Understanding the Cycle of Alcoholism
There are many factors that can contribute to alcoholism including the environment, lifestyle, and genetics. This issue can affect both men and women of almost any nationality, race, and social group. While the causes of alcoholism are still being studied, the behavior of those who abuse alcohol are often cyclic, and friends and family of those affected may want to learn how to spot the different stages they may encounter when they try to intervene.
About the Cycle
When people who drink begin to abuse alcohol to the point where it is noticeable, those around them may notice that they tend to binge and recover in a predictable pattern. This occurs mostly because of chemicals in the brain that drive their behavior in an action-reward cycle that can include the following phases:
- Craving alcohol
- Binge drinking
- Increased tolerance to alcohol
- Unpredictable behavior that leads to negative consequences
- Promises to quit or seek help
In some cases, many alcoholics may even begin to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and appear to be in recovery. However, unless the root of the problem is uncovered, relapse is likely to occur and the cycle will begin again.
The Start of the Cycle
When people who drink on occasion or socially begin to drink daily or binge drink every weekend, there may be a trigger that sets off their behavior. These can include the severe illness or death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or increasing hidden mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. Those who begin to abuse alcohol gradually may be able to hide their behavior for some time before it becomes apparent.
There are several ways loved ones can spot increasing alcohol abuse. For example, if the individual in question may pull away from family, stop attending gatherings, and make excuses for doing so, New habits, such as constant gum chewing or crunching on breath mints, may point toward increased drinking as the drinker tries to mask the odor of beer or distilled spirits.
As those who abuse alcohol and continue to drink more every day, their tolerance to the high may become stronger. As a result, they drink even more per day and may even go on what is called a bender, where they remain drunk for days or even weeks, chasing the high. Some may vanish as they develop a kind of mental tunnel vision and cannot see anything but their next drink. They may also refuse intervention at this point because they believe their behavior is not a problem.
The Almost Alcoholic
Those who are entering the cycle for the first time may enter an area between true alcoholism and what is called almost alcoholic. These are individuals who have not yet crossed the line into true addiction yet but drink every day and may even have occasional binges. Almost alcoholics might be surprised to know that others believe they have a problem with drinking.
When To Intervene
It can be difficult to watch a loved one fall into the cycle of alcohol abuse, especially when his or her drinking causes negative consequences such as a drunk driving charge or aggressive behavior that results in an injury. Intervention may still be possible at any stage of the cycle, but it can be important to be prepared for resistance on behalf of the drinker. Those who are functioning alcoholics may deny that they are out of control and can quit on their own whenever they want. This is usually due to denial, especially if the drinker has begun to develop higher tolerance.
The cycle of alcohol addiction can be difficult to face, especially for those who wish to intervene and end it. Knowing how to spot the signs and symptoms of each stage may make it easier to help those in crisis get help.