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Just one more drink. A little won't hurt. I can stop anytime. I need a little drink to calm my mind. Individually, these thoughts may not be a big deal. However, combined they can be a sign of alcohol abuse. Most people who drink don't consider themselves to be alcoholics; however, individuals whose lives have been overtaken by alcohol clearly understand the negative effects it has had on their lives.

Alcohol abuse is characterized by behaviors that include one or more of the following:

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  • Inability to control alcohol use (loss of control)
  • Compulsive use of alcohol
  • Continued use despite harm or consequences (e.g., job loss, relationship failure)
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Withdrawal symptoms (e.g., irritability, dizziness, body aches)

Did You Know

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), roughly 4% of Americans are alcohol dependent, which equates to approximately 11 million people.

When these behaviors become a part of day-to-day living, there is an increased risk for alcoholism. In many instances these behaviors are ignored or overlooked, or even downplayed. Thinking that you are not at risk for alcoholism is dangerous. It doesn't just go away if you pretend it isn't there. Alcohol abuse creates economic difficulties, health issues, relationship problems, job loss, and much more. Unfortunately, many people don't know what to do when faced with alcohol abuse. In most cases, those struggling with alcohol abuse and those who are close to them are unsure how to respond and where to find help. Fortunately, there is help available, but it requires real effort and a willingness to engage in a life-changing recovery process.

First Steps Toward Managing Alcohol Abuse

Here are five steps that will get you started in recovery from alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse.

Step 1
Take the Alcohol Evaluation
Step 2
Learn How Alcohol Affects You and Those Around You
Step 3
Make a Change
Step 4
Learn More About the Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

Step 1 - Take the Alcohol Evaluation

If you have not already taken the alcohol self-evaluation, please take it now. This evaluation includes 24 questions and is designed to help you better understand how alcohol is influencing you and those around you.

Take an Evaluation

Step 2 - Learn How Alcohol Affects You and Those Around You

One of the most important steps in addressing alcohol abuse is to take an honest look at yourself and how alcohol affects you and your life. While it can be uncomfortable, looking into the problem without judgment (no guilt or shame) will allow you to clearly see the problem so you can address it. This often involves asking yourself some pretty tough questions and giving back some really honest answers. Read through the following article by Brett Williams, LMFT, entitled “The 3 Types of Drinkers - Which One are You?” to learn more.

Read Article
Three Different Types of Drinkers
Type Motive Results
Normal/Social Socialization Entertainment No negative effects
Alcohol Abuser Emotional addiction - Drinks to change emotions/feelings Difficulties at work, school, home, and with health. Reluctance to quit even with recurring problems.
Alcohol Dependence Physical addiction - Drinks to maintain minimal functioning Increased tolerance and/or withdrawal symptoms. Family interactions and work responsibilities are given up or reduced. Inability to quit even with significant legal, personal, and health problems.

Having read through the article, which type of drinker are you? What type of drinker would you like to be? What are the results of your drinking on those around you?

Generally speaking, individuals struggling with alcoholism feel extreme guilt and frustration. Internally, they know that something isn't right. They often feel out of control. This then triggers feelings of shame or embarrassment. They often think, Shouldn't I be able to handle this on my own? Caught up in the addictive cycle, they often struggle in their relationships with others (e.g., spouse, children, co-workers).

How Alcohol Affects Your Life - This exercise will help you discover how alcohol is influencing key areas of your life.

A common challenge that many people who struggle with alcohol face is personal guilt and shame. They feel shame for the inability to control their drinking, for the ways they interact with other people, and for the lifestyles they are leading. They may think things like, Look at me, I am a failure. I am out of control. Or perhaps they may feel something like, I am a failure. I can't stop this on my own. People who feel this way are not alone. Read through or listen to the following answer given by Sandra Knowles, addiction counselor, to a question from a member who feels guilty and hopeless because he has been an alcoholic for a long time.

Expert Response

Although there are often feelings of guilt and shame associated with drinking, those feelings are often overpowered by the intense cravings for another drink. The conflict then turns inward and becomes a battle for control over oneself. The physical and psychological pull to drink is very strong—that is why it is addictive. On the other hand, the potential consequences of drinking may also seem unbearable. Thus, when a person gives in and experiences all of the negative effects of drinking, the guilt and shame become overwhelming.

The Costs and Benefits of Drinking - This activity is designed to help you identify the advantages and disadvantages of continuing to drink.

