Alcoholism – A Devastating Disease
Alcoholism is a devastating disease that affects millions. What is surprising, however, is how little most people know about it. They know of its existence, of course, and the fact that it has many negative repercussions, but they are often unaware of the particulars of the disease and how damaging it can be.
What follows are five surprising facts about alcoholism. The disease may be well understood by the medical community, but it is important for the general public to understand it as well. Accurate knowledge is powerful, and it may mean the difference between a person seeking help for their problem, or letting it go untreated.
1. It has three stages
The first stage of alcoholism often starts just as it does for casual drinkers. Alcohol is referred to as a social lubricant for a reason – people use it to loosen up at social events. A potential alcoholic may begin drinking socially, and then discover that the alcohol helps him or her feel more relaxed even when not at a social event. The person then starts using alcohol in times of stress or when dealing with other problems.
The second stage involves obsessive drinking. This is when the person starts to think about drinking all of the time, regardless of where or when. Drinking starts to make the person less consistent, and may get in the way of work or social life. This stage is where people typically notice that there is a problem, and the alcoholic starts denying it.
The third stage involves actual physical dependency. When the person is denied the alcohol, he or she can experience painful symptoms of withdrawal. The third stage is the most alarming, as friends and family finally realize that the person could die from the alcohol abuse. Depending on how heavily alcoholics have been drinking in this stage, their withdrawal symptoms can last from days to weeks.
2. High-Functioning alcoholics do exist
It may be surprising for some to learn that high-functioning (HFA) alcoholics do exist. Some people are capable of holding demanding, high paying positions in many different career fields while also being alcoholics. This is an important distinction to realize, because it demonstrates how pervasive the disease actually is.
A study by the national Institute on Alcohol Abuse determined that alcoholics fall into five different types:
- Young adult – 30 percent
- Young antisocial – 21 percent
- Functional – 20 percent
- Middle aged with some type of mental illness – 19 percent
- Chronic – 9 percent
It is surprising to see the numbers broken down this way, but it does demonstrate how many alcoholics go under the radar in society. This 20 percent of HFAs are all throughout society, and many people depend on the work they do. These individuals may be functioning, but it does not change the fact that their alcohol abuse is taking a toll on their lives.
One can be an amazing manager at work and still engage in destructive drinking behavior at home. It is also interesting to imagine how well they might perform if they were not struggling with all of the negative health effects that come from heavy drinking.
There is also the worry that these HFSs will not seek the help they need because they have evidence that alcoholism is not a problem for them. If they make it work, do a good job and put food on the table, where is the problem? Unfortunately, alcoholism always catches up with people in the end, and there is a very good change that the drinking will eventually erode their ability to perform.
3. Alcoholism Damages Family Too
Many grasp the idea of how alcoholism can take a toll on the family, but not many people understand the full scope of the damage. Often, the family of a long-time alcoholic will need help just as the alcoholic does. They need to learn how to deal with a world where alcohol abuse is not a constant part of existence.
Spouses of alcoholics will often go into denial about the problem. They may deny that a problem exists, and those that acknowledge the problem may live in fear of speaking up about it. They may fear abuse or they may fear losing their spouse. They can also develop unhealthy ways of dealing with stress and confrontation, making it difficult for them to deal with normal life.
Children of alcoholics often adopt various roles to try and keep peace and order in the home. They may have little power, but they do what they can to make life bearable. This can result in children emphasizing certain parts of their personalities and neglecting others, all of which makes life in the outside world more difficult.
Children like this may overcompensate by becoming extremely responsible when their parent is not, or they may work extra hard to ensure everyone’s happiness at all times while neglecting their own. They may also become distant and hard to reach to avoid pain, or they may become angry.
All of these traits are valuable in moderation, but when overabundant may lead to struggles as they grow into adulthood.
4. Alcoholics Struggle With all Manners of Addictive Issues
Alcoholics often suffer from what many refer to as an addictive personality. This means that they can abuse a variety of substances. They may have problems with caffeine, food, cigarettes or other drugs. This means that even when they stop using alcohol, they may struggle with a host of other issues.
This is why recovery is so important for these individuals. It teaches them the self-control and offers them the support necessary to handle whatever temptations rise up. No alcoholic wants to kick alcohol only to turn to cigarettes or other drugs.
5. Alcoholics Face a High Risk of Divorce and Death
The statistics on alcoholism and alcohol abuse are eye opening. Around 80,000 people a year die from alcohol abuse. That ranks it as number three on the top causes of death in the U.S. Alcohol is a powerful substance with great potential for abuse. Alcoholics are caught up in an abuse pattern with something that is quite dangerous, and deserving of respect.
The relationships of alcoholics are also at much greater risk due to their substance abuse. Alcoholics face a divorce rate that is three times higher than those who are not alcoholics. This is unfortunate, because those facing such addiction need all the love and support they can get when attempting to recover from their illness.
Alcohol, though, is intimately linked with violent spousal abuse. Two thirds of spousal abuse cases in Los Angeles involved alcohol. This may explain why divorce is so prevalent amount alcoholics.
Knowledge is Power
For alcoholics, it is incredibly important to face the reality of their situations. In part, this means learning as much as possible about their disease. By understanding all of the negative repercussions that come from drinking, one can gain the motivation necessary to seek help.
This is part of what makes support groups so valuable for those who struggle with drinking. At least once a week, the person gets to be around people who speak of their struggles, and the consequences, of their drinking.
Recovery is a long road, but it is worth it. The facts above help demonstrate that even the struggle is better than remaining in the clutches of such a damaging substance.