Alcohol a tradition that has been around since the ancient times, such as in Egypt or China has always seemed to be a useful social function. Alcohol by the way it stimulates the brain chemical GABA (which reduces anxiety and tension within individuals) makes people more social, talkative and “free spirited”. However, alcohol can also make people more aggressive, emotional and sad due to its effects on the amygdala. This part of the brain regulates emotional responses in someone, and also registers emotional responses in other people. Due to alcohol stimulating this area of the brain, emotional responses might be more intense to slight triggering stimuli.
Social drinkers seem to be everywhere, and due to the fact that alcohol is legal, it is a hard addiction to spot. However, it is one of the most prevalent addictions in North America.
(please note that the below criteria is extremely general and does not replace or substitute therapy. If you do suspect someone you know if suffering, please contact a health care professional/psychiatrist/social worker Active Minds is a community promoting mental health awareness but we are not licensed. Please be aware the below statements are general guidelines)
Here are signs to be aware of, if you suspect someone is an alcoholic:
Shows up intoxicated to the workplace, family events or with their friends (when it is inappropriate)
If you notice your friend drinking more than usual, especially at times when they would have no problem being sober that is a red flag
Seems to lose interest in other aspects of life
Maybe this person really enjoyed playing soccer, volunteering or going out to art galleries. Whichever the hobby, if the person no longer seems interested in doing activities that they once loved, this is a red flag.
Moody and irritable when sober
Everyone has bad days but when you consistently notice your friend being angrier or lashing out at others more than usual, this is a red flag.
Change of social groups
If you notice your friend stopped hanging out with you, or their old friends anymore, and hangs with a new crowd. Question why that is and observe these new friends.
Doesn’t like to be alone
There are all times where people feel lonely, but if someone has to constantly be around others/avoid being alone that is a red flag for an underlying problem. However, not everyone who suffers from alcoholism is social. There are many alcoholics who prefer to be alone. So gauge this symptom with caution.
When they drink they seem to be unstable
Everyone has drunken bad nights but alcoholics seem to experience more of the adverse effects to alcoholism due to them consuming it frequently. Examples of this are: always crying, becoming aggressive/yelling/becoming violent with themselves or others, being controlling, demanding, using intimidation to get what they want. However, not everyone who becomes unstable when they drink is an alcoholic. Again, gauge this symptom with caution.
If you have tried to tactfully talk to your friend about your concerns with their drinking, and they brush you off, are dismissive or get angry at you, that is a red flag. This shows that they do not want to admit to themselves the problem. The first step in any addiction is admitting you are addicted and many alcoholics do not reach that point.
Neglect other aspects of life
This ties into loosing interest in other aspects of life, but you know this addiction has progressed when other aspects of their life are not being taken care of. It is one thing to lose interest in school; it is another to be failing all of your classes. If someone is chronically self-sabotaging whether it be with their social relationships, work or school that is definitely a red flag.
They lie constantly
This one seems obvious, but most people do not realize an alcoholics lies until after. Due to their subconscious guilt they feel, they do not want to tell others their true feelings/actions. If what your friend is saying is not adding up more than usual, that is a red flag. For example: they told you they were at their cousin’s birthday on Friday so they couldn’t come see you but you saw pictures of them at a bar on social media. If this is a frequent occurrence, that is something to look into.
They hide their bottles
You never really know how much people drink until you see their empty bottle stashed in their closest. This is one of the tell-tale signs of an alcoholic, since it admits guilt. If someone drinks to the point of feeling ashamed, that is a red flag.
They drink alone
This is the most significant sign of any addiction, when they start abusing the substance alone. Maybe you have a drink or two alone, but when someone is chronically drinking alone that is worth bringing up and seeking help for that person.
Help and support is always available for those suffering with addiction through crisis centres, help lines and AA. The worst thing you can do for someone who is an alcoholic is to stop talking to them/seeing them. Many people drink to underlying trauma, physical pain, unable to afford proper medication, to relax, interpersonal problems etc.
Many alcoholics drink to be social, to feel connected to others. Alcohol provides an escape from the unbearable loneliness they feel (or have become to feel due to their addiction). Alcoholism usually only gets worse when friends and family dismiss the alcoholic and cut them out of their life. It is a cry for help. It is always a complicated relationship when someone wants love but also wants to escape the pain.
Please note that the causes of alcoholism are complicated and are not straightforward. It is a combination of the psychological, social and biological aspect of a person. Genetic factors due play an important role when considering addiction – those who have family members with addiction problems are more likely to be addicted. Due to their predisposed neurochemistry within their brains.
Please also note that addiction is not a choice nor are the above criteria implying this. At a certain point people physically need alcohol to function due to their body becoming habituated with the chemical. Quitting cold turkey for a long standing alcoholic may be dangerous – please contact a healthcare professional if you are thinking of becoming sober.
The best thing you can do for someone suffering is to let them you know you love them. Let them know you are always available to talk, that you are supportive. Since judging them and lecturing will most likely drive the alcoholic away, since they figure you will just criticize them. Criticism will cause alcoholics to drink more, due to their guilty feelings. Remember that, “you cannot save people, you can only love them”.