The Progression into Alcohol Addiction
The first drink
The majority of people will remember where and when they had their first alcoholic drink and they will also remember the pleasurable feeling that they got from it. It is that feeling that we like and that we want to repeat and feel again. Obviously not everyone who enjoys that feeling the first time goes on to become an alcoholic but a percentage will.
With any addiction, be it gambling, drugs, eating or alcohol there is generally one question asked by everyone and that is “why me?“.
Why am I an alcoholic?
There is no definite answer to that. It boils down to: why does anyone get any particular illness, not just alcoholism, and yet someone else does not despite both having similar life situations.
Individuals with an alcohol addiction will particularly ask themselves this question. They will think it is unfair. They may also be aware that people take different routes with the progress of their addiction and may consider their own route to be sufficiently different that they cannot be an alcoholic. They will be in denial and not want to fully accept the dire life situation that their addiction has got them to. They will therefore not immediately seek help even though they are aware there is a problem. They cannot imagine a life without alcohol.
Do you have to drink in the morning to be an alcoholic?
There is an expression “it does not matter what we drink, it does not matter when we drink, it matters how we drink.” This relates to the fact that it does not matter what alcohol we drink, be it wine, beer, lager or spirits, it is the steadily increasing amount that we are drinking daily of alcohol in any form that is the problem. People say “I can’t be an alcoholic because I don’t drink in the morning”. That is just nonsense as clearly there are problems associated with our drinking.
The key is our thinking in terms of alcohol (which probably dominates our life) whatever time of day we take that first drink. What matters is how we drink and this is directly related to our progressive addictive thinking and behaviour, which evolves over time. That time line is different for everyone. For example, no one usually starts their journey drinking a bottle of vodka. Our drinking usually starts when we are young and will be something like a glass of wine given to us at Christmas. We do not hide empty or even full bottles around the house or garden where others can’t find them at the beginning of our drinking – but we will probably end up doing just that.
There are certain life areas that can contribute towards answering the question “why me?“ and these involve our social drinking prior to becoming an alcoholic – and our drinking at work.
Social drinking and changes in drinking at home
Social drinking has changed over recent years and that is due, in part, to the rising cost of alcohol but more due to the Covid pandemic. When drinking in a pub, our drinks are measured and we also can keep more of a track on what we are spending both of which will, for many, add a degree of restraint. However, due to the Covid pandemic the culture of drinking at home has become more of a normal and accepted way to drink alcohol, which it was less so before. The problem arises because the drinks are not measured and we will not be pouring out singles but at the very least a double measure of spirits.
If we are buying packs of beer or lager then we will be drinking extra cans or bottles as the financial restraints have gone as it has already been purchased and the same applies to bottles or boxes of wine. For very many people, this way of drinking suits them: drinking at home is cheaper and with friends coming round everyone is drinking more. Therefore, for anyone with a disposition for a dependency, drinking like this will shorten the time line for when they will be seeking help. Another popular misconception is that everybody is drinking the same amount. That is not true. We will often start to mix with others who drink more or we will drink alone.
Work and alcohol
The fact of going to work every day acts as a degree of “holding back” the addictive progression for those with a pre disposition for an alcohol dependency. The recent huge changes that working from home and its ongoing culture has brought about has had the biggest impact on anyone with the potential for an alcohol addiction. It has become too easy to have an alcoholic drink at home between Zoom meetings and suddenly anything could be in the coffee cup as no one else is there to smell the aroma of alcohol. Also, during the pandemic and since, many people have struggled with mental health and boredom issues and started to self-medicate with alcohol. Due to these circumstances we start to isolate with our drinking and performance related work will be suffering.
We start to drink more and more
Whatever, alcoholic drink we consume, even a lemonade shandy, we will get a feeling that we like from it and it stems from an increase in dopamine levels in the brain. What happens, though, is that over time and that time is different for everyone, we will start to drink more to get the effect that we like and want. This is where, for some, a tolerance to alcohol is developing and therefore two things will happen: we will drink more alcohol in terms of quantity or we will switch to a stronger alcoholic drink to try to get the same effect or feeling but quicker and without increasing volumes to get it. Thus we reach the next stage which is a dependency on alcohol. Our body needs alcohol to simply function and we can experience feelings of withdrawal without it. Long gone are any feelings of euphoria we would have experienced in the past from our daily consumption.
Young people and alcoholism
At The Haynes Clinic we have monitored these changes in drinking habits and culture. The rise of drinking at home has lead to an increase in a younger generation, in their 20s and 30s, needing help for their alcohol addiction. Social and work changes have created unforeseen problems for the youth of today and, for some, a much speedier and earlier progression into alcohol addiction.