Counselling at an alcoholism clinic is a respected and often successful approach to treating the disease of alcoholism. Those suffering from this illness are generally not regarded in a positive light; in fact they are often categorised as a stereotypical alcoholic who starts drinking early in the morning and hides their liquor in a brown paper bag.
However, many people who have the disease of alcoholism do not show these extreme behaviours and characteristics. Similarly, many people who are not alcoholics and merely abuse alcohol are finding themselves under scrutiny from family and friends as suffering from alcoholism.
So when does a person qualify as having alcoholism and when are they merely abusing alcohol?
Defining alcohol abuse is simple – it is the over indulgence in alcohol, either in single occurrences (known as Binge Drinking) or with regularity. For pregnant women or under age minors nearly any drinking of alcohol constitutes abuse. Continued excessive alcohol abuse can lead to physical harm and alcoholism. It is common in today’s society for people to overindulge on alcohol. New Year celebrations, birthdays, weddings, graduations, job offers, break-ups, death, job losses; these are all occasions where it is perfectly acceptable to drink heavily.
Continuous abuse of alcohol generally leads to negative consequences. It is when these negative consequences begin to multiply that an abuser realises that their behaviour is causing negative consequences in their lives and they decide that it is best to stop. This is what separates alcohol abuse from alcoholism: an alcoholic cannot stop drinking, or if they do stop drinking, they don’t stay stopped for long.
What is alcoholism?
Clinics have been around treating alcoholism for many decades. Alcoholism needs clinical care as it’s an obsessive and compulsive need to consume alcohol. All addictions are characterised by a mental obsession and physical compulsion. Whilst alcoholism may have begun as alcohol abuse, the disease of alcoholism is progressive. Friends of an alcoholic may have drunk every drop as much as the alcoholic to begin with, but abusers will know when enough is enough.
An alcoholic can never seem to get enough alcohol. What is the difference between these two people, the abuser and the alcoholic? The alcoholic, despite all the negative consequences in their lives, despite all the warning signs of impending doom, cannot stop drinking. What is it that makes an alcoholic carry on drinking and an abuser stop? This is what is known as the disease of alcoholism. Clinical treatment of Alcoholism as a disease The “disease model” of counselling methods sees alcoholism as exactly that: a disease. This school of thought believes that many alcoholics are born as alcoholics and have an allergic reaction to alcohol.
The first drink begins a reaction that was destined to occur since birth. Many alcoholics report feeling ‘different’ from a young age and can see elements of the obsessive and compulsive nature of the disease evident in many areas of their lives from childhood. Once an alcoholic has had their first drink and continues to drink over time, the symptoms of the disease may not be noticeable at first. The disease is considered progressive in nature, and thus the symptoms (drinking) worsen over time. There is no cure for this illness and the treatment includes admission to an alcoholism clinic to increase the likelihood of a good prognosis.
It is believed that alcoholism can be arrested, through stopping drinking, but not cured. This means that alcoholics cannot regain the ability to drink socially. The first time an alcoholic consumes alcohol, and each time they consume alcohol thereafter, they experience an effect of the disease known as “powerlessness.” This term was coined by the 12 step programmes and refers to what is clinically known as “loss of control”. This effect sees the sufferer lose control over their consumption. So if a person develops alcoholism; what was intended to be one beer may very well turn into a three day alcohol binge. The scary thing about being an alcoholic and what makes treatment at an alcoholism clinic so necessary is that once they start drinking the alcoholic has no control over where they’ll end up, how much they’ve drunk and what the consequences of their actions will be.
Often people in the grips of alcoholism suffer black-outs and have no recollection of what they’ve done. This can be devastating is you’re involved in a motor vehicle accident, have unprotected sex or similar. This is what loss of control and powerlessness mean.
Despite these ongoing severe costs to their drinking, the alcoholic will try to get away with drinking one more time. Alcoholism dictates that this time ‘will be different’ that the alcoholic will somehow better manage, control, and shape the outcome of their drinking. This is why an alcoholic can be abstinent for years, have one drink and find themselves utterly powerless over their drinking once more. It is that first drink which will lead to an alcoholic’s downfall, and always will be. This allergic reaction to alcohol is why management of the disease at an alcoholism clinic is imperative.
Clinical Treatment of Alcoholism
I hope this has helped to distinguish the differences between alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Abuse is over indulgence without the disease of alcoholism being present, and over indulgence that is a little compulsive and reckless to a point. Alcoholism is the complete and total loss of control and continuous use of alcohol despite negative consequences under the presence of the disease of alcoholism for a prolonged period of time.
Addictions counsellors at alcoholism clinics often refrain from diagnosing teenagers as alcoholics, as it can be normal to experiment and test limits when growing up. It’s interesting to note that for an adolescent to drink at all is considered abuse because it’s illegal.
Teenagers are undergoing incredible emotional and psychological development so any heavy drinking on a regular basis can play havoc with their life trajectory. There are specialist alcoholism clinics that deal with teenagers that may have behavioural problems and substances abuse issues. Whilst alcohol abuse in teenagers may indicate some underlying problem, it does not mean that they are an alcoholic.
Alcoholism is an illness that is similar to drug addiction, eating disorders, sex addiction, gambling addiction and co-dependency. Whilst the symptoms are different, the disease is one and the same. It encourages the sufferer to escape uncomfortable feelings and everyday life responsibilities.