Profile of an Alcoholic: What Does It Look Like When Drinking Has Gone Too Far?

Lindsay Lohan. Stephen King. Robin Williams. Robert Downey Jr. Daniel Radcliffe. Carrie Fisher. Michael J. Fox.

What do all of those people have in common?

They’re famous, they’re talented, they’re wealthy - and they’ve also all struggled with alcoholism.

Odds are, a very clear image comes to mind when you think of an alcoholic. But not every alcoholic fits the stereotype so often portrayed in entertainment media or DARE classes.

Alcoholics may be the neighbor down the street who waves to you each morning or the co-worker who comes to work faithfully and cheerfully invites others at the office to join him for happy hour after work. They may be your spouse, your child, your parent or even a grandparent, sibling, or other relative or friend. As we’ve already mentioned, they may be the celebrity you watch walk across the awards stage or who’s name is printed across the front of a new best-selling book.

Once you understand the profile of an alcoholic, and that this profile is widely varied, it becomes much easier to recognize when someone has a drinking problem. However, that does not mean that it's always easy to tell without proper preparation and observation skills.

The truth is that it can be quite difficult to recognize alcoholism in others or even yourself, even when you know the person very well. By learning about alcoholism, you can become more attuned to the signs of alcoholism in those around you - and perhaps help them get help before it’s too late.

Alcoholism is surrounded by stereotypes. These stereotypes can cause people to misidentify the problem in the people they love or in themselves. For example, people often think of alcoholics as being:

  • Homeless
  • Jobless or frequently late to work
  • Disheveled, or smelling of alcohol
  • Men
  • From lower socioeconomic classes

These stereotypes are dangerous. Because of them, many people fail to recognize alcoholism for what it is. They are part of the reason that so many people are in denial. They are also part of the reason that family members of alcoholics often don't realize when there is a problem.

Even from the simple list of names at the beginning of this article, it’s easy to see that alcoholics take many forms, including:

  • Bright, world-renowned authors
  • Award winning actors and actresses
  • Successful screenplay writers
  • Wealthy executives
  • Women
  • Those in happy marriages
  • Those who seem collected and put together

We hope that by the end of this article, you will be able to answer the question, "What is an alcoholic?" and learn to spot the signs of alcoholism and act on them, even if they looks a little different than what you’d expect.

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Statistics on Alcoholism

When thinking of the widespread nature of alcoholism, it can be useful to put it in numbers.

Approximately 86 percent of people who are over the age of 17 have drank alcohol at some time in their lives - A total of 56 percent have had a drink within the past 30 days. This information comes from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

For people who are at least 18 years old, 6.2 percent have been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD). Because these ages are all over the spectrum, we can rule out any age-related stereotypes about alcoholics.

Statistics show that almost twice as many men have been diagnosed with AUD as women. However, over five million women have AUD, which is 4.2 percent of adults. So, we can rule out gender as a main profile point for alcoholics.

Over 10 percent of children under the age of 18 live in a home with a parent who has a drinking problem. This increases the chances of those children growing up to be alcoholics as well. In fact, 33 percent of people 15 years old admitted they have had at least one drink. At six years before legal drinking age in the U.S., this shows the impact of alcohol in people's lives and in families. Looking at these facts, we can also rule out marital status or stage in life when deciding what an alcoholic looks like.

These alcoholism statistics make it clear that typical stereotypes hold no weight in the grand scheme of the disease’s effect in the U.S. and abroad.

What is Alcohol Abuse?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 88,000 people die from alcohol each year. That number may be surprising. However, it proves that alcohol is a serious drug that should not be underestimated. Though alcohol is legal, it can be just as lethal as illicit drugs.

Even so, there is a distinction between alcohol abuse and alcoholism, and it's an important one to recognize.

Alcohol abuse simply refers to the overuse or misuse of alcohol by an individual. This could be any number of scenarios, including but not limited to:

  • A teenager who drinks at a friend’s house every week after the football game
  • An adult who binge drinks once every few months when they get together with friends
  • An adult who only gets drunk on the weekends
  • An adult who only turns to to the bottle in stressful situations
  • A teenager who gets drunk, even just once

All of these situations fall under the heading of alcohol abuse. An abuser of alcohol doesn't feel compelled to drink, and alcohol is only consumed on a semi-regular basis. There are no withdrawal symptoms present if the abuser doesn’t drink for some time.

Billy Joel, another celebrity who’s struggled with alcohol abuse, explained it this way: “Sometimes I just overdid it … but it wasn’t consistent, it would be periods of time, during a divorce or something.”

This inconsistent misuse of alcohol was plenty dangerous, despite Joel lacking the “traditional” signs of alcoholism. Like many people, Joel used alcohol as a coping mechanism for hard events in his life.

The same was true of Michael J. Fox, who drank as a way to cope with his Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis. In his book, Lucky Man, he describes his experience with alcohol, saying, “..utter financial ruin, horrendous car wrecks, injury, and death. Prison sentences, wrecked marriages, degradation, and humiliation far beyond anything I'd ever experienced. But as long as I continued to drink, any one of those fates could have been mine.”

