"How do I know if someone is an alcoholic or just going through a phase? "
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My Husband is an alcoholic and from the beginning I noticed he drank differently than other people. Like once he started he just kept drinking and would act differently. His personality would change and he would do and say things that he regretted the next day. I was never a big drinker and when I would have a glass of wine or two I was always able to stay in control of my words and behavior. That was the first red flag with him.
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That's exactly how I felt about my brother. It took three DWIs and two hospital stays before he went away to rehab. He graduated from college and held down a job the whole time. All I can say is that it became undeniable over time. He was not drinking socially anymore. We found vodka hidden in water bottles and he spent very little time with us. He became a shell of a person. It was obvious that all he was thinking about was drinking. He admitted it and went to outpatient treatment after his first hospital stay. We thought things were going great the entire 6 months, but he has since told us he was never sober more then a few days. Don't give up on your loved one, but have the tough conversations. Don't let them use the excuse that it's just a phase! Alcoholism is a disease that will only get worse over time. It's so sad and frustrating to watch and question yourself, but there is hope! My brother has over a year in recovery.
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With alcoholism, it is important to consider that it is not necessarily how much one drinks, but what happens when they do. If you cannot safely predict what someone will do once they start to drink, that is a strong indication there is a problem. Non-alcoholics who are going through a phase may suffer some consequences, but a real alcoholic will suffer consequences that progressively get worse. These would include making drinking a priority over family, work or school and continuing to drink regardless of negative consequences. An alcoholic will also need more of the substance to achieve the desired effect as a tolerance builds up in the body. They may experience withdrawal symptoms such as shakiness, dizziness, headaches, nausea, or insomnia. More advanced alcoholics may experience withdrawal known as delirium tremens or "DT"s which involve hallucinations and delusions and indicate the sufferer is at high risk for seizure.
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