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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Am I an alcoholic?

I received this e-mail yesterday and I thought I should respond openly so that others may have the benefit of my response. I want to emphasis here that I’m not a professional anything. I’m also not an alcoholic and so my viewpoint is from someone who has not had the painfully gripping experience of addiction. That is – except for my morning coffee.

Hi Linda –
 I've been reading your blog for probably a year or so now. I don't recall how I stumbled upon it exactly, but I immediately took an interest. I'm 24 years old and I'm working on figuring out the extent of my problem with alcohol. I identify with a lot of what you have written in your blog, enough so that it causes me to worry about what the future may have in store for me if I continue along my current path.

It's certainly been addressed to some extent in what I have read in your blog, but I'm curious about Riley's history with alcohol. I would like to know how he got to where he is now. I'm very curious how much drinking it takes to wreck the havoc upon one's body that it has in Riley's case. How long did he drink and how much? I realize this may be a somewhat nebulous question, but as I read your blog I always find myself wondering how much does it take for a person to end up like Riley has.
As well, if it's not too difficult or personal to discuss, I'm also curious about your son, and his drinking in contrast to Riley's and the fact that Riley has some how managed to survive despite all odds.

If this is something you would like to post on your site I have no problem with you sharing my email.
Thank you.

In one of the pages on my blog, I write about the different stages of alcoholism. For the most part, Riley’s drinking route follows that road map. In my opinion, Riley’s alcoholism kind of snuck up on him and once it was there it was a permanent resident. I don’t know if it is that way for most alcoholics, but no one ever says “I’m going to start drinking booze until I become so addicted that I cannot live without it.” No one has ever made a conscious decision to become an alcoholic.

Back in the Navy days of the late 70s and early 80s, alcohol was an accepted form of beverage at recreational activities. There were “beer ball games” and “initiations” and “balls” and “cook outs” – and getting drunk was a pretty accepted way of celebrating. In Riley’s case, when the recreational time was over, he had difficulty making the transition back to serious work mode. While others were able to put aside the beer and wine, Riley was hooked on the euphoric feeling of drunkenness. I don’t know of ANYONE in Riley’s group during the late 70s and early 80s who became alcoholics from all the carousing that was done during that time. There may have been – I just don’t know about it.
So, for Riley, I believe it all started honestly enough. I think he truly believed he was not an alcoholic, but thought he was able to maintain his askew mental state by drinking small amounts each day. The only problem was that as he continued to drink, he was unable to drink in large enough quantities to keep up the desired “high” that he no longer wanted – but, in fact, needed.

Brian, on the other hand, follows a different scenario. In his teenage years into his early twenties, he did all the experimentation that parents frown upon. Alcohol did not seem to be something he was most interested in – it was other drugs that called his name. But, fortunately, he out-grew that craziness and went on to a wonderful job travelling the world and enjoying his bachelor life. He became a rational, responsible young man.
Alcohol did not become a part of his life until he became involved with a woman who was an alcohol abuser. To make a very long story shorter – he ended up quitting his travelling job and trying to settle down with this woman to whom he lost his heart. His life was never the same after that. He joined her in drinking and was often as drunk as she was.  That relationship ended, but the drinking remained.

It was only three years later, that Brian’s new girlfriend tried to communicate to me that his drinking had become a problem. In my opinion, she didn’t try hard enough to make me understand what was happening. I heard bits and pieces of things – innuendos and comments – but nothing that would alarm me to take a more proactive stand.
Less than one year after that brief communication by his girlfriend, my son was dead. 

The bottom line to all this is that there is no true and correct answer to the question of how long it will take for the alcohol level to become so high as to cause death. The style and progress of the drinking doesn’t really matter. The end result is the same – death.
Steve – my suggestion to you is to honestly look at your drinking and why you are imbibing. If you’re trying to maintain a certain level of “float-y-ness” then you are certainly on your way to a life of craziness. The fact that it is disturbing to you is also a cause for concern. Ask yourself this – is drunkenness the goal of a social function or is the goal enjoyment of family and friends? Would you decline an invitation to an event that doesn’t include alcohol? Do you leave the non-alcoholic event just to find the nearest means of getting drunk? If you are drinking at lunch or going to happy hour every night – you have a problem.