If someone is abusing alcohol frequently enough, that abuse can turn into an addiction, as seems to be the case with Fox. There is no real time table for this transition to happen. It can occur at any time.

Even though abuse is not the same as addiction, the two are closely related to each other. The line between them is often blurred. For someone who is abusing alcohol, every effort should be made to stop. Otherwise, it can quickly become an addiction. The two concepts are different, but closely related.

If you are an alcohol abuser, you are not necessarily an alcoholic. However, if you’re an alcoholic, you’re definitely abusing alcohol.

Alcohol Addict Profile

What is Alcoholism?

Perhaps you or someone you know has a drinking problem. If so, it's important to understand the alcoholism definition.

According to Medical News Today, alcoholism is defined as a physical desire to consume alcohol. The amount is beyond the person's capacity to control. Most independent attempts to stop drinking fail.

Other experts believe that the compulsion to drink is also a psychological one. While there are physical cravings present, there is also a mental yearning to consume. Alcoholics often feel powerless to overcome their obsessions with drinking. They get to the point where they feel they absolutely need alcohol in order to feel normal.

Nick Charles, the Author of Through a Glass Brightly: the Fall and Rise of an Alcoholic, explains: "What alcoholics do to themselves becomes a mechanical process of destruction. We become machines that, although malfunctioning, refuse to come to a halt… only death turns off the ignition.”

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What is an Alcoholic?

An alcoholic is an individual who is suffering from alcoholism. They could, and likely do, give in to their cravings at any time. This is in complete disregard to anything else that's happening in their lives. They may tell themselves that they're not going to drink, but then they give in. They may also promise themselves not to drink too much, but they almost always exceed their limits.

“I was a recluse at 20. It was pathetic - it wasn’t me. I’m a fun, polite person and alcohol turned me into a rude bore,” explained Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. He realized only in hindsight that his drinking had changed his entire personality and ability to relate to others.

“I change when I’m drunk. I’m one of those people who changes. . . there is something in any person who drinks in a way that’s clearly not good for them, something that is attracted to that chaos.”

Alcoholism is a disease. Someone who is an alcoholic is completely obsessed with drinking. This person is unable to control how much they drink or how often they drink. They will drink at home, at work, or wherever possible if that’s what it takes to consume alcohol and sate the cravings.

But despite these many similarities amongst all alcoholics, alcoholism can look very different manifested in different individuals. There are different stages of alcoholism and different ways that excessive use of alcohol can make itself apparent in someone’s life.

To hear about actress Claudia Christian’s experience with alcoholism, watch this video. She describes her descent from casual drinking to addiction, her attempt at quitting cold turkey, and what eventually worked best for her. Her words could be particularly helpful in explaining how alcoholism is a disease and how treatment should address it as such.

What is the Difference Between a Casual Drinker and an Alcoholic?

Alcohol is a part of many people's lives. They toast at a wedding with champagne, share a few drinks at happy hour with coworkers, and drink a few beers at sporting events. For all those who make it a part of their daily lives, it usually poses no problem. Yet, there are millions of people who become addicted.

A casual drinker enjoys a few drinks with friends and family while an alcoholic does most of their drinking alone. The person who is casually drinking may go for days or weeks without a drink until an appropriate time. Someone with AUD will need a drink every day.

In the celebrity world, this is the difference between those you see drinking champagne at awards shows and those you see on the news in bleary-eyed mugshots after starting an alcohol-fueled fistfight on set.

The profile of an alcoholic isn’t complete without differences in behavior such as those in the following examples:

  • An alcoholic loses interest in other activities to focus on drinking while the casual drinker enjoys alcohol as part of the fun
  • An alcoholic makes drinking a top priority, even neglecting other responsibilities, while alcohol is never the priority for a casual drinker
  • Alcoholics damage relationships while casual drinkers enjoy time with family and friends over a few drinks
  • Alcohol alters the mood of the alcoholic, and they often become irritable when they can't get a drink, while someone drinking casually maintains the same personality over time when drinking

As you see, both types of people drink alcohol. However, the difference is in whether they control their alcohol consumption or it controls them.

Since alcohol is both legal and widespread, it can be difficult to tell if someone drinks because they enjoy it or because they need it. However, it's important that you take the time to learn the motivation behind the person's use of alcohol and to watch for signs of addiction so you can encourage them to get the help they need.

If someone uses the presence of alcohol as a basis for deciding whether or not they will attend an event, or if they tend to bring their own alcohol with them, then consumption has turned from casual to compulsive, or troubling.

Often, this transition is gradual and unexpected. Certainly Daniel Radcliffe never intended to become an alcoholic when he began drinking - no one sets out with that as a goal. But casual drinking over time can slip into more if it becomes excessive.

Many people are alcoholics and they don't realize it. Perhaps you're in that situation too. Or, maybe you have questions about a family member.

Taking an alcohol addiction quiz can be very helpful. This quiz will ask you a variety of questions and then provide you with results afterwards. Be as honest as you can about your drinking when you take the quiz if you want the results to be accurate.

Perhaps you are worried about a friend or family member who may have a problem. If that's the case, there is an addiction quiz for family members too.

