Monday, January 7, 2008

Warning Symptoms

Like millions of Americans, you enjoy drinking. You drink often but can hold your liquor, although once in a while you have too much to drink.

Certainly, you believe you're not an alcoholic or in danger of becoming one. After all, you are not a skid row bum who has lost his family, job and self respect because of drinking.

Since you drink, there is always the danger of your becoming an alcoholic. Only three percent of the alcoholic population fits the stereotyped category of the skid row bum. The successful business person can be an alcoholic also even though few realize it.

As a predictable, progressive disease, alcoholism follows a sequence through certain stages from normal, social drinking to dependency, and from dependency to addiction and possible premature death. The day comes - usually but not necessarily after years of drinking - when some people drink not because they want to or enjoy it, but because they must. They have developed a physical addiction to alcohol.

There are early warning symptoms of alcoholism that every drinker should know:

* A history of alcoholism in you family which could genetically predispose you to become an alcoholic.
* A history of heavy drinking. You began drinking as an adolescent and usually have five to six drinks every night or every weekend. Any amount beyond two drinks when you imbibe could eventually lead to problems.
* Any problems caused by drinking - arrests, ill health, fights at home that become worse because you're drunk, complaints of friends, spouses or children, absenteeism at work - are all indications that drinking may have already become a problem for you.
* Inability to stop or cut back on your drinking when you've promised yourself or someone else you would.
* Loss of control. You planned to have only two drinks and wound up having too many. The bottom line question about alcohol is, Do you control it or does it control you?"
* Blackouts or an inability to remember events while drinking. This is one of the more serious symptoms of alcoholism.
* Denial that there is a drinking problem despite repeated confrontations by concerned others. This is another serious symptom of alcoholism. Your vigorous attempts to deny you have a drinking problem is, ironically, a good sign you do.

At this stage of the disease, alcohol has become increasingly important to you. Any criticism of your drinking represents a threat to something that has become central in your life. Your denial of a problem is your way to defend against this threat.

There are certain myths about alcoholism you may use to deny you have a drinking problem. You may try to convince yourself that since you only drink beer, or drink periodically, or can out drink most other people, you can't possibly be an alcoholic.

But these rationalizations do not hold up under the light of experience. Beer drinkers do become alcoholics; people do develop alcoholic behaviors even if they abstain for months; and an increased capacity for drinking is a symptom of the disease.

One of the most erroneous myths about alcoholism - one that is held by the family and friends of the alcoholic - is that he has to hit bottom and ask for help before he can stop drinking. To believe this myth is to do nothing but watch while the alcoholic's drinking becomes worse.

But this intervention requires considerable knowledge and skill, so it should be done in consultation with an alcoholism expert. The best thing family or friends can do for the alcoholic, and themselves, is contact an Al Anon group or alcoholism professional.

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