No one can say for sure if someone else is an alcoholic. Only you can make the determination. But, before you decide you are NOT, maybe you should go to a few AA meetings and talk to the people there. OR just listen -- you don’t have to say anything. The meetings are free and they are taking place everywhere.
One more thing you can try – just stop drinking. After a few days you will either be anxious to find a drink or you will not really care one way or the other. But, this is a dangerous precedent because often alcoholics say “I’m not an alcoholic because I quit drinking for (X number) of days and I was fine.” But, if that alcoholic returned to drinking and increased the intake – well – Houston -- there is a problem.

There is an excellent book named “Almost Alcoholic” that may help you. I’m not sure if it’s even been released yet. It was sent to me for review. The authors are Robert Doyle, MD and Joseph Nowinski, PhD and the book is being published by Hazelden. It was supposed to be out in April 2012. I think it might answer a lot of questions for you.
In my opinion, if you have the slightest little inkling that you MIGHT have a problem with alcohol – then stop drinking. If you find out you can’t stop – seek help. Do it now. Don’t wait until you’re under hospice care in a nursing home and think that you spend each night in the back of a truck at a residential fire. Don’t wait until you have no idea where you are or where you live or the names of the people who visit you. Don’t wait until you end up like Riley.


Anonymous said...

For those seeking information on alcoholism or recovery from alcoholism, there are numerous sites available to help you, mostly written by alcoholics or those wondering if they have a problem.

Suffice it to say, if you are wondering if it's a problem, then it already is. It is a progressive and fatal "disease" or malady or illness. Once I drink one, I can't stop. There's much more to it than this, but this is an indication that alcohol is causing or going to cause problems.

Start searching! I'd give you sites to look at, but if you found this blog, I trust you can do a simple search and start reading. If I can get to one year of sobriety, you can, too. It only took me 25 years to get here (in recovery).

Linda, I hope you keep writing. Sending love to you and to Riley and the family and friends.


Syd said...

Good response, Linda. And there are many blogs out there that are written by alcoholics. The AA web site has some questions that you can answer if you think that you have a problem with alcohol. Lots of resources are available.

Linda, I sent another letter to Riley.

Gerry said...

I, too, was wondering about the difference between Riley's drinking and your son's. His deterioration as an alcoholic went so fast it is almost unbelievable, but alcohol related deaths are common among the young which can occur in many ways, from a drunk driving accident due to alcohol impairment probably the most common one.

Anonymous said...

SoberRecovery.com is a great resource for alcoholics AND loved ones. Lots of support there :)

dorothyrecovers said...

Excellent response, Linda. When I was questioning "am I or am I not," someone explained to me that non-alcoholics usually don't question whether they are an alcoholic. As anonymous said above, if someone is wondering, then there is a problem. I asked the "am I an alcoholic" question when I was 18, but didn't get help until I was 40.

Anonymous said...

Quite honestly Linda, in my initial email I had written a lot more about my personal life. I know that I have a serious issue with alcohol, though I've been able to really control it in the last few months. But again, that's the last few months.

I got two DUIs in 6 months. I've been to at least 75-80 AA meetings (mandatory) and never gained much from them except for some occasional (and limited) catharsis.

I've done the whole detox thing. High anxiety, intense nausea, horrendous nightmares. I've been through this dozens of times. I've also had to undergo a lot of mandatory alcohol/substance abuse counseling, which never really provided much for me.

I guess what I wanted to know, and this seems like such a silly question, but what kind of quantities was Riley drinking at his worst and for how long? A fifth a day, two, more?

For the time being, I'm in a much better place. I've seen a psychiatrist and been given medication used to treat Bipolar Disorder type II, which is mostly just leaves one in a perpetual depressive state. I've not been officially diagnosed, but the medication has worked well, I feel more comfortable in my own skin, and I rarely drink (and am reasonably content not to). This I've done largely on my own. No AA, no substance counseling, medication and inner strength have provided FAR more. But that's just me.

