Alcoholism: A Self Diagnosed Disease
As a recovering alcoholic of 12+ years, I am very open and honest about my past struggles with alcohol. Genetics do play a strong roll in determining if one is born predisposed to alcoholism.
Many people live their entire existence in denial of a disease that destroys families, relationships, and lives.
Out of respect for the "social drinkers" in my family, I won't go into the genetic breakdown of the family tree, just trust me in the fact that alcoholism does run in families. Sadly to say, some of my relatives are embarrassed by my honesty concerning my alcoholism, so we will limit this article to my own personal experiences, and not about the genetic link.
One important fact about the genetic link is that it accounts for 50% of the risk factors a person has for developing alcohol addiction. The child of an alcoholic parent is four times more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol than one with non alcoholic parents.
This proved true for me, as I began drinking around 17-18, just teen experimentation. Binge drinking with friends on the weekends, going to parties, and of course senior week beach trip. It didn't turn into a problem then since I was still living with my parents. I did find that I had a very high tolerance for alcohol when me and a buddy or two would cruise downtown, or just drive around the popular weekend hangouts with large McDonald's cups filled with ice and vodka.
As did most of us who grew up in the eighties (those really were the days) with our big hair and fast cars, we did what every other teenager in America does at some point in their lives, tries drinking. Hanging with the popular and fast crowd only made my access easier, and peer pressure for drinking more difficult. Of course, I'm not complaining because I was having the time of my life, or at least it seemed that way at the time.
Misconceptions and Stereotypes
When you're in recovery, and open about your alcohol addiction, people will ask you some pretty interesting questions about your baffling disease. Some are downright funny, yet to those that have not been exposed to alcoholism, it's hard for them to believe the concept of being an alcoholic. As a nurse for the past 25 years, I have met, and still have, many intelligent and interesting colleagues that are familiar with my struggles with alcoholism. One doctor/friend made a statement that I felt rang very true for myself and probably many other addicts like myself. He said...
"I enjoy talking with honest, recovering alcoholics. Some of the things that happen, or the lengths they will go to hide their addiction is amazing, and many are very successful in hiding their addiction for a very long time. One thing I've also found is that alcoholics have a language all their own when it comes to communication about their disease."
I felt that this was an honest and true statement, since it does seem like the alcoholics I know do seem to understand the struggles and difficulty associated with alcoholism for those who are burdened by this .
According to various resources, there are approximately 88,000 to 100,000 deaths annually from the results of alcohol use.
When you're in recovery, and don't mind discussing your addiction, people will ask you all kinds of questions (some are pretty hilarious). My favorite type of question/comment is on the misconception that many people have pictured in their minds of the "average" drunk/alcoholic. Apparently we should all be toothless, homeless, and living under a bridge looking for handouts. Many see some homeless in their minds and how that person was probably a drunken a**hole who deserved to lose it all.
Most alcoholics, on average, are people of high intelligence and earn a good living.
On more than one occasion when I have been discussing my alcoholism with co-workers or friends, and someone that knows me, but not my past, has made these statements, or some that were very similar. I can't help but just smile, shake my head, and shrug.
"I've never met a real alcoholic before, I would never have guessed that you had a drinking problem."....Or, my favorite...."Wow, you sure don't look like an alcoholic."
For those who think that you have never met an alcoholic, chances are that you know, or have met, several alcoholics during your lifetime. It could be someone in your family, a neighbor, best friend, co-worker, or the person who sits next to you every Sunday in church. You cannot tell what alcoholism looks like, or who has AUD just from their appearance. Many adults, myself included, fall under the category of a functional alcoholic. A functional alcoholic will normally hold down a steady job, family, household, etc. without many people even being aware of their struggle with alcoholism. Functional alcoholics are very good at keeping their addiction hidden for long periods of time. And not just from their co-workers, they become experts at hiding it from their families and friends. Maybe that's part of our ability to be very good as functional alcoholics in society, we learn first how to hide it from our loved ones.
One out of every eight American adults suffer from alcoholism or some type of AUD.
The Early Years
Drinking during the high school years was mainly held to weekend binges. Sleepovers with girlfriends, hanging with friends after the Friday night game, or various parties at the homes of local high school kids that were fortunate enough to have parents that would leave them home alone while they spent a relaxing week on vacation. Ah, those were definitely fun times. I had approximately 4 or 5 blackouts during my late high school/early college years, but thought nothing about it. It did concern me on two occasions when my friends told me of outrageous things that I did or said that I couldn't remember after waking up from what I assumed was "just passing out".
