By Ken Seeley, Founder, Ken Seeley Communities
When it comes to a growing alcohol problem, denial is not our friend. While it is perfectly natural to avoid admitting you might have a problem with alcohol, ignoring the problem will only allow it to become more serious. So the drinking behavior continues. You overindulge in alcohol while taking great pains to hide the worsening problem from friends and loved ones.
Some may be especially adept at hiding their drinking problem. In fact, these folks are called “high functioning alcoholics.” This simply means that their physiology is such that the effects from alcohol are not evident to the casual observer, at least until the alcohol use disorder (AUD) becomes more serious. At some point, no one can hide a severe alcohol problem.
Human pride keeps people in denial, as we have a strong innate desire to appear fully in control of our lives. But there comes a day when you must check your pride at the door and open up about your drinking problem. Doing so will probably save your life.
Why We Deny Our Drinking Problem
Even if you are aware of their issues with alcohol, you may deny it because you worry that admitting the problem would be seen as a sign of weakness or as a character flaw. The truth is that developing an AUD is neither of those; alcoholism is a disease. The sooner you shift your thinking toward that fact, the sooner you will warm up to the idea of getting help.
So while you go about making excuses for your drinking habits, or even attempting to justify them, you are losing valuable time. Alcoholism is a progressive disease—it does not tread water. The longer someone stays stuck in an AUD the harder it is to avoid the fallout that naturally flows from the consequences related to the alcohol abuse.
Denial becomes a handy tool to continue on with your dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. Denial conveniently papers over the reality of many underlying fears, such as:
- Fear of repercussions. Someone may refuse to admit their drinking problem out of fear of the stigma associated with alcoholism. They might worry that their career will be adversely affected by it, or that their reputation be harmed. They fear being seen as weak and out of control by friends and colleagues.
- Fear of detox. People with an AUD are fully aware of what to expect during detox. They experience a glimpse of the discomfort every day when the effects of alcohol wear off, and are fearful of going through the withdrawal phase of treatment.
- Fear of the cost. Another barrier to admitting a drinking problem is the knowledge that it will mean going to rehab, which they assume is very costly. However, many insurance plans cover at least some of the costs associated with rehab, and rehabs often offer payment plans.
8 Signs You Have a Drinking Problem
All the denial in the world will not hide the increasingly obvious signs of an AUD. These include:
- Unable to control your drinking. Even when you want to cut back you find that you cannot limit the amount of alcohol consumed. It is like having no shut-off valve, no sense of being sated. Drinking becomes compulsive.
- Obsessing about the next drink. You might find yourself obsessed about drinking, planning for the next opportunity to drink, and making sure you always have enough alcohol on hand.
- Tolerance increases. As the disease progresses you will become more tolerant to the effects of alcohol. This causes you to increase your alcohol consumption in hopes of experiencing the initial effects.
- Being dishonest. You might begin lying about how much you are drinking. You might hide bottles of alcohol around the house, at work, or in the car. You might steal money to buy alcohol, or steal the alcohol from a store.
- Ignoring obligations. As your drinking, and the after effects of drinking, escalate, you begin to neglect family or work responsibilities, paying bills on time, or even personal hygiene, diet, and health.
- Experiencing money problems. Excess drinking can cause financial problems that may stem from a job loss or legal problems (DUI).
- Relationships suffer. Drinking takes the top spot in your life, which will translate to relationship problems, both personal and professional.
- Withdrawal symptoms. When the effects of the alcohol wear off you begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. These might include nausea, headache, hand tremors, or fatigue.
Once You Admit You Have a Drinking Problem, Then What?
When the day arrives that you are ready to change your life and reclaim a healthy lifestyle it is cause for celebration. Your loved ones, who were witnessing the signs of your AUD, will be relieved to see you owning the problem and taking steps to get help. They want you to be healthy again.
The recovery process happens on a continuum. This means that recovery is a lifelong commitment to living a life in sobriety that will proceed in phases:
PHASE ONE: Detox and withdrawal. Detox is the very first step of recovery. On average, detox takes about a week to complete. During the stages of detox a team of medical detox experts will closely monitor your progress. They are trained to recognize symptoms of concern and to swiftly provide needed interventions.
PHASE TWO: Treatment and rehabilitation. Rehab is available in either outpatient or residential settings. Both formats will follow similar practices, with treatment involving group therapy, individual therapy, addiction education, 12-step programming, and complementary therapies. The treatment period is based on the severity of the AUD.
PHASE THREE: Continuing care. Recovery continues following rehab by fortifying your sobriety through continuing care actions. These include staying for a time at a sober living community, participating in regular recovery meetings, and continuing with outpatient services.
As difficult as it might be to admit you have a problem with alcohol, it pales in comparison to the benefits of recovery. Take that first step toward a healthy, purposeful life.
About the Author
Ken Seeley is an internationally acclaimed interventionist, having years of experience in this field. Certified as a Board Registered Interventionist-Level 2, Seeley has worked full-time in the business of recovery and intervention since 1989. He is a regular contributor to CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and ABC on the topics of addiction and intervention. He was one of three featured interventionists on the Emmy Award winning television series, Intervention, on A&E. He is also the author of “Face It and Fix It,” about overcoming the denial that leads to common addictions while bringing guidance to those struggling with addiction. Ken Seeley is the founder and C.E.O. of Ken Seeley Communities, a full spectrum addiction recovery program located in Palm Springs, California.