Another challenge that those struggling with alcohol face is the way that their internal battles affect their loved ones. Those who drink may become defensive, moody or withdrawn. They are often not reliable and don't follow through on commitments and they are aware of the hurt this causes. Feeling guilty, they then try to compensate by lavishing attention and care on those close to them, but this only lasts until the next time they show up drunk, or don't show up at all. This see-saw pattern is difficult for loved ones because they never know which person they are going to be dealing with.

How Alcohol Affects Your Relationships - This exercise will help you better understand how alcohol is influencing your behavior in important relationships.

Developing or maintaining a close and intimate relationship is more difficult for individuals struggling with an addiction. Often, shame, guilt, anger, and self-doubt prevent them from being able to interact with those close to them in a healthy way. Their partners or families become wary of being hurt over and over again. Both parties then hold back or become hesitant to engage with each other on a more intimate level.

If you would like to learn more about living with an alcoholic, please read through the following member question: My father was an abusive alcoholic. I'm terrified that I will repeat the same pattern with my kids. The answer comes from Dr. Laura Markham, a relationship and parenting expert.

Expert Response

Step 3 - Make a Change

Having completed the alcohol evaluation and with a better understanding of how alcohol affects you and those around you, the next step is to decide if you are ready to make a change. There are different stages of change. According to Dr. Prochaska, a well-known researcher on the change process, some people are more prepared to change than others. Dr. Prochaska and his colleagues classify people into the following stages of the change process:

  • Precontemplation - My drinking isn't that big of a deal. If I felt that it was a problem I would quit.
  • Contemplation - My drinking is starting to influence my life in ways I don't want it to. Maybe I should consider cutting back.
  • Preparation - I really need to stop drinking. It is hurting me and my family. I am going to focus on my recovery. This stage includes learning and gathering more information (much like you are doing today here at our site).
  • Taking Action - I am starting to understand my drinking patterns. I understand what triggers my drinking. I am hopeful because I have started attending a 12-step group and I am working on the steps. This step requires some kind of behavior.
  • Maintenance - I have made good progress and feel confident that if I keep doing what has been working, I will make it. This stage includes participation in regular activities and behaviors that coincide with recovery (e.g., attending support groups, one-on-one counseling, taking medication).
  • Termination - I understand that I will need to continue with many of the things that I have been doing, but I will gradually go off the medication and reduce how frequently I am attending therapy. I will continue to attend group therapy in order to maintain my progress.

Which stage would you like to be in with regard to your alcohol use? Once you understand what stage you are in, you can begin making changes in your life.

Many people do not understand that alcoholism is a disease. In 1967 the American Medical Association declared it a disease. It is vital to understand that treatment and intervention are necessary to achieve a full recovery. Alcoholism has been compared to coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis, and like these diseases, it requires aggressive, professional treatment.

Fortunately, today's researchers have discovered many effective treatment strategies for individuals who are alcohol dependent or who abuse alcohol.

Like any disease, alcoholism should be treated under the supervision of a professional. You should begin by seeing your physician to make sure that your health is not at risk and to explore treatments for alcohol addiction. Currently there are three medications that are FDA approved to treat individuals who are alcohol dependent: naltraxone, naltraxone long-acting, and acamprosate. When individuals combine medication with counseling, success rates can be very high, in some instances reaching 90%.

You should also find a local therapist, counselor, or group to provide support and guidance. Individual counseling and group counseling help address core beliefs and behaviors in your life that contribute to alcohol abuse. These groups are also available for family members.

In addition to seeking professional help, there are other things that you can do. Here are five specific activities that have proven to be very helpful for those in recovery.

  1. Increase Awareness
  2. Become Accountable to Others
  3. Develop a Support Team
  4. Create a Positive Environment
  5. Maintain Good Health and Nutrition

Number 1: Increase Your Awareness

One of the first tools of recovery is discovering and recognizing the triggers that lead to relapse. For example, certain people and places can trigger the cravings. Other triggers include the time of the day (e.g., getting off work), emotions (e.g., feeling sad or down), and relationships (e.g., marital discord).

Recognizing Trigger Environments - What triggers are most related to your relapses? The following simple exercise is designed to help you identify which settings or situations most frequently lead to a relapse.

Identifying with whom, where, and when you typically drink will help you steer clear of temptation and avoid bad influences.

