What exactly are the consequences of being alcoholic? What are the ramifications of a life lived in addiction if you do not make any attempt to arrest your disease?
Let’s take a closer look and see where things are likely to end up if a struggling alcoholic does not take action.
The downward spiral of addiction
They have a saying in recovery: “Jails, institutions, and death.” These are the endpoints of alcoholism if it is left unchecked. So if you continue to drink then you can expect to end up with one of these consequences at some point. Most alcoholics will eventually experience all three of them at some point or another.
It is important to realize that addiction of any sort is progressive in nature. This means that it gets worse over time. It can be very difficult to notice this when you are the one who is addicted, so you will need to make a special effort in order to realize this if you are the one who is stuck in addiction. In other words, you need to start measuring.
In particular, you might need to watch what you say. Many alcoholics will justify their drinking without really realizing it. If you are justifying your drinking then you can be sure that it is either out of control or it is right on the border of being out of control.
One way that alcoholics love to justify their drinking is to compare themselves to other people. There is always going to be an alcoholic who is far worse off than you are because many alcoholics have drank themselves to death, while you are obviously still alive. Therefore it is an easy justification for any struggling alcoholic to look at others and compare themselves and to then declare: “See? I’m not that bad.”
It’s not that bad. Yet.
I’ve never done that….yet!
There is another thing that they talk about in recovery circles, and that is the “yets.”
This is another way that the alcoholic will justify their drinking. They will compare themselves to others, and they will say “See? I’m not really so bad. I may drink, but at least I don’t drink so much that I drive my car (while drunk) into oncoming traffic, like that person did there.”
But then if you are paying attention here, you can follow up that little comparison that they just made with the word “yet.” True, they have not killed anyone while driving drunk……yet. Always add the “yet” at the end of their comparison.
Because that is the truth! They haven’t killed anyone yet, but they certainly may if they continue to drink like an alcoholic monster. This is the nature of true addiction. It is progressive. Does that mean that they will definitely kill someone in the future if they continue to drink?
Not necessarily. But let me tell you a story.
There was a time in my own journey when I was drinking alcohol every day and smoking marijuana. My life was turning into a mess and the people who cared about me urged me to get professional help. I was not ready to stop drinking so I made all sorts of excuses as to why I should not seek help or go to rehab.
A few of my “yets” that I declared at that time included things like:
“I’ve never driven a car while I was drinking” (yet).
“I’ve never used hard drugs such as cocaine” (yet).
“I’ve never lost a job or got into trouble as a result of my drinking” (yet).
Those were just a quick sampling of some of my excuses, some of my “yets.” And wouldn’t you know it? Every single one of those particular “yets” ended up coming true later on as I continued to drink and use drugs.
Now there were some other “yets” that I mentioned that did not come true as well. For example, “My drinking hasn’t killed me” (yet).
But hopefully you can see the point here. If you are an alcoholic then you must realize that the disease is progressive in nature. It just keeps getting worse and therefore the consequences that you experience will continue to get worse over time. It can happen rather slowly so that you will not really notice it because you are too busy justifying your drinking. Not every “yet” that you think of will come true, but if you continue to drink or use drugs then you can be sure that some of the “yets” will definitely come true.
That is a really important point for someone who might still be stuck in denial and struggling to get sober. Think of some of your “yets.” Now realize that some of them (not all, but some) are definitely going to come true if you continue to drink. This simple truth is based on the progressive nature of the disease.
Isolation and how it creeps into your life slowly
If you talk to an older alcoholic who is completely isolated and shuts themselves away and drinks all day, they will not even remember exactly how it got to be that way. They will remember a time when they interacted with people much more and were social. But somehow they ended up isolating themselves, and they will probably not even be able to describe how it happened.
Isolation happens because our drinking gets worse and worse. If you are a serious alcoholic then you will continue to put your drinking first in your life, meaning that instead of doing something about your problem so that you can socialize again, you will instead remove yourself from social situations so that they do not interfere with your drinking.
