The holiday season is here and with it comes an increased acceptance that getting wasted is the social norm. Which is fine for normal drinkers, but for alcoholics the Christmas season poses the risk of relapse and endangers themselves and everyone around them.
According to a book by Sarah Allen Benton on high-functioning alcoholics - you know the type, outwardly successful, or perhaps you don't because they are really good at hiding it - US research shows that 60% of alcoholism is genetic yet it has never been medically recognised as a hereditary disease and therefore early diagnosis and treatment is practically non-existent.
Alcoholics are pretty much left to discover and diagnose themselves then navigate through the myriad of treatments out there, which can be a long and painful process for all involved. Should I try rehab? Detox? AA? Psycho- therapy? CBT? The list goes on and on and just like anything in life there is no easy formula for one fits all.
It can be daunting to someone who has self-diagnosed their disposition to drink. If they even get that far. High-functioning alcoholics view themselves as successful people. They don't equate their dysfunctional drinking with images of the drunk on the park bench or the abusive parent because they hold down middle class lives, own property, have successful jobs, marry and have children.
They live among us. They are people we aspire to, we trust; Doctors, lawyers, judges, pilots and media professionals. The latter rings true to me as a journalist and author, because I have recently lost someone I love to the bottle. It has become the theme of my next novel, perhaps as a way of processing what happened to me.
It can be extremely challenging loving an alcoholic. And I discovered, as this took hold of the greater part of my life, that almost every individual I have talked to about my love affair with an alcoholic has themselves been affected by it in some way. I have come to the conclusion that it is an epidemic of modern life. A disease that is rampantly destroying the lives of thousands if not millions of people every day and yet it is still not taken seriously.
I reached out to friends, family, colleagues and professionals because I needed to feel sane at a time when my life was going through the kind of stress that I had no way of minimising. The only solution it seemed was to cut this person out of my life for good. One helpline I spoke to described it simply as 'madness'. But then there is also the knowledge that alcoholism is a curable disease and there in lies the hope. The hope that a person can change. That they can cure themselves and live a life free from the disease.
I have sat in group meetings for those affected by alcoholism. I have sought out therapy to better understand the illness. Therapy taught me that I was enabling my loved one's drinking habits by trying to keep the peace. By ignoring what was happening. I thought I was helping him by picking up the pieces after a ten day bender, but I wasn't. I was allowing him to continually seek a safe place to get drunk again.
It's tough in the UK. Most social events revolve around the pub and drinking. And even if you don't want to drink, your colleagues and friends bully you to have a drink when you dither about what to have by the bar. Fine for normal drinkers, but for alcoholics who live in denial the worst thing you can do is buy them a drink. Because simply put; you are not being a true friend. You are merely enabling their drinking.
You may think to yourself you don't want to get involved, it's not your business, but if you are a friend then it is your business. Enabling an alcoholic prevents them from living a fulfilled life, let alone the fact that you are probably lowering their life expectancy. Mood swings and bad decision making are part of drinking because over an extended period alcohol affects the frontal part of the brain. The part that deals with these areas.
The most widely accepted way an alcoholic can be free from the thoughts that consume them regarding booze is to abstain. There are mixed reports on controlled drinking treatments. I thought my friend would be able to moderate his drinking, but that hasn't materialised in practise.
Controlled drinking or drinking in moderation has proven to be ineffective for most high-functioning alcoholics because all it does is occupy a dysfunctional drinker with thoughts on how to moderate booze, rather than being free from thinking about it as most normal drinkers are while not drinking.
If you have a friend who you know is an alcoholic, maybe he had a driving ban a year ago, or perhaps you have lost them on a night out because they were so wasted, please please stop and think before you buy them a drink this holiday period. You are not helping them to live a longer healthy life. You are doing the opposite. We must as a society stop living in denial about this disease and take it seriously which means tackling it head on.
Here's to a sober Christmas period for all of you who recognise the disease and for those of you who haven't quite got there yet, best of luck in getting treatment. You need it before you endanger the people around you. Accept you may have been predisposed to alcoholism through the simple act of being born. It is no one's fault. Not yours. Not your parents. Not your loved ones. I hope you find the courage to cure yourself. Wishing you a very merry sober Christmas period.