It is estimated that approximately 12,000 teenagers try alcohol for the first time on a daily basis.
My 1st blackout came from an older relative that I would go hangout with and she would let me have full access to her bottomless bottle of Wild Turkey. The next time occurred after I consumed an entire bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 the first night of "Senior Week" in Myrtle Beach, NC. It's a wonder that the Mad Dog alone didn't kill me...I wonder if they still make it? Of course the Wild Turkey and mad dog were stronger than my usual beer/wine coolers/Boone's Farm (you can't be from the 80s if you didn't drink Boone's Farm).
I began to notice that I had black outs when I drank heavier, growing up around alcoholism I was aware that I had the "potential" to be an alcoholic, even at a young age. I know these to be blackouts because of the things my friends told me (and made pics of) during these black outs. Good thing Facebook and social media weren't around for the eighties generation!
Facts on Blackouts and Alcoholism
Passing out and blacking out are very different when it comes to alcohol consumption. Passing out is a symptom of someone who has fallen asleep or became unconscious due to excess alcohol consumption. A blackout is actually a form of amnesia. While intoxicated, your ability to form new memories is impaired, causing the alcoholic to "lose time". Meaning that as long as they are conscious and alcohol levels remain elevated, they cannot recall the events during and en bloc blackout.
So, the next time you wake up fully clothed in an empty bath tub, or some other strange place and can't remember how you got there...you've probably experienced a blackout!
Blackouts usually occur with binge drinking, or drinking on an empty stomach. When blood alcohol levels rise (>0.14%) quickly in a short period of time, it can cause a blackout. During the blackout the person may appear normal, yet drunk, but they are completely unaware of the world around them. During the blackout the person will be able to communicate, walk, talk, and more dangerously....drive. It is not uncommon for someone to die from alcohol poisoning when alcohol levels in the blood rise this high in a short period of time.
"Alcoholism is a devastating, potentially fatal disease. The primary symptom of having it is telling everyone - including yourself - that you are not an alcoholic."
~Herbert L. Gravitz & Julie D. Bowden
One of my personal experiences with an alcoholic blackout wasn't one of my own. A very close in-law of my ex-husband lived in the same small neighborhood that we did. We were very close and we would often hang out together in the evenings while the husbands did their own thing. She would talk to me about her concerns over the extreme behaviors of her alcoholic mother-in-law who lived within eyesight of her own home.
Alcoholism is not a person's choice, it is a form of addiction.
Although I would never admit it at the time to her, I could actually relate to some of the bizarre behaviors she would describe to me that her mother-in-law sometimes did during what could only have been a blackout period. The worst incident came late one weekend night...
Although I can't remember the exact details of everything that happened prior to the tragic ending, I recall the ending vividly. She could have been arguing with her husband, ranting on the phone to some poor friend or relative, or just acting crazy enough that her dog would not stop barking, what happened next was an eye opener for me.
During her blackout, for whatever reason, she shot her beloved 10 year old toy poodle in the middle of her own living room floor with a high caliber handgun. She cried for weeks over murdering her own fur baby, never remembering the incident or why she did it.
This one was during my drinking years and really made me think. My own blackouts were frequent (and strange) enough that I took precautions in my own home to not keep any guns or ammo within easy access to myself.
I continued to drink because I knew that my problem wasn't as bad as hers. It couldn't be, she was much older and had been a heavy drinker since I was a kid. I knew that I was one of the more "rational drunks" and could never do anything like that since my blackouts were always so simple and harmless. Rational drunk... that's hilarious...as if there were such a thing.
Long Story Short
At the age of 22, I moved in with my future husband. He was 13 years my senior and after living together for the first three years, we were married and would remain together for the next 12 years. We had many good years, as well as some very rocky times. And, of course, I blamed him for the breakup of our marriage, and my drinking, due to the fact that he spent excessive time working out and "playing" on the computer with his new MILF group of friends. He, of course, blamed me due to the fact that I drank too much.
I no longer feel that this was the case, we were just two different people with different life priorities and goals. I have learned in my sobriety that grudges aren't worth holding, the past is the past, and that we must take personal responsibility for our own lives.
The first few years that I began to drink excessively, I usually drank beer, wine coolers, or weak mixed drinks. It was easy to sneak in extra drinks or replace the ones that I drank at home so that no one would realize exactly how much I was consuming. For many years I would come home, just excited that it was time to drink again and I could "relax". The next morning after everyone left the house I would bag up all of my extra "empties" and discard them at various service station or car wash trash cans on my commute to work each day. I would go to different areas so as not to draw attention to myself or my habit.
