The estimates from within the medical fraternity would suggest that across the UK there are somewhere in the region of 3.5 million alcoholics. Such a figure equates to approximately 7% to 8% of the population, that percentage increasing naturally if we restrict to the adult population.
This ranges from those who are affected yet function on a daily basis all the way through, or down, to those whose residency on ‘Skid Row’ is incomprehensible. It also journeys from those whose alcoholism is causing some problems to those who are repeatedly suffering in an extreme manner, physically, mentally, emotionally and of course spiritually.
So, in effect, either you or someone you know. The social stigma around the illness of alcoholism is such that it is rare for anyone to feel they can broach the subject in a forthright and instant manner whilst retaining some tact. We tend to carefully craft our opening gambit in our minds – ‘John, can I have a word, it is just I have noticed that you have been drinking more than usual recently’. When seen in the written form it seems reasonable, probably factual given we do not tend to create such situations unless we genuinely feel a downturn based on intake or implication.
The difficulty of course is that when such sentiments are expressed, when an innocent and well-intentioned query is brought to the surface it is not what the alcoholic ‘hears’. They detect moral preaching from a hilltop, someone who is not au fait with the matters that the problem drinker has to contend with. To that end, do not feel too despondent if a juncture arrives and you have to approach someone with such concerns and they react forcefully and further withdraw into a greater bonhomie with their best friend, be that Jack, (Daniels) , Johnny (Walker) or Stella (Artois). You are planting a seed that in time may begin to flower and with additional, but always sympathetic, words may suffice in allowing the person to conclude that there may be a problem.
This, however, can take a considerable period, it does not often register until such time as we experience a huge change in hangover, from overly physical symptoms such as nausea, headache and dry mouth to the mental anxieities, paranoia, fear and suicidal thoughts. The latter, whilst of course unpleasant, can be viewed as the alcoholic coming close to a defining period in their drinking career. If such emotions are frequent and intense in the aftermath of excess then you can take some comfort that your friend, brother, sister or other may be nearing that time when they realise the permanency of it.
An additional aspect in all of this is that you should never look upon such figures as bad people. They are sick, they are that sick that they are insane. Whilst this insanity is in the context of alcohol you have little comprehension of just how powerful this is.
Further, they are not continuously drinking because there is the same magic they once gleaned from alcohol. They are, in the main, unhappy and in pursuit of the magic that once came with ‘having a few’, the sense of relaxation, confidence and ease that the properties of alcohol provides. Alas alcohol no longer reciprocates our affection, it conveys a message that if we persist in maintaining a relationship then it will take all from us and in no specific order.
It is the bailiff that leaves the car but takes the children, ignores the stereo but abducts your spouse.
Everyone reading this knows an alcoholic, some reading this will look at what is above and suspect I have had access to your innermost thoughts. Whilst there are variations to the alcoholic mind there are not that many and I have been surrounded by enough alcoholics to know the majority, if not all, of the thought processes that exist prior to the first drink and then the subsequent emotions as we career towards Comatose Central.
Do not be afraid to bring the issue up, be mindful that if the person is an alcoholic then you are speaking to a very sick person even if they are a fine physical specimen. Their reaction will tell you a lot, if they accept your perspective and are able to then moderate their alcohol and sustainably so then you can take comfort that they were within a phase, as many do, and there are no immediate worries.
If on the other hand they are an alcoholic you may receive a stern response that you would even suggest such a think, bear in mind that this is often the illness itself talking. They, the alcoholic, in that moment are angered that such an inference can arise. They suffer from an illness that is complex, confusing and capable of convincing the alcoholic they do not suffer from it.
The latter part such that it, alcoholism, has an element of Keyser Soze, the villain in the classic film The Usual Suspects, within it. In referring to the devil Soze, in dissuading his pursuers of his identity, offers that ‘The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist’.
The alcoholic riposte to family and friend concerns is often that ‘they have a few things on their mind’. Whilst that may have a veracity it is always wother pondering whether those very things give rise to the excessive drinking or are they as a consequence of such indulgence.
In short, ‘I am drinking a lot to cope with stress’ when the reality is actually ‘I am stressed because I drink a lot’.
If any of this brings identification I wish you well, if it offers comfort to you when you think of a loved one, colleague or other then do not be too disheartened. Recovery is not about mental resolve, it is about recognition that if not embraced then the alcoholic is physically dying even if such symptoms are not as present as others. What is irrefutable however is that their soul is floundering, their spiritual well being is drowning and emotional balance are outwith their own will and influence. The potential they have is stifled, both in a personal and professional capacty, and it will get worse before there is any chance of long term recovery.
I am not mentally resilient in most areas, I did however reach a nadir that allowed me to realise any quality of life was dead as long as I drank.
Pray that such a moment befalls you, if applicable, or those close to you. It may be painful for them, agonizing for you to witness but it is integral for them to be the loving, caring, contented and happy person you desire them to be.