Number 2: Become Accountable to Others

For years we have listened to stories of people in recovery. One of the key elements included in these stories is that of accountability. They discuss how much it helped to have someone to talk to about their progress. It helped them to know that someone cared about their cravings and was on their side. Generally, it is helpful to have one person you are required to report to on a regular basis concerning your drinking. In order to be effective, these reports have to be totally honest. This person could be a friend, a counselor, or a family member. Simply said, it is more difficult to recover from an addiction alone.

Number 3: Develop a Support Team

It is also important to establish a good support team. Your support can come from group therapy (e.g., 12-step groups), friends, religious leaders, coworkers, or trusted neighbors. A support team gives you resources to draw on when things are difficult, and they also share in your successes. For example, if you were feeling a strong desire to drink, you could call someone from this group for help—either by getting together or just talking through it.

Number 4: Create a Positive Environment

Sometimes the environment you are in can prevent recovery. Individuals who succeed in overcoming an addiction to alcohol are very aware that some environments are not good for them. They learn to avoid certain places or certain friends. This knowledge often leads to success.

Just as identifying the places and people who trigger your desire to drink is helpful, identifying the places and people where you do not drink or have a desire to drink can be a tremendous help in recovery. These are the places where you make healthy choices and where other people are supportive of those choices. It is important to be mindful of these positive places when moving through recovery.

Recognizing Successful Environments - Increasing your awareness of the environments in which you succeed can be helpful. Here's a short exercise to help you do this.

Number 5: Maintain Good Health and Nutrition

Individuals who misuse alcohol seldom recognize that their health is declining. Many treatment centers focus on helping those in recovery by increasing their health and nutrition (with exercise and a well-balanced diet). In order to fully recognize how your health is affected by alcohol, we strongly suggest you keep a health journal. By tracking what you eat, how much you drink, your exercise and activity, and how you feel each day, you can begin to see how your physical wellbeing is affected by your drinking and vice versa.

In the following audio, Dr. Kevin Skinner and Kenneth Patey interview the director of a wellness center that focuses on identifying and treating the nutritional aspects of addiction.

Listen Now

For more information on Step 3 - Make a Change, see the following resources:

“Understanding and Treating Addictions (Part 1)” - Article by Dr. Kevin Skinner, PhD, LMFT
“Understanding and Treating Addictions (Part 2)” - Article by Dr. Kevin Skinner, PhD, LMFT

Step 4 - Learn More About the Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

Now that you have completed steps 1-3, you should have a better understanding of how alcohol affects you and those around you, and how you can begin on your road to alcohol recovery. You can also explore some of our other resources for your particular situation. We add new resources often, so check back regularly.

In-depth Alcohol Recovery Workshop
This is a fully interactive learning module that will help you evaluate your alcohol addiction and create a plan for your journey to sobriety.

MyExpertSolution’s Top Choices for Learning More about Alcohol Abuse:

Do you want more information on how alcohol affects relationships?

Addiction and Intimacy - Book by Kevin Skinner, PhD
“College Pressure to Drink” - Question answered by Patricia Fidurski, LCSW, MAC
“Drinking With Business Associates” - Question answered by Susan Adams, M.Ed, MFT
“Giving Up Drinking Buddies” - Question answered by Susan Adams, M.Ed, MFT

Are you looking for more help managing your drinking?

The Addiction Workbook - Book by Patrick Fanning and John T. O'Neill, LCDC
Responsible Drinking: A Moderation Management Approach for Problem Drinkers - Book by Frederick Rotgers, Psy.D, et. al.
A Woman's Addiction Workbook - Book on In-Depth Healing
“The Power of Journaling” - Article by Dr. Kevin Skinner, PhD LMFT

Do you want to learn more about the global effects of alcoholism?

“The Cost of Substance Abuse and Addiction” - Article by Jared Maloff, Psy.D
“Risk Factors of Teenage Drinking” - Article by Jared Maloff, Psy.D
“Why is Alcoholism so Difficult to Treat” - Article by Susan Adams, M.Ed, MFT

Are you interested in understanding what is considered “normal” with regard to alcohol?

“What does normal drinking look like?” - Question answered by Brett Williams, LMFT
“Pressure to quit drinking, but I enjoy it too much...” - Question answered by Joshua Turner, LCSW
“Why did I let myself get so drunk that I didn’t...” - Question answered by Dr. Kevin Skinner, LMFT

See all alcohol resources
Get Started with Step 1