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Help – I think I might be an alcoholic

Published 01/04/2008

Alcoholism is a disease. It is chronic, meaning that a sufferer will be afflicted throughout their lifetime. It is progressive, in that it gets steadily worse. And, in many cases, it can be fatal.

And like other chronic, progressive and potentially fatal illnesses, alcoholism is not a matter of choice, says Simon Hill, addictions therapist at Linwood Manor Group. For a start, he says, there's strong evidence to suggest that the disease may have a genetic basis, as it can often be traced back through generations of family members.

"Nobody sets out to be an alcoholic," he says. "If you're born with a predisposition to the illness, then the best thing you can do is to learn how to manage it," he says.

So how can a potential sufferer spot the first signs of alcoholism? According to Hill, it's not that easy. "At first, sufferers simply enjoy the way alcohol makes them feel. They may suffer from low self-esteem, for example, and discover that a drink makes them more confident in social situations. But over time - and that can be a very long period or a very short one - they come to find that they simply can't do without it."

Another early sign is the inability to stop at just one drink. An alcoholic may justify their drinking by saying that they don't drink very often - but when they do, they find that "just one drink" quickly develops into a binge.

As a progressive disease, signs and symptoms of alcoholism worsen over time. While in its early stages, alcoholism tends to present as an emotional dependence on drink, eventually sufferers cross the line into chemical dependency. It's at that point, says Hill, that they will start to experience withdrawal symptoms when they don't drink. In effect, they have to drink to feel ‘normal'.

To complicate the issue, one of the major symptoms of alcohol dependency is denial. "An alcoholic will go to extraordinary lengths to cover up their illness," he says. "Even after they've admitted they have a problem, they will still say that it hasn't affected their family life, or argue they can go days or even weeks without a drink."

Because of this denial, many people only enter an alcohol rehabilitation programme after their drinking has brought on some kind of crisis: an accident; a divorce; a dismissal from work. "When we receive calls at Linwood, they're usually from an alcoholic in a crisis situation who's been forced to confront their problem, or from a friend or relative who's been caught up in that crisis," says Hill.

The message is clear: if you're worried about your drinking, take action now. The World Health Organisation has developed a ‘test' for alcohol dependency, which is posted on the Alcoholics Anonymous UK website at:

This may enable you to confirm a problem - but only qualified, experienced professionals will be able to tailor an alcohol rehab programme to match your condition. 

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