Everybody who isn’t an alcoholic has their own definition of what alcoholism is. Most of them would agree that it is about drinking “too much”. But how much is “too much”? And is it really what characterises alcoholism?
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), although they are careful to say that they have no formal definition of alcoholism, think about it as a set of compulsive physical behaviours, and obsession, and see it as an illness with no cure. There is an invisible, though very real, line between heavy drinking and alcoholism, and once it has been crossed, there is no going back. There is no such thing as a “cured” alcoholic; there are only alcoholics who abstain.
Composed of recovering alcoholics supporting one another, they know that controlling this addiction isn’t about willpower only, and they encourage fellow alcoholics who are courageous enough to admit that they have a problem to do so without shame, as there shouldn’t be any in admitting that one is ill.
Alcohol addiction is defined by an overwhelming need to drink without limit, against what common sense dictates, even if it makes you ill and has devastating effects on your relationships, family, job, and gets you in trouble with the law. It can overcome you at any time, and thinking that you have a very important meeting to attend, an exam to sit, your child’s birthday party will make no difference whatsoever.
Once some sobriety has returned to them, alcoholics feel deeply ashamed and upset of having given in, hurt the people they love and generally “making a mess” of things, but this will not be enough to keep them sober next time the urge to drink rises again.
Alcoholics will often have tried to stop themselves with various strategies, promising to stop for a specific numbers of days or to drink only at certain times of the day, but with no success. They have also tried to switch to drinks with a lower alcoholic degree – well, it only took them longer to get drunk, but they managed eventually. Or they bargained with themselves –just one drink. But alcoholism is never about just one drink, and once an alcoholic starts drinking, they won’t stop until they are drunk.
Alcoholism has also almost certainly changed your life for the worst, although it helped you to forget your problems at first. Relationship breakdowns are a common occurrence, and if your performance at work has been poor or you have missed days because you were nursing a hangover, your career will probably have suffered and you may even face being made redundant. In some cases, alcoholism can have legal consequences, and crimes committed under the influence can get you to jail.
There is no miracle solution to alcoholism, but one thing is for certain: it will only get worse if you don’t do anything about it.
On the other hand, there is a lot of help at hand if you are willing to stop drinking. You can attend alcohol rehab in Auckland or any other large city, which will help you with withdrawal symptoms and exploring your behaviour patterns and identify your triggers as you take your first steps into sobriety.
However, you will need ongoing support. Abstaining will get easier over time but nobody is ever safe from succumbing during a particular stressful time or in reaction to an upsetting event.
The AA offers a support system based on sponsorship by another recovering alcoholic and adherence to a 12-step programme. They have proved to be very successful, probably because the sponsor knows exactly what the sponsored is going through and they can relate to each other without a fear of being judged, told what to do or put under pressure.
Addiction treatment centres, like the Robert Street Clinic, can also be invaluable in offering long-term counselling and helping you to understand yourself, your feelings and what drove you to drinking, as well as lead you to develop strategies to deal with your cravings more effectively.
Alcoholism often affects loved ones too, and we can also offer couples and family therapy to heal and rebuild relationship through dialogue.
If you are an alcoholic, help is at hand. For compassionate and expert advice, email the Robert Street Clinic or call us on 09 973 5950 today to discuss how we can help you on your road to recovery.