It can also be very helpful to take a look at some of the physical and behavioral symptoms of alcoholism, which are detailed elsewhere on this page. Even if a quiz doesn’t recognize you as an alcoholic, you probably know yourself best. You are best suited to answer the question, “am I an alcoholic?” as long as you’re informed and willing to admit to having a problem.

Jada Pinkett Smith recognized her own alcoholism when she realized how much her behavior had changed, and how strongly those changes revolved around alcohol.

“I found myself drinking two bottles of wine on the couch,” she explains, “and I said, ‘Jada, I think we’ve got a problem here.’”

Because Smith recognized the problem and acted on it quickly, she was able to beat alcoholism before it caused greater problems. You can do the same as long as you’re willing to be honest with yourself.

What are The Physical Symptoms of Alcoholism?

There are a number of physical signs that indicate someone is addicted. Many people don't realize that it’s possible to spot an alcoholic by their appearance. Even if you aren’t around someone often enough to look for behavioral symptoms of alcoholism, it can be easy to look at someone and notice the presence of these physical symptoms.

If you are concerned that you or a family member might be an alcoholic, symptoms you should look for include:

  • Blackouts
  • Loss of appetite and/or unexplained weight loss
  • Swelling or redness in the palms of the hands
  • Red areas on the face
  • Skin sores and infections
  • Loss of libido
  • Frequent upset stomach
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Losing one's balance frequently
  • Illnesses that cannot be otherwise explained

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The illnesses and diseases that can occur are the most concerning. These can include:

Alcoholic Hepatitis refers to the inflammation of the liver as a result of heavy or consistent drinking. People who develop this condition must stop drinking immediately, as continuing to drink can lead to even further health problems and complications.

Alcoholic hepatitis develops because of the toxins in alcohol. The liver processes everything that goes through the body. These toxins can injure the cells in the liver as they are processed.

Women have a much greater risk of developing this condition than men do, though many men have fallen prey to the condition as well.

Symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling or pain in the abdomen area
  • Yellowing skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Fever
  • Cirrhosis

If an individual develops alcoholic hepatitis and does not stop drinking, cirrhosis can result. This takes place when scar tissue in the liver replaces healthy tissue. It usually takes many years to develop cirrhosis.

As scar tissue continues to develop in the liver, it becomes very hard. Eventually, it will start to fail due to the lack of blood flow. Blood can get backed up and forced into the spleen. This can cause serious problems in the spleen as well.

The only remedy for cirrhosis is a liver transplant. However, stopping the use of alcohol can help. Doctors can also give medications to slow down its progression. Without a transplant, however, cirrhosis will only get worse.

Cirrhosis is serious, and has made the news many times when it contributed to the untimely deaths of celebrities such as Jimi Hendrix, Jack Kerouac, Billie Holiday, and Charlie Parker, among others. Don’t wait to develop cirrhosis before putting down the bottle, and save the world from the loss of another life too early.

When a person has gastritis, he or she experiences inflammation or erosion of the stomach lining. As the lining erodes, stomach acid can cause damage to the now unprotected stomach, causing a burning sensation, vomiting, diarrhea, and even bleeding of the stomach. This pain can occur progressively over time, or it can occur suddenly. Excessive alcohol use is a common cause of gastritis.

Gastritis needs to be treated immediately. If it isn't, it can cause blood loss, and even lead to stomach cancer. Thankfully, gastritis can be treated. Follow the direction of your doctor carefully, and gastritis can clear up over about 10 weeks. However, the worst of the symptoms can lesson significantly earlier.

Various forms of cancer can be caused by excessive drinking as well. The body converts alcohol into acetaldehyde. This chemical is known to cause several different types of cancer and other health issues, including:

  • Mouth cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Larynx cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer

Heavy drinking can eventually cause blood clots in the body. These blood clots can easily lead to a heart attack. It can also lead to a weakening of the heart muscle. Eventually, heart failure can result.

Additional heart complications can occur as well. Many of them can lead to sudden death, without prior symptoms.

Alcohol is often thought to have played a part in the 2016 death of Carrie Fisher, of the Star Wars franchise fame. Her official cause of death is cardiac arrest due in part to atherosclerosis, which can be worsened or quickened by excessive alcohol use. Fisher was known to have struggled with alcoholism in the past.

Seizures can also result from continuing to drink in excess. Someone who suffers from alcoholism is more prone to epilepsy. This is even true if there has never been any history of seizures within the family at all.

Seizures are dangerous for many reasons - they can cause a person to fall and hit their head or otherwise injure themselves, and if they are prolonged, the body can go without oxygen for long enough to cause brain damage or other problems.

Excessive alcohol use can also damage brain cells, cause high blood pressure, and contribute to pancreatitis and nerve damage.

What are the Behavioral Indicators of an Alcohol Addiction?

The physical symptoms of alcoholism aren't always easy to recognize right away. Behavioral signs include:

Building up a tolerance: Alcoholics eventually will find that the same amount of drinking doesn't produce the desired results. In order to get drunk, more needs to be consumed. This is often one of the first signs of addiction. Over time, the amount keeps increasing as tolerance levels go up.

