OP-ED The Thin Line Between Drinking Too Much and Alcoholism
By Scott H. Silverman, CEO and Co-Founder, Confidential Recovery
We all have friends who enjoy letting loose on the weekend. They are the first to announce company happy hours, always offering to be the one at the bar ordering drinks and begging us to keep the night going strong well after last call. In short, they are the life of the party.
Yet, sometimes our friend or family member turns from the life of the party to the person we are hesitant to invite out. Whether it is the intense pre-gaming beforehand or the frequent blackouts or the embarrassing scenes they make during the night, calamity seems to follow whenever our friend starts drinking.
Then we start to notice other things as well, such as the “Monday Flu.” Friends or colleagues sluggishly making their way to the office every week, sometimes suffering occasional shakes as the effects of an entire weekend of drinking start to wear off. Other responsibilities start slipping as well, or become completely ignored.
You start to wonder if your friend has gone from vibrant casual drinker to struggling with alcohol. The reality is there is a thin line between the two, but crossing that line can develop lasting problems.
Defining a Problem
Does everyone who goes out to party hard on the weekend have an alcohol problem? Of course not. Yet transitioning from occasional weekends of partying to frequent benders starts to raise red flags.
The hard truth is that approximately 14 percent of Americans struggle with an alcohol use disorder. That means when a group of ten of your friends go out, research suggests that one person relies too heavily on alcohol to cope with the challenges of the week. When your extended family has a large gathering, it is likely someone in the group is letting alcohol redefine their life and relationships.
So how can you tell when it has gone from casual drinking to a disorder?
Signs and symptoms vary depending on each person, but here are some warning signs indicating a loved one might be nearing the line:
· They become defensive, even agitated, when you comment on excessive drinking
· Relationships start to alter, change or an individual withdraws completely
· Individual responsibilities start to get ignored
· Drinking blackouts or memory loss become frequent
· Drinking tolerance increases, which promotes heavier drinking
· Excuses justifying drinking become common place
· Drinking at inappropriate times, such as before work or during breaks
· Struggling with withdrawals when the alcohol starts to wear off
· Getting into trouble with the law, such as a DUI
· Physical well-being seems to be an afterthought or ignored altogether
If you fear someone you love exhibits a few too many of these signs, or perhaps are raising red flags in other areas of their life, it is time to get help. Start by equipping yourself with knowledge about alcoholism. Reach out to a recovery expert to have a conversation that can help you determine if their drinking has escalated to a problem. Then, learn more about the different treatment options in your area. A clinical assessment can determine a definitive diagnosis of an alcohol disorder.
What to Do Next?
Should you approach the subject with your loved one, it is best to have this conversation when your loved one is sober. Remember to always use positive language and avoid judgmental tones. Rather than something as abrasive as, “You have a drinking problem,” start with, “I’m concerned your drinking may be hurting your health,” or, “I don’t know if you are aware, but when you drink you start to (insert behaviors).” Make sure to avoid stigmatized words, such as “alcoholic.”
The bottom-line is it is okay to ask for help when you feel your friend or relative is in trouble with alcohol. Arming yourself with knowledge is the first step in saving their lives.
About the Author
For over 32 years, Scott H. Silverman has been working to break the cycle of substance abuse in San Diego County. He is the CEO and co-founder of Confidential Recovery, an intensive outpatient substance abuse recovery program. Silverman is a CNN Hero of the Week, an author, and a charismatic speaker and coach with a passion for helping people achieve their goals regardless of their challenges. Connect with Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.