That’s all isolation is about, really. You are just finding it inconvenient to be around others while you are trying to get hammered. So you slowly start to avoid people more and more.
I was noticing this in my own life due to having blackouts. It was very, very scary to go through a blackout and realize that I was walking around, socializing with people, and yet I had no recollection of what I might have said or did. Even for an alcoholic who basically hates himself, this is a terrifying realization. So this is what drove me to start to isolate, to start to drink by myself more often, to avoid going out into public while I was drinking. It was far safer to keep myself hidden away while I was consuming alcohol.
The insanity of this is not that I wanted to isolate, but the insanity is that I maintained my denial through this realization, and I continued to tell myself that alcohol was a great drug, that it was still the thing that made me happy in life, and that I needed to drink every day in order to be happy. This is insanity. If you are so messed up that you basically decide that you are not fit to be around other people any more and that you should drink alcohol all day while locked away in your dungeon or your basement, then that is pretty sad. I cannot believe that I had reached that point in my life and yet I could not see that I was miserable, that alcohol was the problem, that alcohol was what was making me miserable. This is denial. If your alcoholism has progressed so far that you are starting to isolate more and more then you have to ask yourself if you are still truly happy with the outcome. Why would you keep drinking unless it made you happy? This is the truth, but through our denial we try to convince ourselves that even though we have to lock ourselves away in a dungeon in order to drink safely that we are still somehow happy.
Make no mistake, isolation is part of the progressive nature of addiction. If you are noticing any amount of isolation due to your disease then you have progressed quite a bit already, and you should really start to think about making a change. All it takes is one moment of surrender to realize that you need to ask for help and go to rehab. You can turn your life around in an instant.
Happiness versus simply existing by drinking every day
Another level of your denial has to do with happiness.
When I took my first drink I was happy for a day. I was excited because I had found a magic potion that had the power to alter my mood so profoundly. It took me from being angry, bored, or sad to instantly being happy. I was amazed that this magic potion could do this.
Of course, in the end the magic potion quit working so well. This is called tolerance, and it happens to every alcoholic in the long run. Your tolerance will change as a result of your alcoholism. It is part of the progression.
Along with a changing tolerance, something else will change as well.
When you first get drunk (or high on a drug) the experience is amazing because it is so new to you. You are exploring a new feeling, a new sensation. That is part of what makes it so neat.
After you get drunk every day for ten years straight, this sensation is no longer new to you. In fact, it is normal now. Being drunk or high becomes completely normal, because you do it every day. It becomes your default state of being. You are always drinking, so even when you get really tanked, it is not that unique any more. It is old news.
This is similar to the idea of tolerance but it is actually different. Because even if you drink more and reach the same level of drunkenness, you become more and more used to that state of being and it is no longer as exciting for you. And you will realize over time that you can still feel your emotions, and you can still feel frustration and anger and pain even when you are seriously intoxicated.
In the beginning of your drinking, you could medicate those unwanted emotions away by drinking more.
In the end, you will realize that you can no longer medicate those emotions so well, because you have become so used to being drunk. It stops working.
And you may not even realize that this is what you were doing all along: medicating your emotions. But it’s true. We medicate our feelings. We medicate our anger and our boredom and our frustration with alcohol. We do this even if it is not our intention to do so, because we drink every day.
At some point the alcoholic is merely existing. They live to drink and they drink to live. The circle is complete and they have no outside interest any more. Perhaps they will watch television at night while they drink but they don’t really care about life, they are simply consuming alcohol and then staring at the screen. They are avoiding living by drinking themselves into an alcoholic stupor all the time. They are numb. They medicate their feelings every day so that they never have to be uncomfortable.
This is not really living, as most people would agree. But it is the end result of the progression of alcoholism. Eventually you just exist to drink, and you don’t really do anything. You don’t try to achieve anything. You just exist to take that next drink, to medicate yourself into oblivion again.