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms: For someone with alcoholism, withdrawal symptoms are quite typical. Withdrawal can begin as soon as a few hours after the last drink has been consumed. Some common withdrawal symptoms might include headaches, an upset stomach and symptoms of anxiety.

Isolation: Alcoholics tend to lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. They may give up favorite hobbies, refuse to spend time with friends, and isolate themselves. Often, this isolation is a tool used to hide heavy drinking that would otherwise be noticed.

Daniel Radcliffe, quoted above, is a great example of this. He became a self-proclaimed recluse, spending time alone both in order to drink and because other activities simply didn’t sound as entertaining to him anymore.

Excessive time spent drinking: When an alcohol addiction is present, the individual spends a lot of time either drinking, thinking about drinking, preparing to drink, or recovering from drinking. Eventually, these activities can start to take control of his or her life.

Drinking at odd times: Most people wait to drink until the evening hours. However, for someone with an alcohol use disorder, time is not a factor at all. They will consume at any time of the day or night; even upon waking up. This doesn’t mean that anyone drinking a mimosa at brunch is an alcoholic, but it may mean that you should keep a close eye on a family member who consistently drinks Bailey’s in both of their morning coffees.

Jada Pinkett Smith, quoted above, is a prime example of this behavior. She found herself drinking excessively, alone, and for no reason at all. Thankfully, she quickly realized her mistake once she examined her own behavior.

Lack of control: Alcoholics generally have no control over how much they drink. They may set limits for themselves, but they exceed them repeatedly.

This is the essential sign of an alcoholic. If someone is in control of their alcohol intake, they may be an abuser but are not an addict. Once the alcohol begins to control them, they are an alcoholic. Their body is physically and psychologically craving and relying on alcohol, and cannot function the way they are accustomed to without it.

What is a Functioning Alcoholic?

Not all alcoholics are homeless, jobless and living on the street. Many people with AUD live in nice homes, hold good jobs and take care of their family responsibilities. They are considered functioning alcoholics. What it's important for you to realize is the fact that they have a problem and need help.

It can be harder to recognize a functioning alcoholic. They have become adept at hiding their drinking and they may even be unaware that they have a problem because they don't fit the stereotype.

One great example of a high-functioning alcoholic is Betty Ford, former U.S. first lady. While she announced publicly her ongoing struggle with alcoholism in the 70s, many had no indication or suspicion that anything was wrong.

“My makeup wasn't smeared, I wasn't disheveled, I behaved politely, and I never finished off a bottle, so how could I be alcoholic?” she once said. Indeed, many of the behaviors most often attributed to alcoholism simply didn’t match Ford’s behavior, public or private.

In fact, many celebrity or otherwise high-profile alcoholics are functioning alcoholics. They hide the addiction itself well as they navigate life in the spotlight, and few fans or onlookers realize the problem until the individual admits to it or gets themself into some sort of trouble.

Characteristics of a High-Functioning Alcoholic

High-functioning alcoholics are prevalent in the United States and all over the world. In fact, families often don't know how to help them because there doesn't appear to be a problem - because they’re still functioning well, there’s no cause for concern.

Profile of a high-functioning alcoholic:

  • Doesn't fit the traditional stereotype of an alcoholic.
  • Believes drinking isn't an issue because they continue to perform well at work.
  • May use alcohol as a reward for a job well done.
  • May justify drinking as a way to relieve stress.
  • Able to convince others that alcohol is not a problem.
  • Well-respected or well-liked at work or in social settings.
  • Have close friends.
  • Have good relationships with family members.

On the outside, everything looks good for these individuals. It's easy to see why no one would suspect that there is problem. However, as time goes on, various changes start to take place. These include:

  • Not being able to stop craving alcohol after just one drink.
  • Becoming obsessed about when they'll be able to drink again.
  • Personality changes during intoxication.
  • Developing unwanted drinking patterns.
  • Beginning to experience losses because of the excessive drinking.

Alcoholism doesn't have a stereotype. It can happen to the high-powered executive just as easily as it can happen to the blue-collared, hard-working American.

The Stages of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a progressive disease the moves through various stages. You don’t become an alcoholic automatically after one drink - but how you approach and use alcohol determines how close you are to alcoholism.

It's important to know these stages so you can identify the problem and know how to help your loved one.

In the early stages, a new alcohol abuser will display a few of the addiction symptoms, but it may not be obvious. They may experiment with different types of drinks. It's common to see high school and college students in this phase. They look at drinking as a social activity, but they may binge drink as part of their party behavior.

Binge drinking increases the risk of developing alcohol use disorder. Not everyone who drinks like this will become an alcoholic. It may depend on genetic factors as well as other influences. However, some will continue to drink heavily even after they graduate and move on to the next phase of their lives.

In many cases, a young star’s addiction is eventually traced back to seemingly harmless experimentation as they first took their place among the more famous and worldly celebrities around them. Entering the spotlight means opening up the floodgates to release a barrage of party invites where age lines are blurred and supervision is scarce. It’s in this category that younger stars, like Demi Lovato or Daniel Radcliffe, first began falling into what became stronger addiction.

Similarly, even normal people start out in what seems to be a harmless manner. Alcohol use is social and new and exciting, not yet a deeper problem.

