Being Available and Understanding: Why it Helps Conquer Alcoholism
It’s difficult for many adults in the UK to understand and appreciate the truth of alcoholism: that it is a disease. After all, how can it be so when the decision to begin heavy drinking is something that is just that – a decision? This train of thought leads many towards the easy adoption of stigmas and misconceptions around alcoholism, many of which cause harm to those struggling to free themselves from addiction to it.
Officially speaking, alcoholism (known medically as Alcohol Use Disorder) is defined as a relapsing disease of the brain which is characterised by a loss of control over alcohol consumption and negative physical and mental symptoms when not used. For the average person, understanding alcohol more clearly begins with the step of viewing it as an obsession both physical and mental; the alcoholic can’t control their desire to drink, no matter the consequences to health, loved ones and their life as a whole.
It can help to compare the notion of alcoholic cravings to other compulsions we have in our regular lives. By itself, it can be difficult to conceive the uncontrollable urge to drink. But what of the song we can’t get out of our heads as we drive to work, or the sweet tooth craving we can have crop up to test our resolve? The average person lives alongside many compulsions in their daily lives; you can even have a positive compulsion for an activity like exercise.
Alcoholism is similar but, of course, has a far more severe consequence to quality of life – and the quality of life of those dearest and closest to us. Although addiction therapy and rehabilitation can help an alcoholic to understand and manage their compulsion better, it’s a voice that will never entirely disappear.
How stigmas hurt alcoholics
Stigmas exist in many areas of our society, and the stigma of alcoholism is one that subtly yet significantly affects those struggling with alcohol abuse and dependency.
Once alcohol consumption has progressed into addiction, the individual wrestles every day with the desire to drink. Behaviour that can seem impossible to understand and eminently harmful from the outside is explained simply by the fact that they cannot control the need to drink every day. Part of the classification of the severity of alcohol misuse is the impact it has on career, friends and loved ones, with full-blown alcoholism involving a person who must prioritise drinking over all these important considerations.
From the outside, it’s understandable: how can you love and support someone who is acting in a way that can harm? Although it’s important to never enable harmful behaviour from an alcoholic, it’s similarly vital to frame the actions of one struggling with addiction as being tied strongly to their uncontrollable urge to drink. With dedication, rehabilitation and professional support, the disease can be tamed.
The importance of a non-judgemental attitude
By not judging a person struggling with alcohol abuse, you make it easier for them to trust and open up to you. Addiction thrives in isolation, with the support of professionals, friends and loved ones forming a network of care and attention that sustains recovery and sobriety.
Although it’s important to have firm boundaries when trying to help and support a person misusing alcohol, it’s equally beneficial to make yourself available emotionally to them. Although it may be something never spoken out loud, the knowledge that a person struggling with addiction to alcohol can turn to someone close for comfort and help can be decisive in helping them to avoid relapsing.
For most alcoholics, relapsing is a risk that declines over the first five years of sobriety. Although it never disappears entirely, it is something that diminishes over time, with the first days, weeks and months of sobriety being the most challenging. With the help of professional rehabilitation and addiction therapy – and the support of loved ones and friends – an alcoholic or alcohol-dependent person can draw on a diverse arsenal to help them fight their urge to drink when any particular craving or trigger occurs.