This all being said, I still wonder about my future. I' bright enough and have seen enough to know what alcohol can and will do to those with my tendencies.

But much like they say, it is the vain attempt of an alcoholic to drink like a normal person, and I can't give that up. I'm too young, I'm not ready. It's stubborn, youthful pride.

Part of me believes that my life can go on to be 'normal'... I certainly feel like my life is on that path with my current (past few months) behaviors and habits. But part of me still fears that I could end up just like Riley. There was a time not long ago I was convinced I would. It's only recently that I've regained some optimism.


Anonymous said...

By original email I meant original draft. I ended up deleting a lot and sending you much more sparse message trying to focus more on my main question: the extent of Riley's drinking at it's worst.


Linda -- Immortal Alcoholic's Wife said...

Steve -- To answer your question: Riley was drinking about 1 and a half liter's of 100 proof vodka a day at the end. I don't know how much Brian was drinking, but he preferred Captain Morgan.

Alice said...

I went into recovery in December 2006. That is, I went into my first detox then, and it was the beginning of my journey to get alcohol out of my life.

The other day, I was going past a place I used to live, in 2003 or so. I remember clearly calling in sick to work a few times so I could spend the day drinking. At the time I didn't think there was anything wrong with this.. it was just 'fun'.

I suppose my point is that my drinking became problematic years before I realised it. So, Steve, if you're worried - listen to those concerns.

Alice said...

I went into recovery in December 2006. That is, I went into my first detox then, and it was the beginning of my journey to get alcohol out of my life.

The other day, I was going past a place I used to live, in 2003 or so. I remember clearly calling in sick to work a few times so I could spend the day drinking. At the time I didn't think there was anything wrong with this.. it was just 'fun'.

I suppose my point is that my drinking became problematic years before I realised it. So, Steve, if you're worried - listen to those concerns.

BevE said...

My son liked Captain Morgan too, small world, then it was Coronas when he could afford it but lately he has started getting fifths of vodka. It's cheaper. But much more likely to cause real problems.

Personally I think the best thing anyone can do for someone is to tell them that they have a problem. Better to offend someone than look the other way.

Linda I hope things are as good as they can be for you and Riley. God bless you both.

Anonymous said...

@Steve. You will find as you get older that more of the 'normal' people who drink, drink less than they use to. The statement 'drink like normal people' is not really a true gauge to follow. If you think about it, all alcohol is not a healthy drink. I've known many normal drinkers who have had plenty of tickets and wrecks. Please realize that there are many people in their adult life that do not drink alchohol or if they do, its a special occasion. And these people are enjoying life very much. I think you are trying to find answers but you must not compare your drinking style with anyone else. Everyone reacts to alchohol in a different way. My family and I had to say a final goodbye to one of my son's childhood friends recently. He was only 36 yrs young. His life ended too short. He loved drinking. His first drink was at 10. He found ways to get alchohol. He loved parties, barbeques, sporting events and always had a drink in his hand. Be it beer or whiskey, etc. He said he loved the stuff. His body finally gave out but not in a lingering way. But rather quickly over a few months time. So, Steve, death can come quickly. By the time you realize your systems are serious, it can be too late. Don't drink like a 'normal' person - Just don't drink at all. You'll find more and more non- drinkers as you get older. Have a Virgin drink instead if you must drink. A tonic water with a lime twist. Work on a substitution if you can. A good ole American Coke isn't too bad. Remember, there is no such thing as a normal drinker. They still can face tickets, accidents and even death. Alcohol is not good for anyone really. I guess it's only good at getting hold of someone and ruining their lives. I wish you well, Mr. Steve

ADDY said...

In my husband's case, he went from normal to dead within 5 years. His addiction was so strong that he could not exist without a drink every day and by the end drank solidly from morning till night and through the night. He also believed every time he detoxed that the occasional drink would not hurt him, but of course once he started drinking again, it would lead to another and another, so that he would be on a litre of whisky every day. There comes a point when the liver cannot cope with yo-yo regeneration anymore and fails.

justtryin said...