During this time, the person will maintain their alcohol consumption and may drink heavily. However, they usually don't increase the amount they are drinking or suffer any withdrawal symptoms at this stage. They may begin to rely on alcohol to help them have fun or to relax.

At this stage, users of alcohol develop an emotional attachment to alcohol that isn't necessarily manifested in physical symptoms. The person can probably stop drinking without any adverse effects and may be able to stop on their own if they want to.

At this stage, the issue for family and friends is they must be able to convince the person they need to take this step. The alcoholic may not see the reason since it doesn't seem to be a problem yet.

When those experimenting with alcohol lose the newness but drink just as much, they’re in this stage. They’ve become accustomed to the feeling of drinking, and perhaps seek it out to enjoy themselves or feel okay.

Daniel Radcliffe has stated on several occasions that he would often drink alone, for no reason. When this began, he was probably in this second stage of alcoholism. If he had stopped, he may not have experienced withdrawal. However, he likely craved the drink or thought that he needed it to relax or enjoy himself.

When someone reaches this third stage, they will likely show most of the signs of alcohol addiction. They will probably have developed health problems related to their drinking.

By this stage, the user’s alcoholism will probably show up in various ways, including financial troubles, broken relationships, and poor job performance. They may be able to mask the problems for some time, but it won't last forever.

Even with major health problems such as Cirrhosis, Gout and other diseases, the person may not stop drinking. At this point, they are probably unable to stop drinking on their own.

If they are willing to seek treatment, their best bet is to go to an alcohol rehab facility and complete both alcohol detox and professional alcohol rehab. They may even want to take this step, but they are afraid of making such a drastic change from the life they know.

Someone who has reached stage three of alcoholism is likely scared of living without alcohol since it’s been so long since they’ve been without it.

It’s in this third stage or the fourth stage where you hear stories of well-known celebrities such as Robert Downey Jr. pulled over, naked and hallucinating, refusing to complete a rehab program or admit that there’s a problem.

Stage four is the most serious stage of alcoholism. At this point, the person no longer controls their alcohol use. Rather, it controls them.

It may be said that those in stage four drink to live instead of living to drink (as, perhaps, those in stage two or three).

To explain that someone continually drinks may not be an exaggeration. In this stage, alcoholics drink almost constantly to avoid dealing with any withdrawal symptoms. Those symptoms are usually so painful alcoholics can’t stand to deal with them even for a short time, and tend to relapse quickly if left without expert help.

Most likely, the person's appearance and health have deteriorated so much from drinking, they may be unrecognizable.

It's important to realize that at any point in the stages of alcoholism, a person can seek help and get the treatment they need. However, it becomes increasingly harder to get them to agree to help or even to fully recover and avoid a relapse. That's why it's essential that family and friends pay attention to their loved one's drinking before it gets to the later stages so that recovery is more likely.

As mentioned above, Robert Downey Jr. had plenty of opportunity to recognize the problems in his life. Multiple times he was arrested or confronted by friends or family, demanding that he see the trouble he’d gotten himself into and do something to fix it.

For a scientific explanation of alcoholism and physical dependence on alcohol, check out this video. It explains why these physical cravings for alcohol are not a sign of a lack of willpower, but rather a biological issue and disease.

Stages of a Functioning Alcoholic

People who start out as functioning alcoholics still go through stages as well. However, they may be even more disguised so that no one recognizes the problem until it has become severe.

It’s especially important to pick up on the signs of functioning alcoholics, because otherwise, recognizing the problem can take much longer. Remember, the earlier you can get the person to treatment, the more likely they will be to agree and to make the necessary changes.

The first stage is the same as for everyone. The person will enjoy drinking alcohol on occasion and isn't afraid to experiment with different drinks. They may go out with friends and get drunk for fun.

Not everyone who binge drinks and parties will one day become an alcoholic, though most alcoholics begin by bingeing and partying. Some people grow up and cut back on their alcohol consumption as they gain new responsibilities. Others fall further down the path of alcoholism.

In this stage, the person may not drink every day, and they are able to go about their normal routines. They do need more alcohol to get as intoxicated as they would like. One of the indications that a person may be struggling in this area is the inability to stop drinking before intoxication. Even though they can manage their drinking so that it doesn't interfere in their lives, they can't control it once they start.

Another sign that drinking has become too much is when an individual simply doesn't want to control their drinking, and sees no problem with behavior like consistent excessive drinking despite obvious dangers.

The second stage is using alcohol as a coping mechanism. It's become such an intricate part of their lives that they rely on it to help them deal with stress, loneliness, anger and other emotions. Just imagine the person sitting at home at night with a bottle of wine because they have nowhere to go. Then, there's the person who grabs a 12-pack of beer after a long, hard day at work.

The person still goes to work every day and manages all their other responsibilities, but inside they are living for the time when they can have a drink to help them deal with life. Many times, they say they want to relax or unwind or even have some fun and party. When confronted with their alcoholic tendencies, they may become defensive and say "What's wrong with having a little fun? Don't I deserve it?" It's easy for them to justify their drinking, and loved ones may relent since it doesn't appear to be hurting them. However, now is the time to encourage them to get help while they are still somewhat in control.

