Of course, we all know the easy way to spot an alcoholic: red face, preoccupation with alcohol, unable to stop drinking once started etc etc. But today I am going to share with you some insight on characteristics of an alcoholic you may not know. Keep in mind, that what applies to spotting an alcoholic also applies to spotting a relapse because drinking alcohol is only a symptom of a greater problem inside the heads and hearts of people inflicted with the disease.
- Anger and resentment- This is nothing new to someone who is in AA. The whole book is written around this subject. Alcoholics have a pattern of being angry and resentful. Often, if I am on social media and I see someone with hostile posts I instantly become suspicious. Alcoholics are triggered by what they deem to be unfair acts against them especially when it comes to close relationships. The disease makes it very difficult for the alcoholic to not take someone’s actions personal. However, in recovery we learn that even the most atrocious acts of unkindness are not personal and we are taught to believe what other people say about us is none of our business.
- Comorbidity- Almost all alcoholics have secondary afflictions of the spirit, mind and body that manifest prior to the age we begin drinking. I suffer from anxiety and depression. Always have. In recovery, we are bonded by identifying in each other the same twisted personality traits. It seems like everything we feel is to the extreme. Alcoholics are extremely sensitive. In alcohol we look for relief in caring so much about anything and everything.
- Big Plans but No Follow Thru- The brain of an alcoholic is very different than a person who is not inflicted. The pleasure centers of our brain are not naturally full and it takes action every day to get into a pleasurable space. Alcohol replaces action in a way that we think of a big ideas, sometimes brilliant ideas, that are never completed due the fact that the intake of alcohol gives us the same reward response as if we had actually followed through on goal or a task. For example, when I want to write a book, if I drink I most likely will never write the book because alcohol makes me feel as if I had already done the work. This is why in recovery action is far more important than thought. Someone in relapse will begin slowly not to accomplish anything that is important for daily functioning and in the grander scheme of life.
- A Track Record- This is very hard for alcoholics to see. We feel things are happening to us. That we are just unlucky. It is very difficult for an alcoholic to link their drinking as a consequence of what they choose. An alcoholic does not have to be drunk to make bad decisions. Once again, drinking is only a symptom that masks what drives a person to be reckless, irresponsible and sometimes very foolish. And the next thing we know we have multiple situations transpiring at once but cannot figure out why. For instance, we get in fights with significant others, our bills are not paid or we lack money, our health deteriorates and we stop doing things that we usually love all at the same time. When someone is in their disease it is almost impossible for them to be accountable because their disease wants more alcohol. I know that is hard for a normal person to understand but it true.
- Unhealthy Boundaries- I am not sure if our inability to have healthy boundaries starts in the family of origin who is likely full of other alcoholics or if it is just the nature of the disease. But alcoholics do not have healthy boundaries. They are often promiscuous, codependent and often expect others to do for them what they should be doing for themselves. They are abusive and they let themselves be abused. They do not know where they begin as a person and others start. This is very hard to master even in sobriety because our extreme feelings and thinking tend to create scenarios both in our heads and in our lives that cross lines of respectability and human decency.
- Great Senses of Humor- Recovering alcoholics know how to laugh at themselves. They are usually very funny with off color remarks and ideas. The way we view the world is quite different than a normal person and we are not afraid to embrace that side of themselves because they are usually rewarded by other people for it.
- Moderation in Moderation- Alcoholics are all or nothing thinkers. Balance is just not in our vocabulary. If we eat, we eat a lot, if we exercise,we exercise a lot, if we love we love far too much and we don’t see much reason to change. We have a history of doing everything in our life to excess. Once again, we have a blind spot. We are unable to match our thinking with our behavior. We do not see the link unless we are practicing being mindful. I do not think being moderate ever becomes easy for someone even they have years of sobriety. That is why it is helpful to go to meetings, have a sponsor and be able to tell on ourselves. Otherwise, we slowly or quickly unravel into some sort of extreme.
- A Need to be Special- Alcoholics almost always feel that they do not fit in. Because of this, they have a desire to be more “special” than their peers. They truly believe they are superior because of it. But at the same time, being special creates distance which in turn breeds loneliness. One of the greatest things I learned was to find the similarities I have with my fellows if I want to feel fulfilled in my relationships.
This list is not extensive. But it can tip a person off to know if someone has a problem with an alcohol problem. I usually can spot someone right a way. However, it is seldom useful to tell a person that they are alcoholic. An alcoholic usually can figure this out on some level and either desperately tries to hide it or is willing to seek help.