Problem Drinker – The Alcohol Abuser Versus the Alcoholic
First, let’s look at the term “problem drinker,” as it is a bit ambiguous.
Let’s narrow things down here. What are we really saying when we say that someone is a “problem drinker?”
If there is a problem of some sort then we need to take action in order to fix that problem. But in order to take the proper action, we need to know exactly what the problem is. When someone refers to a problem drinker, they could mean one of two things:
1) A person who is abusing alcohol.
2) A person who is addicted to alcohol (an alcoholic).
So let’s take a look at these two ideas.
Problem drinker #1: the alcohol abuser
This is what most people are talking about when they use the term “problem drinker.” For example, this might refer to anyone who starts drinking and basically loses control because of it, but seems to have no ongoing problems with alcohol on a regular basis. They are not a binge drinker nor are they a daily drinker, they simply lose control on the rare occasions that they do drink.
Another type of problem drinker is someone who is not really addicted to alcohol but they are drinking with the intention of getting drunk. This is alcohol abuse. A good example of this would be college students who are partying and getting drunk. They might not be alcoholic but they are certainly abusing alcohol, which can of course create problems in a number of different ways.
So if you have a “problem drinker” on your hands then they might be merely abusing alcohol. These people very well might have the ability to simply stop drinking heavily and can easily control their drinking in the future. It just so happens that they are actually trying to get drunk at some point in their lives so we might identify this as being a problem. But are they really addicted to alcohol? Are these examples true alcoholics? No they are not. They can walk away from alcohol without much effort and with little consequence to themselves.
Of course, it gets a little tricky here because anyone who is in a heavy pattern of abuse like this is in danger of developing alcoholism. They might not be addicted yet but they could be on their way due to their excessive drinking habits. Which brings us to our next point….
Problem drinker #2: the alcoholic
The alcoholic is a “full blown” problem drinker who cannot really function without alcohol. If you take the booze out of their life then they are really a mess, because they are addicted to it and do not know how to deal with life without self medicating.
The tricky part here is that anyone who is experiencing alcoholism is likely to be stuck in denial for a while, sometimes for years or even decades. They will claim to be a problem drinker who is merely abusing alcohol, and that they are not truly addicted. “I just like to drink” will be a common refrain. This is denial. It is the point at which a true alcoholic attempts to minimize their drinking to themselves and to others. They are trying to put themselves back in the category of “alcohol abuser,” reasoning that they could stop drinking so much if they really wanted to. This is pure denial on their part and is really quite a natural response from anyone who is caught up in the grip of an addiction.
Solutions for the Problem Drinker
Regardless of which type of problem drinker you are dealing with, they both need to get some help in order to live a more effective life. The alcohol abuser simply needs to cut down or stop drinking alcohol. This will solve their basic problem and lead to a more fulfilling life.
Now if you happen to be dealing with a true alcoholic, the idea of “simply stopping” is not realistic. They have tried to do so for years and in most cases have failed miserably at it. This is what defines their alcoholism: their inability to control it. In this case, the person can still get help and change their life but it is a much bigger affair. Not only must they physically detox their body from alcohol, but they must find a new way to live and a new way to deal with their emotions. This requires a concentrated effort that goes far beyond merely “quitting drinking.” That is why we say that an alcoholic needs a program in order to recover. Essentially, they need a full set of instructions for how to live.
Solutions for an alcoholic are not as tidy as “stop drinking” or “cut down on the booze.” For most alcoholics, real solutions that have worked in their life are more along the lines of:
* Attending 12 step meetings every day and involving themselves heavily in the fellowship
* Studying recovery literature and doing lots of exploratory writing about it
* Attending a treatment center and possibly living in long term treatment for some people
* Working with other recovering alcoholics on a regular basis
These are the kinds of things that tend to work well for real alcoholics who are trying to recover. It’s all about taking action and if you want to recover from alcoholism then you have to go above and beyond what you think is necessary to recover. Sitting at home on your couch and just wishing you were sober is not going to cut it.
Helping the Problem Drinker
Can you help someone who is a problem drinker? In most cases we can only make suggestions and alter our own behavior when it comes to a drinker in our lives. You can’t really change another person who is resisting that change. At best you can alter your own behavior and encourage them to get help.
If you are interested here is more information about how to help an alcoholic.