I'm an alcoholic. 34 years old, and my life has slowly been falling apart for 5 years. i recently lost my relationship, and she kicked me out, so it looks like im going to have to stay with family until I can get on my feet. I sincerely want to stop drinking. its just so difficult to stop once you are caught in the cycle. i found your blog after looking for help for my alcoholism. Your stories are so touching, and I feel for Riley, having dealt with some of the same issues. I was a navy man as well, and can relate to alot of his feelings, as well as yours.

Anonymous said...

A lot of discussion on this site is about the alcoholic and his or her struggles. Linda, it was so good of you to mention that the whole family is in need of help and guidance. It is not only the alcoholic that suffers. May we also mention that there are happy alcoholics and their are mean & angry ones. The happy ones seem more tolerable. But for those who drink and become angry, abusive (emotional, mental & physical) and lash out are the most intolerable. The most saddest cases of them all. That is when the family must leave the alcoholic for their own safety. I chose to leave a man after 7 years of his abusive behavior towards me and our children. It was the best thing to do for both of us. After 10 more long years he finally got sober, remarried and had a wonderful life. Life is short. We all strive to be happy and all deserve to be. It is sad that so many have this horrible struggle most or all their life. So very sad that alcohol can cause such pain for the drinker and his/ her family.

jo said...

i dont know how much this will help..but here goes.

a person i know very well is 37. he has so much to live for. he has hep c and hiv now (iv drug use). prison twice, felonies. he has a beautiful 5 yr old little girl, his only one. he has been given chances upon second chances. of jobs, of housing, of love.

he has a choice. A. stop drinking, rehab, see his daughter, and live.

or B. keep drinking, drugs, and lose it all. obviously with his health, he will be dead by the time he is 40, if that long.

you want to know his choice? B. death over life. his reason? "he likes to drink".he "likes how it makes him feel". yeah, its a cop out. no working, no parenting hard parts, nothing but endless haze. that isnt life. thats death. until the real one comes along, which will be far too soon for his age. he has chosen to give up maybe 40 yrs of life for these 3 yrs or maybe afew more of mental haze, and eventual physical pain (dying with hep c liver failure is ugly--as lindas blog shows.) but riley is older. maybe someone around 10 yrs or so older than you will be more graphic to you.

i can not begin to fathom that reasoning he has.

he has now lost his beautiful daughter, for now, unless he recovers. he has lost his upteenth job. his place to live. his health. what more? he will be back in a group home of hiv/hep c addicts. a small room, 4 walls, and nothing else. his parents are done with trying. he can have free rehab...just one phone call. he refused.

i wont even pretend to understand anyone who as you said..."your pride about drinking". i survive well on non alcoholic fluids of all kinds. i am reasonably healthy at this old age of 59. i have my grandkids. i also watch my husband die slowly from his drinking.

i see nothing about alcohol or drugs that gives pride to anyone. duis...Ers...slurring speech,loss of sex ability.. ? lots of us cant have certain things. sugar, for diabetics. wheat, for gluten issues. etc.

what would make someone choose death over precious life? sure, some of life is pain.that is reality. but death is real, final pain. yet over and over i see people choosing death, even over their kids and life.

its your choice. its each of ours choice. i choose life. its far too wonderful for me to give up. from your story, you have issues. so life will not always be easy for you. drinking will add to the misery, not mask it or fix it. mixed with meds it will be worse/.

i hope you choose life. i wish i knew why anyone would choose death.

maybe looking into the eyes of my granddaughter and having her ask just today "will xxxx still be my daddy , even tho he isnt here?" , and here we are to pick up the pieces and do his job. look into 5 yr old wide eyes, innocent face, and say, yes, he is her daddy. even dead he will be.

and i pray someday he has to face her and explain it all. why he chose drinking over her. why he chose death over.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly why I never drink. I may or may not have it in me to become an alcoholic, and either way, I have no desire to find out which is the case. Besides being expensive for what it is and "idiot juice" to boot, it's hurt someone else I love far too badly for it to retain any appeal.

Eli said...

@Steve = The fact that you are questioning your drinking is A) good B) the first step in admitting, to yourself, that you might have a problem.

