Why people deny they have an alcohol addiction

Do you have to drink in the morning to be an alcoholic?

It is surprising the amount of people who, during their assessment at The Haynes Clinic, say to one of the therapists “I don’t have an addiction as I don’t have an alcoholic drink in the morning.”  People just don’t want to admit they are an alcoholic: they don’t like the word and they don’t like the idea that they might have to stop drinking alcohol for the rest of their lives. 

There is still a clouded perception of what an alcoholic is.  They might recognise that they have managed to drink themselves in to a problem with alcohol but they think they should still be able to go back to drinking normally through using their willpower. They think of an alcoholic as being a homeless person on a park bench, with their drink in the proverbial brown paper bag. In reality, very few alcoholics fit this description.

Can a young person be an alcoholic?

Alcohol addiction is a progressive illness.  The amount of alcohol consumed increases at a different pace for everyone, but it will always increase.  Not that long ago, it seemed that most people in treatment for alcohol addiction at The Haynes Clinic were in their 50’s and 60’s; now it is not uncommon to have people in for residential alcohol treatment in their 20’s and 30’s.  We have even had people in their late teens needing alcohol addiction treatment. This is because people drink in a different way and are choosing to drink more at home due to the rising costs of buying alcoholic drinks in, for example, a pub environment.

More and more pubs are closing due to this change in the drinking culture. Buying drinks in a night club is even more costly, so people will be reasonably intoxicated, from drinking at home, before they go on a night out. Also, we tend to pour out larger measures at home and consume more than we intend to.  Therefore, anyone with a predisposition to a dependency or addiction will be shortening their timeline to when they will be needing help as this new way of drinking is escalating the problem for younger drinkers.  

Alcohol addiction affects all aspects of our lives

stop making excuses

Alcohol addiction will affect all aspects of our lives.  Some of these will be slowly impacted, some more quickly. Some initially will be more affected than others but ultimately, without seeking help, all of the following will completely deteriorate.

  • Social and family relationships
  • Career and work prospects
  • Leisure
  • Financial
  • Physical health
  • Mental and emotional wellbeing

Most alcoholics deny the extent and amount of their drinking

One of our main problems is the extent of our denial of the fact that we have a problem with our intake of alcohol and that we have an alcohol addiction that is causing problems within our daily life.  We will try and find any plausible excuse that we can to justify our increase in alcohol consumption. This excuse will initially placate family and friends who have seen a change within us.  They will also find it hard to accept that their loved one is an alcoholic.  However, after a while it will become evident to everyone that the daily consumption has not levelled out or been controlled but has continued to rise, and that we / the individual are also now lying about when we have had a drink and may have started hiding bottles as part of the denial of the amount that is being drunk as our body tolerance levels to alcohol increases.

Incidentally, it is possible to be an alcoholic and not drink daily. If once we start we cannot stop – known as binge drinking – this too can indicate alcoholism. And if when we stop we cannot stay stopped, that too is a problem.

Alcohol and its effect on dopamine in the brain

All this started with that first drink and the feeling we got from it.  Alcohol has a powerful effect on Dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which is a chemical that carries signals between brain cells and communicates information throughout the body. The Dopamine will produce an almost euphoric feeling and it will also activate other memory circuits in the brain that remember this pleasant experience and will lead us to wanting to feel like this again. So, we drink again. However, over a period the body will compensate for the increase in Dopamine levels by producing less Dopamine.  When the Dopamine levels drop two things happen: our mood lowers; and we consume more alcohol to try and get the initial feeling we experienced back again. This process happens over a period of time and that period and the daily increase in alcohol consumption is different for everyone.

Do all alcoholics drink every day?

As mentioned above, someone with an alcohol addiction does not have to drink every day. A binge drinker will go on an alcoholic binge and then stop, and it might be days or weeks before they repeat the pattern again. Ultimately, the gap between the binges will get shorter or the length of the binge will get longer. Generally, it will take a binge drinker longer to seek help as they don’t see they have a problem as they feel they can stop and start. However, this is simply not true, and they will suffer the full consequences of their drinking on all of their life areas, just the same as a daily drinker. In fact, as they are consuming large quantities of alcohol then stopping, then repeating the cycle, there is the possibility of more damage being done to the brain and organs and more risky behaviour  than occurs with a daily drinker.

Does alcohol help you sleep?

Someone with an alcohol addiction will lose their normal sleep pattern.  In fact, they pass out more from the amount of alcohol they have consumed rather than going to bed and falling into a natural sleep and again this is a process that happens over a period and that period is different for everyone.  The body will generally dispel one unit of alcohol from the body per hour, either through breath or urine.  Therefore, even if we fallen into an alcoholic sleep we tend to come to when our alcohol levels have dropped.  This will often prompt people to say, “I can only get to sleep if I have a drink “or “I can only get back to sleep with the help of a drink.”

Can you be over the drink drive limit in the morning after a drinking session?

Generally, if you can smell alcohol on a person in the morning and challenge them, they will say it was because they had a drinking session until late at night.  This may be so but for many, in reality, it is because they have had a drink that morning.   With or without a morning drink, with an alcohol level being sustained on a daily basis, it is highly likely that at any time over a 24-hour period we would be over the drink drive limit.

Facing up to an alcohol problem

Facing up to an alcohol addiction can be emotionally painful and hard work. At The Haynes Clinic we ensure that people with an alcohol addiction are aware that there is a problem and that the problem is getting worse.  The fact that they are choosing to deny or fully accept the extent of the problem is what stops them seeking help sooner and this will allow the addiction to take them to even more damaging levels.