When one realizes that no matter how much they may know about theoretical drug problems and alcohol problems, it is still possible to be staring in the face of a full on alcoholic and not know it until after the fact. Alcoholism and drug problems, much like other chronic illnesses, are not things one can identify just by looking at someone’s face. However, if one pays attention there are probably warning signs that are indicative of a substance abuse problem. However subtle the signs may be, they are usually consistent. A story, with not so subtle signs, may be in order to properly illustrate the point:
George is a 30 year old junior marketing executive. He shares an apartment with his brother and is not in a relationship. George has a very active social life. Almost every night of the week, George can be found at some sort of festivity that is at a bar, club or restaurant. At all of these occasions, liquor is present. George often jokes about how he must look like an alcoholic because in most pictures he is holding a drink. In addition, the woman he has begun a flirtation with finds that every time she calls him he is drinking. She thinks nothing of it, since this man must just enjoy one or two social drinks. The fact that he drinks every night does not flag him as an alcoholic in her eyes. They have spoken on the phone scores of times, spent time together and been in constant communication for a two month period. In addition, he really is such a nice guy. He casually mentions that his mother has asked him to promise not to drink. They laugh about how parents often refuse to view their children as adults.
One night before George goes out with his new lady friend, he tells her a few stories. One included waking up one morning after a night of drinking with blood on his shirt. The caveat being he had no idea where the blood came from. On another occasion, upon being shoved by a young woman in a club after drinking for a while, George pushed her back and the woman went flying across the room. George admits that at this point, he realized he did not know what his alcohol limit was. He stated this in past tense; these events had happened about a year prior and since then, George had allegedly altered his drinking habits. This statement was made as George pulled out two small bottles of vodka. One was for himself one for his lady friend. When she declined the offer of drink he downed both bottles himself.
Two hours later at the club the couple had gone to George has drunk two beers and was ready for a shot of tequila. He at this point is holding his liquor well. However; once the shot of tequila comes into play George succeeds in alienating his new friend. He spills salt all over the bar then begins dancing sloppily and says more than a few insulting things to his date. By the end of the evening the young lady wants nothing more to do with him. George can’t understand why.
George is in a state of denial about his drinking problem. The main issues here include the following:
- An inability to stop drinking
- Inability to see conflicts arising subsequent to drinking
- Spending excessive money on drinking to the point of putting oneself in a financially precarious position
- Jeopardizing existing relationships
- Damaging potential future relationships
- Does not correlate his poor decisions with the outcomes they procure
- Not understanding the concern those around have for him and his poor behavior
George continues to drink excessively, regardless of the concern expressed by his family and friends. He holds that he does not have a problem and does not seek help. In the long term, George is never able to find a more secure job position or maintain a serious romantic relationship with any woman he meets. The issues here are many. George’s inability to stop drinking will also eventually erode his body functioning. This will result in a financial strain both on George, his family and society. The most common health risks for alcoholics include strain on the liver and kidneys.
Should George ever decide he wants to stop drinking, what he may not realize is detoxification from alcohol unsupervised can be life threatening. The purpose of writing down George’s story is his experience may be able to help someone you know. If you read this anecdote and see a bit of yourself in it, or someone you know please contact someone who can help you.
Rachel Hayon, MPH, RN