Michael J. Fox and Billy Joel, as mentioned above, used alcohol this very way - to cope with a Parkinson’s diagnosis and divorce, respectively. In this way, they rationalized their drinking, perhaps thinking themselves deserving of the positive, temporary feelings (or lack of feelings overall) associated with alcohol.

When the functioning alcoholic gets to this phase, it becomes harder to hide their problem. They may still go to work, but they make mistakes, show up late or aren't as productive as they should be. They often realize that alcohol has become a problem even if they don't admit it to others. The alcoholic will make promises to only have one glass of wine or two beers. However, they are unable to control their consumption when they start.

The focus moves to managing the effects of drinking. They may come up with stories about their lack of productivity at work or make excuses for why they miss their kid's baseball game. The person often realizes they are about to get fired so they move on to another job before it happens.

During this stage, the person starts to drink alone so no one will notice what is going on. They become more depressed as the need for alcohol consumes their life and anxious that some negative consequences are going to catch up to them. They may get a DUI or lose friends because of their drinking habits.

While the alcoholism has gotten more serious in this stage, you can still reach the person. They know they need help, but they may be afraid to ask for it. If you can show your concern and help them feel safe in admitting they have a problem, you may be able to get them into treatment. However, it doesn't always work if the person isn't willing to take that step.

Even smart people whose problematic alcoholism has been made very obvious to them are often unwilling to accept help at this stage. Robert Downey Jr., who had separated from his wife and child, lost multiple jobs, ruined his chances at affording insurance, paid hefty fines, and spent significant time in jail would run away from rehab facilities and skip court-appointed drug tests.

At this stage, it's no longer possible to hide alcoholism even in the functioning alcoholic. In fact, you can pretty much drop the "functioning" label because they are failing to function they way they should.

Physically, the face is flushed and they often look disheveled. They aren't as alert as they once were and may have memory fog or forget things they used to remember with no problem. Alcohol is affecting their health as well as other aspects of their life.

If the person keeps going down this path, they will follow the road of other alcoholics until they lose everything that once mattered to them. Even a functioning alcoholic can become homeless, penniless and alone if they are addicted long enough.

Up to that point, they will compare themselves to the stereotypical alcoholic and feel they aren't the same. Compared to that person they hold in their mind, they are doing okay. What they fail to realize is it's only a matter of time until alcoholism progresses for everyone unless they seek help.

Often, these noticeable changes are a wake up call that it’s time to get help and change something about their drinking habits. These events can range from startling and life shattering, such as an arrest or a spouse leaving, to rather tame warnings.

Stephen King, renowned author of such books as It and The Outsider, remembers one such instance in which he realized he had a problem.

“I remember being at one of my son’s Little League games with a can of beer in a paper bag,” he said, “and the coach coming over to me and saying, ‘If that’s an alcoholic beverage, you’re going to have to leave.’ That was where I said to myself, ‘That’s something I’ll never be able to tell anybody else. That’s something I’ll keep to myself.’”

Alcoholism and Drug Addiction as Coexisting Disorders

Alcoholism is a serious disease all on its own. However, it is often compounded by co occurring drug addiction or abuse.

Combining alcohol and drugs is a common problem for addicts. They may take drugs to counteract the negative effects of the alcoholism such as depression or anxiety. This person may take antidepressants to help them feel better or sedatives to sleep. They may look for drugs that give them energy and help them feel upbeat and happy.

Sometimes, the person goes this route to hide their alcoholism from others. If they've been told they seem to lack energy, they will look for drugs that give them energy so others will think they're normal. They think they're dealing with the problem, but instead the person is compounding it by adding addictive drugs to their alcohol use disorder.

The first time that Robert Downey Jr. was arrested, he was pulled over for speeding but then found to be in possession of both heroin and crack cocaine. Not only could the effects of these drugs be dangerous when paired with alcohol, but it put him in a significantly worse position legally.

If you suspect your loved one is abusing multiple substances, be aware that they can exhibit a range of signs based on what they are using. The person needs to seek help, but you may be unable to convince them on your own.

Many cite alcohol as a gateway substance that led them to harder drug use. Lindsay Lohan, for example, claims to have first tried cocaine with alcohol. This points to an even more urgent case against excessive or consistent alcohol use.

Problems forming from a combination of alcohol and drug abuse are one of the greatest dangers of alcoholism.

Oddly enough to those who have grown up hearing the dangers of meth, cocaine, and other hard drugs, alcohol is often cited as significantly more dangerous than any illegal drugs. Paul Churchill, founder of the Recovery Elevator podcast, discusses the dangers of alcohol and the importance of breaking the stigmas that make alcoholics hesitant to ask for help, in this video.

Help for Families of Alcoholics is Available

For families who have loved ones who are alcoholics, there is help available. It's difficult to have a conversation with a family member who suffers from alcoholism. It's even harder when that individual doesn't realize there's a problem. Most of the time, conversations about alcohol rehab tend to fall on deaf ears. People are very unwilling to change, even when they're destroying themselves with addictions.

In cases like this one, families need to know they're not alone. Scheduling an intervention is one option that's available to them. Interventions are overseen by professionals, who offer guidance to families prior to the meeting. Family members and friends learn what to say during the actual intervention.

