Alcoholism is a disease that affects millions of people along with heart problems, diabetes, cancer, and drug addiction. We hear and read about different diseases that kill people every day and how they leave broken-hearted families behind.
Who is considered an alcoholic and what are they like in behavior? We all have our own personal conception about what a person has to do in order to be considered an alcoholic. Usually, they’re labeled as habitual drunks.
Most of us picture an alcoholic as a person, curled-up and passed out among the over-turned garbage cans and found on a hidden side-street between buildings or someone under a torn, grimy blanket sleeping on a park bench with a newspaper over their face and wearing ragged, filthy clothes looking as though they needed a hot, sudsy shower. In fact, a large percentage of the public automatically assumes it’s a man in this condition having the problem. A woman could be the alcoholic in these situations. There is no special gender.
Our intellects come to the understanding and conclusion that the drinker has absolutely no desire to find a job or no wish to mingle with and contribute to society. We insist that many of them are living off the welfare system with no intention of bettering themselves. When we come in contact with the drinker, many of us lose patience with them or omit them completely in our conversations and social circles.
It’s more comfortable for us to pretend that they don’t exist. In other words, they’re not getting their act together to think and do things the way we believe they should.
Because our own lives are structured and orderly, we believe that we’re better than the alcoholic. We forget how blessed our families are to have jobs that pay well, three good meals a day on the table, independent lives, and the freedom to come and go as we like. This concept is what most people consider to be a healthy American life under normal living conditions.
The reality of an alcoholic’s life won’t hit us until we come in direct contact with a family member, friend, or a close acquaintance who’s struggling to combat this disease. Then we develop the need to understand fully and to gain the knowledge of what alcohol is doing to the alcoholic and the people around them.
Once the abuser’s actions start to affect our lives, we suddenly sit-up and open our eyes to what’s happening to the individual. The desire to help them is there because we love the person and can see that the disease has changed his or her personality, morals, and ambitions. The devastating fact hits us that alcohol is slowly killing our loved one.
The alcoholics themselves can become acutely aware that they are drowning in drink and still don’t feel the need or have the willpower to get help. For them, the battle to give up liquor has too many side effects, and it’s too hard to combat the habit, especially if this life-style has been going on for years.
It’s a struggle every day for an alcoholic to just get out of bed. Many spend their days sleeping. They skip meals because their appetite has disappeared, thereby causing more damage to their health because their bodies breakdown from lack of proper nutrition to keep them stable.
Many alcoholics who have tried to fight the disease don’t relish the unpleasant physical effects of going without a drink; instead, they give in and turn back to drinking. In their mind, taking a drink is the only way to stop the effects of withdrawal. They fear going to any public place, and the drinking imprisons them in their own home behind closed doors.
Their lives and minds are constantly in a confused state. Alcoholics live in uncertainty that immobilizes them. They find it hard to do anything for themselves or their families. All confidence disappears. They make up all kinds of stories in order to avoid doing anything that makes them uncomfortable.
Doctors’ appointments are cancelled because they fear what they may be told. Family events are ignored so they don’t have to hear about their behavior or their broken promises. They live in denial that they have any problem at all and believe they can stop drinking at any time.
Getting sober for an alcoholic means they’ll have to take the giant step of signing themselves into a detoxification center. There, they’ll experience what they feared: the shakes, being confined, and taking medicine that will make them feel worse before they get better. They’re subjected to answering personal, embarrassing questions and being cooped-up in a single room with strangers, whom they consider to be sicker than they are.
After weeks or months of drying out, they’re pushed into the outside world again to face the same problems that brought them there. Depending on circumstances, they’ll have to confront the people that they hurt, deal with job hunting, and return to having the responsibility of making family decisions. Some become paranoid, thinking that everyone is judging them and watching their every move to see if they slip. Some probably are being watched because the whole family becomes sick and confused from the disease.
If they don’t continue to seek professional counseling after being rehabilitated, join an AA group, or find a sponsor, most alcoholics go right back to the bottle, which is always there to comfort them with no condemnation.
Going back to drinking, or falling off the wagon as the expression goes, doesn’t mean that they want to—it means they’re sick. Alcoholism is a disease that is highly hereditary. It would be so much easier if drinking could be cured by simply taking a pill. The first step to recovery for the alcoholic is for him or her to want the help. No one can help them if they don’t want recovery.
Alcoholics have the same wants and dreams as the rest of us. There was a time when they held a job, had a marriage, brought up children, owned a home and a car, and had a social life with their friends and families. Now, they have become frightened human beings who have lost their dignity.
Alcoholism doesn’t happen overnight. The reality of their lives being out-of- control came when catastrophes started to happen all around them. Some drinkers are fortunate to be able to keep their lives fairly normal, but others don’t realize it’s a problem until they lose everything.
Society needs to stop looking at the millions of alcoholics as bums or low-class individuals who don’t want to better themselves. They have a disease that can reach the point of no return.
If a person has been drinking for years and wants to stop, the body may have reached the point where it needs the drink. The body craves it; then there’s no stopping.
Someone Stop This Merry-Go-Round is based on the true story of my life living with and losing a husband to alcoholism. Slowly, our happy lives as a secure family started to fall to pieces at different stages. It seems completely incomprehensible to me now that I couldn’t see the signs of serious drinking from this uncontrollable disease.