Purchasing alcohol was the same way. With 45 miles to drive to work one way, it was easy to find various places to buy whatever alcohol I wanted. Eventually the beer and wine coolers were no longer effective, and my tolerance had exceeded the size of my stomach. In other words, I had to switch to liquor, usually vodka, to be able to consume enough to get a good buzz.
From about the age of 32-37 I was consuming heavy amounts of 100 proof vodka daily, usually drinking an entire 1/2 gallon bottle within 2-3 days. During the last couple of years before I quit drinking, I was beginning to have some serious health issues that baffled the doctors I was seeing as to what could be the cause. Of course, I didn't tell them the truth about my alcoholism and they were unable to pinpoint what was causing the decline in my health.
Health Problems Caused by Alcoholism....Yet the Drinking Continues
The last five years before my sobriety were pretty rough on my body physically as it was beginning to give me signs that something was terribly wrong. Signs I ignored as family genetics, yet they were becoming more serious and all started bringing me down during the same time frame.
Chronic alcoholism can lead to various heath related illnesses, including: liver disease, gastrointestinal disorders, hypertension and other cardiovascular problems, dementia, stroke, and can increase the risk for cancer.
A list of some of the health problems that I experienced are below. My family history is very strong for heart disease, my mom had a heart attack at the age of 38. Her father and brothers all died prematurely from heart disease. So, this had to be the reason for my eight months of tests and procedures which came up inconclusive.....but, I convinced myself that it had nothing to do with my drinking. Yes, alcoholics are in serious (sometimes fatal) denial until they are ready to change.
Health Issues of My Final Year Before Sobriety
- Elevated liver function and enzyme tests found on annual physical. Without the alcoholic admitting to drinking more than "a couple of drinks... occasionally" Is it just me, or when we were/are drinking, it's always only been a "couple" of drinks?
- Began having severe panic attacks, and still have anxiety disorder. If you've never experienced a true panic attack, believe me, they are quite real and very unsettling. Mine usually happened during driving long distances. It was like a sudden sense of impending doom. The very first one that I had, I was unsure what was happening, yet did have the good sense to pull over and call 911. I explained to the paramedic what I thought was happening and he stayed on the line with me until I was calmer, and able to continue my drive home.
- Supraventricular tachycardia. My heart rate at rest was around 100, with any exertion it would shoot up to almost 200. Stress tests, a heart monitor (worn for a month), and an electrophysiology study to look for abnormalities in my heart that could be causing the tachycardia. I also had a cardioversion during the study because my heart went into atrial fibrillation.
I had developed serious health problems and was only 38 years old. Had I not stopped drinking when I did, I feel certain that I would not have lived to see 40. Amazingly enough, even my failing health was not enough to make me stop drinking.
Nearing the End of the Rope
Most alcoholics do not make the choice to stop drinking willingly. Many have to hit rock bottom, or almost hit it, before they come to their senses and realize that their addiction is costing them more than just the price of the alcohol they are consuming. Some pay the price before they are willing to give up the love affair and obsession they have for alcohol. The most expensive price....their lives. Many continue to deny their disease at ALL costs. The sad thing as a friend, family member, or loved one of one of these individuals....there is NOTHING you can do unless the person with AUD is willing to admit to themselves that they indeed have a drinking problem.
It is roughly estimated that 20% of all college students meet the criteria for AUD. Some other annual statistics related to college students ages 18-24 and drinking include:
1,800 die from unintentional alcohol related injuries, including MVA.
1 in 4 students struggle with academic consequences related to drinking.
97,000 students are sexually assaulted, including date rape.
700,000 students are assaulted or attacked by another student who has been drinking.
The years 2007-2008 were some very active and trying years of my life. Still drinking heavily, not caring about myself or anyone else, obsessed with thoughts of when I would be able to get my next drink. These were the years that I would sink or swim.
January 2007, I officially got a legal separation and moved in with my parents until purchasing my own home that same May. By July I received a DUI, yet had driving privileges in order to continue working.
During the end of 2007, I had a new supervisor at work. She reported smelling alcohol on me, yet I never drank at work, this was the beginning of the end of my drinking career.
She had reported this to my direct boss and he had spoken to me about the situation. Plans were made to send me to the EPA (employee assistance program) in order for me to talk to someone about my drinking. Now I was worried. I could NOT afford to lose this job.
