. There is usually a two-part strategy to this.
In the short term, I will try and see if we can find a pattern and help you look at ways of disrupting it. Sometimes the pattern is evasive, and I may ask you to monitor your feelings and mood to detect the pattern. Developing coping strategies is the prime objective in the early stages.
I then work with you to understand some of the root causes of the addiction and help you work through them. This generally tends to be deeper work as the reasons are not always straight forward and obvious.
I also work with loved ones of the addict to increase their coping strategies, understand their own behaviour and increase their ability to work with the addict.
I offer counselling for alcohol addiction online on Zoom and in my offices in Waterloo and Hampton.