During the National lockdown period that all South Africans are facing the restriction on the purchasing of alcohol and drugs has caused a national debate, some stocked up on their alcohol before the lockdown, sadly to the effect where children will not have proper food or needs as a result, others will brace this period with drinking less than usual, but the consumption of alcohol will still be something that they might constantly talk about, joke about, worry about or even start to crave.
This might be a good time to reflect on the role that alcohol is playing in your life and a true introspection can bring many answers to sometimes very difficult questions.
There is a belief that one becomes an alcoholic by simply drinking too much alcohol for too long. I do not believe that to be entirely true, alcoholics are born, not made. Sensible drinking for alcoholics is not possible and people who were once alcoholics and think they can be self-taught to start drinking sensibly is just not the case, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Most people do think of alcoholics as those people who drink more than a certain amount or accumulate forms of damage. Yet one should look more at why a person drinks and at what emotional, mental and behavioural changes may happen in any day as a result of just one drink. An alcoholic starts to drink alcohol for the effect, not the taste and uses it for its mood-altering effect. Alcohol almost becomes like medicine to change the mood, a form of self-medicating.
Once an alcoholic takes the first drink in any day, something magical happens, it is as if a switch goes on and the light goes on, life suddenly feels better. As times goes on the mental switch changes its nature so that it determines not just whether life feels better but also whether one wants to feel better and better by drinking more and more and more alcohol. The activation of the switch is unreliable, sometimes it clicks and sometimes it doesn’t, consequently, the alcoholic loses control of the predictability of what would happen after the first drink in any day.
I, therefore, see alcoholism as the inability to predict what will happen in further alcohol consumption after the first drink in any day. All alcoholics can stay dry, and often does, but cannot predict further drinking or abstinence after the first drink in any day. Alcohol becomes the central feature in the life of an alcoholic long before it caused trouble as it is seen as a magical drug. Alcohol becomes a true friend, reliable and trustworthy, uncritical, supportive, understanding and comforting, what else can one possibly want from a friend? Which human friend or family member can possibly compete with that? Denial goes hand in hand with addiction and mostly with alcoholism. Yet the crucial factor in alcoholism, or any form of addictive behaviour, is that later on it is not a matter of personal choice anymore, it is a product of an inner compulsion that sees suicide or living with a dead soul as the only alternatives. Addiction cannot be understood in rational terms, if it could, it would not be an addiction. Sometimes family members describe their loved one’s addiction as madness, madness does not respond to reason. When an alcoholic accumulates progressively more damage in every aspect of his or her life and then still goes back to alcohol for comfort, this is alcoholism, not the drinking itself, nor the damaging consequences, but the sheer madness of going straight back to the source of all the trouble in the crazy belief that it will make life better or more acceptable.
Therefore, we can say alcoholics drink alcohol to feel better rather than to enjoy a drink. Alcoholics can get better, I have seen many patients get better when they finally give up the battle with the inner struggle of denial and simply recognise the fact that alcoholism is the problem. If they admit this honestly then the journey to recovery can start. Once abstinent the sufferer should remain abstinent for life and should realize that the alcohol is not good for an alcoholic just as sugar is not good for a diabetic.
Take some time and answer the questionnaire that was compiled by Dr Robert Lefever in his very informative book (The 12 -step programme to Kick your Habit: 2014)
- Do I find that feeling light-headed is often irrelevant in deciding when to stop drinking alcohol?
- Do I find that having one drink does not satisfy me but makes me want more?
- Have I had a complete blank for ten minutes or more in my memory when trying to recall what I was doing after drinking alcohol on the previous day or night?
- Do I use alcohol for comfort or strength?
- Do I tend to gulp down the first alcoholic drink fairly fast?
- Do I have a good head for alcohol so that others appear to get drunk more readily than I do?
- Do I find it strange to leave half a glass of an alcoholic drink?
- Do I get irritable and impatient if there is more than 10 minutes conversation at a meal or social function before my host offers me an alcoholic drink?
- Have I deliberately had an alcoholic drink before going out to a place where alcohol may not be available?
- Do I often drink significantly more alcohol than I intend?
Two or more yes answers indicate the need for further assessment, four or more spell trouble and the need to reach out for help.
I hope all families remember that this is a time to be mindful, responsible and take care of each other to the best of your ability.
Annesta Hofer Counselling Services Newsletter
Annesta Hofer Counselling Services provides professional therapy and tailored made counseling programmes with the aim of enhancing behavioral modification and emotional healing.
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Post Traumatic Stress, Grief, Depression, Addiction and any Emotional struggle remain the focus of my practice, yet I believe in combining animal and nature therapy with cognitive behavioral therapy in order to deal with difficult issues in a more meaningful and joyful manner.
Behavioural Therapist/ Clinical Social Worker
BSW Honours (Social Work and Psychology)