The Final Choice....Which Path Will You Choose?
The thoughts of losing my new home (still here 12 years later), and a career I dearly loved (I am still at the same facility and in my 25th year of service) hit me like a ton of bricks. moving back home to my parents at the age of 38 with no money, and no career was NOT going to happen. My "D-Day" was here, I was ready to go headfirst into battle with myself.
Honesty and Humility
May 11, 2008 was a "Mother's Day" I'll always remember. I had been heavily drinking until around 2:00am and new that I was going to smell like a brewery if I showed up to work. I was positive that I would have lost my job had I went to work that morning.
I called and voluntarily admitted my problems to a friend and co-worker who helped me rescue my job and took me to one of the two largest hospitals in the city, also a part of the cooperation that owned the building in which we worked together as nurses. At the direction of our facility DON, if I would allow treatment to be initiated that morning to treat my addiction, and agree to begin rehab immediately, my job would be safe. Of course, at the time, I blamed the new weekend supervisor for running her mouth. Who did that b**** think she was anyway?
By the way, "Jill" moved back to her home state while I was finishing up my rehab. I later contacted her and told her how much I appreciated her for doing her job, for saving my job....and, most of all...my life. I will be grateful for her honesty and concern, and "tough love" for the rest of my life. :)
The Final Chapter....Rehab
The following morning May 12, 2008 I began my three week voluntary outpatient rehabilitation, I was guaranteed my job would be safe as long as I successfully completed rehab. Plus, I knew that this had to be the end of my drinking career...if I could actually get sober.
I walked in to my first meeting filled with shame, dread, fear, and I just hoped that I could get through the first day. Concern for my high BAC level of 0.244% the previous day during my hospital visit, seemed to cause concern for the counselors and MD on staff at the rehab center.
I was placed on Phenobarbital and told that it was crucial that I take them routinely until the clinical MD deemed me safe to come off of them. These were used to help prevent seizures during my withdrawal from alcohol.
The counselors encouraged me to not stay in my home alone during detox, but I lived alone and told them that I had to be able to get better without changing my lifestyle. I figured that since I became a "closet functional drunk" on my own, I needed to prove to myself that I was able to abstain during the withdrawal process.
Detox is not fun. Anyone who has ever experienced it knows what I am talking about. The night sweats, sleeplessness, irritability, shakiness, etc. made it a really rough week, but I made it through and have not touched alcohol since May 11, 2008.
One thing that I must admit about the thoughts of going to rehab is that I don't think I have never DREADED anything more than that first morning walking into that room.
The counselors were wonderful, and I only had to pop my wrist with the rubber band a couple of times before I no longer needed it. During the first meeting and new comers got to wear a band on their wrists and were to "pop" themselves each time they thought of drinking. It was a good ice breaker and I left that first morning feeling better about my forced decision to get sober.
For me, alcohol rehab was one of the most enlightening and rewarding experiences of my life. Since that time I no longer desire to drink, and am very fortunate for that. It has changed my life for the better.
Now as I am getting older, I can look back without shame or regret for having a disease that many are skeptical about, but it is very real for those of us who suffer from AUD.
Life is hard, but I realize that I was making it harder on myself. If I had not been "backed into a corner" and forced to quit, I would not have lived to see 40. Many people have died prematurely from the effects of prolonged AUD. If you have a problem, get help before it's too late.
If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and truly want to beat your addiction to alcohol (or other drugs) please seek help. Treatment centers are located all around you, but you have to make the first step.
Many companies offer rehabilitation treatment as part of their insurance incentive. For those really struggling who do not really know what they should do, talk to your MD or medical professional. They may be able to offer you references and may even help you get started in a program, if you seriously want to get that monkey off your back. I'm sure glad that I don't have to carry him around on my back any more.
Alcoholism is actually a self-diagnosed disease. Until the alcoholic is willing to admit that they have a problem, there isn't a thing you can do to stop their self destruction. They will distance themselves from the friends and family who may question, lecture, or try to interfere with the addict's obsession with alcohol.
Alcoholics will push away the ones who love them most. The love affair they have with alcohol is stronger than their love for anything or anyone else. They are obsessed with thoughts and plans for their next drinking binge.
I remember many days that I spent anxiously awaiting for my shift to end so that I could "get my buzz on". After nearly a decade of drinking, I also saw a very strong sign about how bad my drinking had gotten. Not only would I be planning where I was going to stop and buy my liquor supply, I was planning where to hide it when I got home.