Quite often, this method is quite effective. In fact, many people have found that their loved ones eager accept help after an intervention.

Regardless of whether or not an alcoholic admits to and works to recover from alcoholism, there are groups available to support he friends and families around them. Al Anon, perhaps the most widespread of such groups, brings the loved ones of alcoholics together to heal, stand up for themselves, and learn how best to balance their own life with a loved one’s addiction.

Because of the prevalence of alcoholics within families and among children, a special subgroup, Alateen, also exists. This group is catered specifically to older children and teens. Alateen focuses specifically on breaking cycles of addiction and that are often generational, and would often lead the children of alcoholics to become alcoholics themselves if left unchecked.

Next Steps for Alcoholics Hoping to Recover

If you’ve realized that you have a problem with alcohol and you want to fix it, you’re already on the right track. For a full recovery, you should consider:

  • Being assessed for alcoholism
  • Undergoing alcohol detox
  • Enlisting in an alcohol rehab program
  • Taking further steps to hold yourself accountable

If you or a loved one has an alcohol addiction, it's important to get a proper alcoholic test and assessment. Such assessments help determine the best course of treatment, keeping in mind the individual’s addiction history and specific risks.

These assessments can easily be done through an alcohol rehab program. Phone call assessments are available, and they tend to be very accurate.

By talking with someone at a treatment facility, you can explain your addiction in detail. The person you talk to will listen to your alcohol use history and recommend the right kind of treatment. He or she will also verify your health insurance information and help you schedule an appointment to start your treatment.

Assessments and tests of your alcoholism can ensure that you receive the best treatment for you, and not simply a one-size-fits-all treatment for a disease the affects each person differently.

Continuing in your alcoholism could have dramatic consequences for your life. It's important to get the kind of help you need right away, and not waste time receiving treatment not tailored for you specifically.

In fact, any alcohol detox or rehab facility that doesn’t do a full assessment of your experience with alcohol before beginning treatment is likely unable to provide high-quality care during your recovery.

For more information on how to spot a quality recovery facility, read our blog post. Not everyone who claims they want to help are truly looking to do so, and we want you to be prepared as you begin searching for the program that will partner with you on the road to sobriety.

The first step for any alcoholic is to get the alcohol out of their system. This means they must detox so they can begin functioning normally again. Detox involves slowly decreasing the amount of alcohol in the body so that organs and body systems learn to function without it.

It can take several days or even weeks for the body to work like it did before the addiction began without alcohol.

The person will go through withdrawal symptoms as they detox. This can be frightening for the alcoholic because they have experienced a similar feeling or sensation whenever they had to wait for a drink. They can't imagine functioning without it.

Some people will suffer severe withdrawal symptoms, which are more likely to make them relapse and go back to drinking. To avoid this problem, you need to find a detox center where you can get help with this process. Many rehab centers offer medical detox to help alleviate or lessen the worst of the withdrawal symptoms.

Holistic detox is a related approach. With this method of detoxing, the focus is on helping the person get healthy. Alcohol depletes essential vitamins and minerals from the body, and getting the right nutrition can help put them back in so the system is able to fight withdrawal naturally. Exercise is also important as it helps the person deal with stress. It releases endorphins that help them feel better about themselves and life in general. Holistic detox simply focuses on lasting overall health instead of only the detox process.

The most severe symptoms tend to happen in the early days of detox. This is why it can even be dangerous to try to detox on your own. Delirium tremens or DTs are a serious problem that can occur from alcoholism and withdrawal. It is a rapid onset of severe confusion, which generally begins within two or three days of stopping drinking. It is most often seen in people who are long-term alcoholics or those who have been heavy drinkers. It can lead to seizures and death.

It's important to not try to detox on your own because of the possible complications of withdrawal. With a drug detox center, you can safely detox and begin your recovery. While there are many at-home or independent detoxes available in stores, none have been approved by the FDA as truly safe options. A licensed detox facility is always your best option.

Even if you’ve gone through withdrawal from alcohol before, you never know how it will affect you the second or third time. The withdrawal experience is dependent on so many different factors that you can never be sure of what’s to come.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:

  • Sweating, regardless of external temperature
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Shakiness, especially in the hands
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety, depression, or other mood shifts

These symptoms aren’t just uncomfortable, but can be wildly dangerous without help from trained medical professionals. To avoid a relapse, a detox program or center is your best option.

The next step in achieving sobriety is alcohol rehab. You will likely need therapy to help you understand your addiction and to help you avoid relapsing in the future. While alcohol detox addresses your body’s physical dependence on alcohol, alcohol rehab addresses your mind’s psychological dependence.

For serious and long-term alcoholism, you will probably need a more in-depth program than Alcoholics Anonymous or other occasional support meetings.

Many go to inpatient rehab centers where they can work on dealing with their addiction in a safe place, apart from their everyday context and life.

Inpatient treatment simply means that the patient lives within the rehab facility during their recovery. These treatment facilities range from affordable options that want residents to feel like family to large, extravagant facilities that cost tens of thousands of dollars and are go-to facilities for particularly notable celebrities.

