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Common Misconceptions about Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Posted in Alcoholism

Alcohol use is so prevalent in our society that notions about its abuse are bound to occur. In fact, we may harbor some misconceptions ourselves about alcohol abuse. It’s time to set the record straight.

Here are some common misconceptions about alcohol and alcohol abuse:

  • Only winos and Skid Row street bums abuse alcohol – The truth is that alcohol abuse crosses all demographic and societal boundaries. People who abuse alcohol include members of every conceivable background, education, aspiration and occupation — everyone from the rich business tycoon, Hollywood celebrity or movie mogul, grade and high school teachers, college professors, sports figures, members of law enforcement, politicians, secretaries and clerks, stay-at-home moms, ministers and members of the clergy, to young people binge drinking in parties. The stereotype of the Skid Row bum is a myth that some people comfort themselves with, saying, in effect, “I can’t be an alcoholic”, or “I don’t abuse alcohol – because I don’t live on the streets and drink booze out of a brown paper bag.”
  • Alcoholics, and people who abuse alcohol, are ignorant people – The thinking here goes along these lines: if you drink yourself into a stupor night after night, you must be ignorant. Nobody would deliberately abuse their bodies that way if they have a grain of intelligence. The truth is, alcoholism is a disease, and has nothing to do with ignorance. Alcoholics crave alcohol to the point of physiological withdrawal if it is not satisfied. Abusers of alcohol can easily slip over into alcoholism with enough instances of prolonged abuse. These aren’t stupid people, but they are unable to say “no” to alcohol. Alcoholics seeking recovery cannot drink – period. Those who abuse alcohol are only kidding themselves – and they probably know it, deep down inside. But self-excuses are a powerful motivator for some to keep drinking. It doesn’t mean they lack intelligence, only willpower.
  • Men are the biggest alcoholics – Why this myth is perpetuated may have more to do with testosterone than anything else. The truth is that women become alcoholics too. Since alcohol is a disease, who it strikes is irrespective of gender. It is true that men tend to take more risks than women, and alcoholic drinking is particularly risky, but it doesn’t mean men are any more likely than women to become alcoholic – or abuse alcohol. Women are, by nature, more likely to be nurturing than challenging or risk-takers, but there are plenty of situations in life where this is not true, whether they are drinking or otherwise. Who makes the biggest scene? That’s pretty much a toss-up. If you’ve ever witnessed a full-on alcoholic episode, you know the mood swings, tears and tantrums, depression and thoughts of suicide, again are blind to gender type.
  • People who abuse alcohol are psychologically unbalanced – Similar to the misconception that only ignorant people are alcoholics or abuse alcohol, the idea that alcohol abusers are psychologically unbalanced doesn’t hold true. It is true that a constant state of intoxication will, or very likely will, lead to a state of psychological distress – like depression, stress, paranoia and delusions – the very fact that people do abuse alcohol does not mean they do so because they are psychologically unbalanced. They could have some psychological problems, but, more than likely, abusing alcohol isn’t because of them. It certainly doesn’t help a person who’s already depressed or under a great deal of stress to abuse alcohol, and depression and stress often accompany alcohol abuse, but psychological unbalance isn’t the root cause.
  • A few drinks a day never hurt anyone – Says who? People who want to delude themselves into believing that drinking is always okay. It may be fine for some people, in moderation, to have a drink or two each day. For others, a single drink can push them over the edge, especially if they are an alcoholic, either a borderline or alcohol abuser, or are allergic to alcohol.
  • I can take it, I’m not an alcoholic – This misconception is strongly rooted in self. Our view of ourselves is one we strongly protect – often to our own detriment. A person who drinks themselves into a stupor, suffers blackouts or brownouts, winds up in places not knowing how they got there, lose their jobs and/or loved ones, get into accidents and violent confrontations – will often claim they are absolutely not an alcoholic. “I can drink as much as I want and it won’t affect me. I can drink you under the table.” It is quite obvious to others, including friends and family, that this is not true, but the alcoholic or alcohol abuser simply cannot see it that way.
  • Smart people won’t become alcoholics – The flipside of the notion that only ignorant people become alcoholics or abuse it is that, if you’re smart, you’ll never become an alcoholic. As stated earlier, alcoholism is a disease, not a state of mind. People who abuse alcohol can know with certainty that constant drinking will undermine their health, their jobs, social standing and family relationships – and still continue drinking. Intelligence has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you decide to abuse alcohol.
  • I can stop anytime I want – How often have you heard someone who obviously abuses alcohol, perhaps a family member who’s in denial, say, “I can stop anytime I want. I don’t need to drink.” Perhaps they can stop drinking, if they choose to do so. But the fact is that the alcohol abuser holds onto this excuse primarily so he or she can feel justified in continuing to drink. They don’t want to stop drinking, far from it. They want to continue to do just as they want, without interference from anyone else. If they sound in control with this lie, they feel they have made a choice. Well, they have, and it’s to keep on drinking.
  • Teen drinking is not alcohol abuse – Legally speaking, any underage drinking is considered alcohol abuse. When young people drink, they often consume five or more drinks in a row in a single day. This type of alcohol consumption is known as “binge drinking,” and is almost certain to lead to greater problems later, including an increased risk for developing alcoholism.
  • Drinking alcohol is good for your body – Studies over the years have claimed that drinking in moderation (one to two drinks per day, particularly red wine) is good for your health. Other studies have offered contradictory results. What are we to believe? A beer, glass of wine or a cocktail, consumed infrequently, not before driving, or in combination with any medication, not on an empty stomach, not with any underlying physical conditions, and not by a person who’s not of legal drinking age, is probably okay – in general. Certainly the alcohol can lead to a feeling of “feeling good,” however temporary. It’s when alcohol becomes a crutch to avoid dealing with life, or to escape, that it becomes not good for anybody’s body.
  • Alcohol abuse only affects the individual drinker – Drinking affects many more people’s lives than just the individual drinker alone. Problem drinking, or alcohol abuse, often leads to alcoholism, which is a disease. Alcohol abuse is a major contributing factor to such societal problems as domestic violence, child neglect and abuse, automobile accidents and deaths, and criminal activity. In addition, alcohol abuse causes family disintegration, severe economic and financial problems, lost productivity, loss of job and/or income, and increased healthcare and judicial system costs. So, the effects of alcohol abuse go far beyond the individual drinker.