Tomorrow will be my 2nd-year anniversary of continuous sobriety. I am a child of a (currently) end-stage alcoholic, and the disease runs in my family. I'm not, by any means, an expert on the subject but would be happy to provide insight if you would like me to share with you outside of Linda's blog.

I WILL say that, in my experience, only those who have truly experienced addiction can really provide accurate insight on the subject. (Just as only those who have lived and dealt with an end-stage alcoholic can really know what what the experience is like. Book knowledge is handy, but it's nothing like the real thing.)

@Linda, as I've mentioned previously, your blog has provided AMAZING insight, support, empathy and understanding that I've been unable to find anywhere else. I am grateful to have this wonderful resource in order to help me deal with the end stager(s) in my life. Thank you SO much for your willingness to share your story!!

Anonymous said...

I live with an alcoholic and have for 33 long years. My spouse has been to rehab 5 times, 4 DUII, several brushes with the law and lots of fines. In 33 years we had 6 sober and a few months in between. Even after losing his sister to alcohol at 42 he continues.
He also would prefer death and has graduated up to a fifth of whiskey and 15 beers a day. He lost his kidney six months ago. The worst thing the doc said was " you don't have Cirrhosis" "well you do have fatty liver" All he heard was no cirrhosis and it was open season. I watch him decline every day.
We seperated many times and then he would sober up but it was always short lived. The kids are all grown and gone and the past five years have been pretty bad. I too stay only because I don't want my kids to have to care for him and I have health insurance on him.
Each night is something different with constant redirection and cueing a full blown dementia person. He no longer is able to work simple tasks like the microwave, remote control, alarm clock, he can not remember our kids phone numbers or where they are posted. He can't be left alone in the house without supervision because he trys to cook and leaves the burners on, leaves cigarettes burning out on the porch and has started a fire on the porch, he's had multiple injuries from falls then makes up stories because he can't remember what happened. To look at him you would think he looks pretty good a little yellowish complexion, some speech issues but, spend an evening with him and you get the full picture of an end stage alcoholic after 35 years of heavy drinking. He's only 51 now.
Amazingly he continues to work although he misses a lot of work and has been written up for alcohol and missing work.It is common for him to miss two to three days straight because he's "sick" but, that does not stop him from a fifth & 15 beers even if he's vomitting.
I gave up trying to save him a long time ago. Now I just try to keep him safe.
When we were 18 and 19 who knew that this is what "a few beers" would end up like.
@ Steve If your asking yourself if you have a problem...you have a problem.

Furtheron said...

As the last comment says - if you are thinking you have a problem - you have a problem?

Seek help - that maybe something you can do without stopping, I don't know... but for me I was over the line for years and years before I sought help - there are many people like you coming to AA daily don't be afraid to try it

Katherine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katherine said...

Linda, I just found your site tonight. My father is a late-stage alcoholic; in fact he was just put back in the hospital today after more alcohol related seizures. He has been in end stage once before when I was a teenager, went to rehab, but it never stuck.

Over the past ten years he has:

-tried to kill himself 3 times, one of these attempts left him permanently scarred with dozens of cuts on wrist and neck

-received too many DUIs and spent 6 months in jail

-finally diagnosed bipolar

-confirmed permanent brain damage from 40 years of drinking

-lost his marriage, of course he blamed my mom

-been homeless

-missed my wedding

-ruined my sister's college graduation by arriving drunk and starting a fight

-lost contact with his daughters after too much scary, threatening behavior

-victimized his 90 year old mother by taking her money and moving her out of her safe retirement home so he could live off her elsewhere now that he is permanently jobless.

I don't expect him to live out the year, two at the most. He is 52. You others who say "I'm not that bad" please realize that this man was a Who's who student in HS, went to college pre-med on an academic scholarship, and was able to keep up a good front for many years. It is a PROGRESSIVE disease and just like an untreated cancer, the farther along it gets the less chance there is of recovery. Don't waste your life- or forever damage the people youlove.

Linda, so sorry for what you are going through. Love and good thoughts.