Normal drinkers DO NOT think about about alcohol to obsession like someone who is truly an alcoholic or has been diagnosed with AUD.
Don't Be an Enabler
Tough Love. Let the alcoholic know straight up that although you are there for them in any way to help them when they are willing, that you will not buy, supply, or give them money for "a bill they have to pay" to enable them to purchase alcohol.
If you truly want to help with a bill or groceries for a friend or family member who is down on their luck, even due to excessive drinking and spending, go pay the bill or take them to the store and buy the groceries they need. If you give them money, they will spend it on alcohol, no matter how many times they promise this is not the case.
No matter how well you think you know someone, you will never find a better liar or master of deception than a chronic alcoholic looking for his/her next drink,
Not just a blue collar addiction...
Many people think that being a "superstar" such as: actors, singers, athletes, musicians, etc. means that they only get addicted to the more expensive addictive tastes, many stick with alcohol. Some stars you may not realize that are alcoholics are listed below.
- Bradley Cooper
- Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter)
- Robin Williams
- Stephen King
- Mel Gibson
- Lindsay Lohan
- David Hasselhoff
- Rob Lowe
- Gerard Butler
- Keith Urban
- Tobey Maguire
- Jamie Lee Curtis
- Jada Pinkett Smith
There are numerous others that struggle with alcohol. It doesn't discriminate on money, status, background, or ethical views. Once it gets a hold of you, it is hard to stop if you are one who is prone to AUD. Just remember that genetic predisposition accounts for 50% of a person's risk factors for being susceptible to AUD.
QUIZ: Are You an Alcoholic?
Answer all questions with a "Yes" or "No". Be HONEST with YOURSELF in your answers.....remember, I personally know how honest alcoholics can be when they are drinking, especially with themselves.
Find your answers at the end of the quiz....No peeking!
- Do you lose time from work due to drinking?
- Is drinking causing an unhappy home life?
- Do you drink because you are shy with other people?
- Is drinking affecting your reputation?
- Do you feel guilt or remorse over your drinking?
- Has drinking ever caused you financial difficulties?
- Do you turn to lower companions or an inferior environment when drinking?
- Does your drinking make you careless of your family's welfare?
- Has your ambition decreased since drinking?
- Do you crave a drink at a certain time?
- Do you want a drink the next morning?
- Does drinking cause you sleeping difficulties?
- Has your efficiency decreased since drinking?
- I drinking causing you trouble at work, or jeopardizing your business?
- Do you drink to escape worries or troubles?
- Do you drink alone?
- Have you ever had a complete loss of memory as a result of drinking?
- Has you doctor ever treated you for drinking?
- Does drinking help build up your self-confidence?
- Have you ever been to a hospital or institution because of your drinking?
How Did You Score?
If you answered "YES" to any ONE of these questions, it is a warning sign that you could be an alcoholic.
If you answered "YES" to any TWO of these questions, it's a good chance that you are an alcoholic.
If you answered "YES" to any THREE or MORE of these questions, congratulations.....you ARE an alcoholic....now choose to do something about it before it's too late.
From the TV Series "Mom"
"You might be an alcoholic if..."
- Your monthly bar tab is more than your mortgage.
- You can focus better with one eye closed.
- You fall off the hood of your car in the morning when you awaken.
- You get arrested on Saturday night for cow tipping.....with your Toyota.
- You have to hold onto the lawn to keep from falling off Earth.
- You fall off the floor.
- Concerned friends call to see if you returned the goat.
- The doorman asks for your ID, just to see how long it takes you to find your pants.
- People yell, "Norm!" whenever you walk in a bar.
- Your job is interfering with your drinking.
- Mosquitos fall to the ground after biting you.
- Rosanne looks good..
Quotes on Alcohol
- An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools. ~ Ernest Hemingway
- I feel sorry for people who don't drink. They wake up in the morning and that's the best they're going to feel all day. ~ Dean Martin
- The problem with some people is that when they aren't drunk, they're sober. ~ William Butler Yeats
- A woman drove me to drink, and I didn't even have the decency to thank her. ~ W.C. Fields
- I only take a drink on two occasions - when I'm thirsty and when I'm not. ~ Brendan Behan
- I made an important discovery...that alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, produces all the effects of intoxication. ~ Oscar Wilde
- When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading. ~ Henny Youngman
- I drink to make other people interesting. ~ George Jean Nathan
© 2019 Shana Hurt