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Chloe enjoyed sharing a bottle of wine with her husband during dinner at their favorite restaurant on Saturday night. When the book club gathered at her house, the wine flowed like water, and everyone always had a good time. Somewhat of an introvert, a few glasses of wine helped her loosen up and be more engaged. For years, Chloe was a social drinker.

When her husband Dave lost his job as a marketing analyst, the stress ratcheted up between them. They struggled to make ends meet on her salary as a dental hygienist. For months, Chloe’s occasional glass of wine morphed into a nightly ritual of one and sometimes two glasses. It became a way to unwind after a long day at work to blur the growing stress between her and Dave.

When COVID hit, Chloe found herself stocking up on large bottles of wine. Her nightly ritual of one or two glasses became three, sometimes four. These were unusual times, she told herself, it’s just temporary. Besides, during her last Zoom book club, it sounded like everyone else was pretty much doing the same thing: Hunkering down and drinking. There’s no harm in that, she thought.

Increasingly, Chloe found herself watching the clock, waiting for 5 pm to pour that first cold glass of wine. Then 4 pm became acceptable. Once she started, she found it hard to stop. “Just one more,” she’d say, finishing off another bottle by herself, once again.

How could Chloe have known that she was gradually crossing the line into alcoholism?

The answer to that question is as elusive as the disease of addiction itself. Drinking alcohol in moderation is acceptable in our society, and why shouldn’t it be? The universe of alcoholic beverages available to us includes fine wines, craft beers, top-shelf liquors, and an astounding variety of specialty cocktails.

While some can enjoy a drink or two without the fear of becoming an alcoholic, others will end up out of control, damaging their health and relationships. Some will lose their life to the disease. During the COVID lockdown, alcohol sales shot up 55%. Online sales have increased by more than 200%. Turning to alcohol during times of stress and isolation can be one of the most dangerous ways to cope.

Chloe’s story is not unique. Alcoholism cuts across all ages and demographics: rich or poor; black or white; addiction does not discriminate. Alcoholism is medically defined as a chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal disease. It is no different from any other drug addiction—those suffering from alcoholism experience relentless cravings, an increased tolerance, and physical dependence on alcohol. Despite the negative consequences of damaging their health, relationships, they continue to abuse alcohol. 

 

Signs of Alcoholism

 Understanding the signs of alcoholism and abuse is vital. Self-awareness and the willingness to take an honest look at your behavior are essential to making positive changes and recovery. Needing more and more alcohol to create the desired effect is one of the first red flags that you are building tolerance. Awareness at this stage may allow you to slow down and regain control.

Those who cannot see the pattern are more likely to get pulled into the downward spiral where the alcohol takes charge and begins to dictate your choices. At this point, losing control over how much alcohol you consume at any given time is not uncommon. Needing to have a drink to stop withdrawal is a clear sign of crossing the line from abuse to addiction. Symptoms include nausea, shakiness, anxiety, sweating, and, with more severe cases, seizures, delirium, or hallucinations. 

Awareness is no longer enough because the cravings and impulses will override your desire to stop. This is one of the most elusive and damaging aspects of alcoholism. Once it has physically taken hold of the body, it blinds the alcoholic from being objective or rational in their behavior.  

At this stage, cravings for alcohol are so physically intense; they are likely to override any attempt at quitting. The problem is beginning to take a toll on the quality of life: getting into arguments with friends or loved ones, missing work and important events, or classes to drink. You are no longer in control of your alcohol consumption. 

 

Finding Sobriety

While a substance abuse problem can destroy your life, getting it under control as soon as possible can minimize the damage. Taking an honest look at yourself, and admitting you have a problem is the hardest but the most empowering step you can take to overcome it. Since the path that you choose now can impact you for the rest of your life, it’s important to make the right call.

Asking for help is a sign of strength, not a weakness. Getting sober from alcohol can be physically dangerous. Entering a medically monitored detox program or having a physician monitor you advisable.

After detoxing, some require a 28-day program to help them obtain a firm footing with their sobriety. Others may choose to enter an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). This type of treatment, run by a licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC), meets three-hour sessions, three to four times per week. This option is ideal for those unable to enter a residential program due to work and family obligations. Others have found success in weekly AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings.

 

What is essential to know is that help is always available, and recovery is possible.

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