Inpatient treatment provides 24/7 care and supervision, and has the highest success rate of all treatment types. However, it also tends to be one of the most expensive options. Additionally, many don’t like being so separated from family and friends, or don’t have the time to take off of school or work, both of which are necessary for inpatient patients.

Others may find an outpatient treatment center is all they need, especially if they have a strong support system and have only been abusing or addicted to alcohol for a short time. Outpatient treatment is still consistent, but participants travel to and from the facility and live separately.

Outpatient treatment offers less supervision and accountability and allows plenty of opportunity for a relapse. However, it is a cheaper option, and allows participants to continue to attend school or work and spend time with loved ones while receiving treatment.

Participants in both types of rehab learn about what triggers them to drink and develop positive methods of handling or avoiding these situations. They go through both individual counseling and group therapy to help them with their addiction. In many cases, patients have been alcoholics for so long that it takes several months before they are ready to be on their own.

Most rehab facilities also offer other therapy types, such as equine therapy or art therapy, coupled with many social activities. While it could sound stressful to have such a full schedule, the reality is that these activities can help train recovering alcoholics to take part in other activities instead of drinking. Likewise, they learn stress relief and fun methods without drinking.

Along the way, patients have the opportunity to make friends who struggle with the same issue and learn form each other’s experiences.

Alcoholism isn't curable, but former alcoholics can learn how to manage their condition so they can go on to live a happy and productive life. No matter how long you've been addicted to alcohol, what stage you're in, or how hopeless the situation seems, you can get help as long as you are willing to do the work and admit you have a problem.

For many, this means that the continue to receive structured support even after completing a rehab program of some sort. This support could take the form of a halfway house, a support group such as AA, or continuing therapy. Far from being a sign of weakness, these additions to the treatment process are often a sign of great strength and determination in former alcoholics who are fighting hard to stay sober and in control.

Halfway houses, or sober living homes, allow several recovering alcoholics to live together, holding each other accountable and adhering to strict guidelines established to aid in avoiding a relapse. These houses often enforce curfews, ban alcohol on the premises,and encourage or require residents to attend group therapy together.

Alcoholics Anonymous allows recovering alcoholics to live independently, but meet regularly to work through the 12 Steps to Recovery. Participants in AA are paired with a sponsor, or mentor, who is already farther along in the recovery process.

The success of other former alcoholics is evident all around us - in the many celebrities with broken pasts who now do phenomenal work, in the parents who have regained the trust and custody of their children, and in the determined faces of every former alcoholic taking their recovery one day at a time. You too can break free from alcoholism.

If You're an Alcoholic, Help is Available for You for Recovery

So many people meet the definition of an alcoholic for years before anyone recognizes there is a problem. Even once they do recognize the problem, they fail to get the help they need. Whether they're in denial or they simply don't see a need to change, they manage their daily lives well enough that they assume that there isn't a problem.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true for any alcoholic. There is a problem - they just fail to recognize it.

After reading the above information, perhaps you have noticed many of these symptoms in your own life or the life of someone you love. These could even be symptoms you never connected with alcoholism before. But now that you know they're connected, you have no excuse not to get help.

If you're an alcoholic, help is available for you. It is possible to recover from alcoholism and regain control of your life. Here at Northpoint Recovery, we can provide you with the support you need to be successful.

Admitting that you have a drinking problem can be difficult. Many alcoholics never muster the courage to take this step. It takes a strong individual to admit that he or she has an alcohol addiction. If you want to stand strong in the face of alcoholism and find the right alcohol rehab program for you, we want to help.

We've been able to provide assistance to many former alcoholics. Many of these individuals thought that alcohol had ruined their lives for good. However, many of them didn't initially think they had a problem that needed treatment. They thought they could fix it themselves, when in reality they just needed a bit of support.

Addiction treatment can help you recover

If you have a family member who is an alcoholic, we hope you can use the information on this page to reach out to them. No matter how much they ignore you or how hopeless you feel, know there's help for the person you love - and you.

Northpoint Recovery is a modern facility with a high staff to patient ratio seeking to provide the best care for every person we treat.

We offer alcohol detox and rehab services to help you begin your journey to sobriety.

We create specialized treatment plans for every person to fit their needs and make recovery individualized, specific, and achievable.

While we offer traditional treatment which includes individual counseling and group therapy, we also take a holistic approach towards addiction overall. We focus on the health of the whole person, supplementing therapy and detox with a full nutrition program, regular opportunities for exercise, and social activities.

We invite you to visit Northpoint Recovery and decide for yourself if this is the place you want to go to help you reach your goal of sobriety. We understand the difficulty of starting over or picking up the pieces of a life that has been controlled by alcohol, and we want to come alongside you for your journey. Our years of experience enable us to provide the right assistance, no matter your background.

Is today the day you reclaim your life from the jaws of alcoholism?

We want to help. Join the ranks of the millions of other courageous and hardworking individuals who refuse to let alcoholism end their independence, relationships, and lives - please contact us today.

Talk to a Rehab Specialist

Our admissions coordinators are here to help you get started with treatment the right way. They'll verify your health insurance, help set up travel arrangements, and make sure your transition into treatment is smooth and hassle-free.

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