There is a fine line that an individual starts to cross from being a heavy drinker to being an alcoholic. In many cases, this line is defined by the individual as much as by the behaviour. In alcoholics, the universal problem is the inability to control alcohol intake.

There is a common misconception that an alcoholic is the stereotypical (wake up in the morning drinker or homeless person passed out on the communal lawn) while these individuals may be alcoholic these are more advanced stages of the disease that can be identified from far earlier warning signs.

Thus in the vast majority of individuals on the fringes of alcoholism or in the high-functioning stages of alcoholism do not identify themselves as alcoholics.

Many alcoholics are functional individuals in day to day life that simply have not progressed to “hitting rock bottom” stage – yet. Students or individuals binge drinking, stay at home moms who enjoy a few too many glasses of wine in the evening, professionals in high paced work environments, drinking buddies e.t.c frequently display the early warning signs of the inability to control their volume of intake.

In meetings at Alcoholics Anonymous or in recovery centres you will meet many different types of drinkers.

Early Stages of Alcoholism

Early signs of alcohol dependency include a routine pattern forming around alcohol consumption. This routine can be subtle and not specifically identifiable until it progresses to increased tolerance and increasing intake of alcohol.

Individuals begin to establish more frequent patterns or try to control or limit their intake of alcohol unsuccessfully. The process varies from individual to individual, however, in most cases the attempt to control or limit their intake increases their desire and they will frequently resort back to patterns of abstinence and binge drinking or simply continue drinking in their established routines.

Alcoholics make excuses for their drinking and justify their reasons for drinking in an infinite variety of reasons why they are not alcoholics (non-alcoholics don’t tend to justify why they are not alcoholics). In many of the “habitual” drinking causes a feeling of guilt is common if not expressed it is present in the psyche. The guilt stems primarily from the inability to control their alcohol intake but can also be guilt from their inability to control their actions while under the influence of alcohol.

Quite common in alcoholics is the process of “self-medication” where otherwise normal individuals abuse alcohol for prolonged periods as a result of some physical or emotional pain. In many such cases “dual diagnosis” is part of their clinical assessment however to the layman signs of irritation, anxiety or depression are present when the person is sober.

The “numbing” effects of alcohol mask the underlying conditions that should or could be treated without alcohol. Over time the condition progresses to a combination of mental or physical illness alongside the addiction to the substance.

Cracks will begin to appear in professional and family life. Arriving at work drunk or hungover on a weekly basis would certainly be an indication that an individual has progressed to a stage of textbook alcoholism. Driving under the influence or arriving home drunk on a similarly frequent basis.

Irrational behaviour in home or workplace leading to household disputes and/or work disciplinary issues are also quite common.

Then things can get worse.

The trouble with the law in terms of driving under the influence, causing accidents, being fired, divorced, incarcerated for events directly related to over-consumption of alcohol. Waking up to a drink in the morning, blackouts, and all the associated liver and health issues that are impossible to hide e.t.c.

Bottom line

Forming an addiction to alcohol can happen to anyone exposed to extended periods of alcohol use. If any of these traits sound familiar it would be a time to pick up the phone and get in touch with a counsellor. Early stage alcoholics seldom require less treatment but more convincing, whereas later-stage alcoholics tend to require less convincing and extended treatment, recognising the warning signs can save lives.