The alcoholic might imagine a fantasy that takes it a step further, where they just lay in a bed all day and press a button that doses them into oblivion again. If they come back to reality they just push the button and medicate their mind back into oblivion. If you describe this to an alcoholic they usually perk up and say that they really like the idea. How sick is that? They are glorifying becoming a vegetable. This is the ultimate state of being for the alcoholic–medicated into complete oblivion. Not having to feel or be aware of anything. Simply existing.
Would you call this “happy?” Does this scenario have anything at all to do with real happiness?
I think not.
Real happiness in life is about personal growth. Both your personal growth, and the growth and progress of other people around you. You can get joy and happiness from either. This is why 12 step work is so powerful–if you are helping others in recovery then you can derive real joy from doing so, and strengthen your recovery at the same time.
Happiness is not pushing a button and then getting certain chemicals to flood your brain. That is nothing but a chemical reaction, a way to trick your physical body into feeling good for a moment. It is temporary and it is fake. Medicating your way to happiness is not real, and I don’t believe that it ever made anyone truly happy in the long run.
Real joy in recovery comes from living the challenge of personal growth. Real happiness is learning more about yourself every day, and using that knowledge to help others.
The consequences of recovery and why every alcoholic should face their fear and get sober
Alcoholism has consequences.
If you continue to drink alcoholically then you will experience all of these consequences eventually.
You will become more and more isolated. You will exist only to drink. You will no longer be happy while drinking, but it will simply feel normal to be drunk all the time. And eventually you will wind up in jail, an institution, or dead. These are certainties if you make the timeline long enough. And in the meanwhile you get to be miserable in your addiction while telling yourself that you are actually happy, and that drinking is the only thing in the world that makes you happy. Welcome to denial.
Recovery has consequences as well.
If you choose to recover, then you can expect certain things to happen.
Again, these are certainties, not maybes. These things will definitely happen in recovery, given a long enough timeline.
In recovery, you will:
* Realize that you were never really happy while drinking, and that the joy and happiness that you experience today while sober is real, and that you can remember it too! Happy memories that you can relive again in the future are much more powerful than a one-time “high” that you get while drinking, and forget about.
* Become happy through personal growth and the challenge of improving yourself and your life situation. Things keep getting better and better in recovery, much to your amazement. At some point you may imagine that things could not get much better, but because you are engaged in a process of positive growth each day, things do continue to improve. Every day is a new adventure. Over time your life becomes radically more joyful and happy.
* Happiness is progressive in recovery, just as misery was progressive in addiction. If you continue to take positive action in recovery then the benefits will accumulate over time. Your life becomes happier and happier in recovery based on the positive habits you have formed (I call this the daily practice).
In order to reap these benefits though the alcoholic must first reach a turning point in their lives. They must face their deepest fears head on and give themselves over to surrender completely. This is not an easy thing to do and it involves basically killing your ego entirely. The alcoholic must find a way to step out of their own way so that they can get the help that they need.
You cannot recover if you are still hanging on to the idea that drinking is the only path to happiness. At the point of surrender the alcoholic will be completely miserable. They have to make a leap of faith at that time, knowing that they might become even more miserable if they get sober. This is a risk that they must be willing to take. They are holding two alternatives in their hands: On one hand they get sober and they face an even greater potential misery, and on the other hand they continue to drink until it kills them. This is the so called “turning point” that every alcoholic must reach at the moment of surrender.
In order to choose recovery at this point they must be willing to face their fears. The fear is that they will walk away from alcohol and thus become even more miserable. Of course, in reality they will become happier while sober, but you could never convince them of this when they are still drinking! Think about that carefully. The alcoholic really believes that they are happier while drunk than they ever would be sober. Therefore it is a leap of faith for any alcoholic to walk into rehab and surrender to their disease. The idea of abstinence is like a massive threat of misery and despair to the alcoholic. They do not see it as the gift that it really is until much, much later in their journey.
If you or someone you love is addicted to alcohol, just realize the progressive nature of the disease. It gets worse over time. The consequences vary from person to person, but the general direction of those consequences is always consistent.
The consequences of recovery are consistent as well. If you ask for help and thus turn your life around, things will get better and better every day.