Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Signs of an Alcoholic

A sign about alcohol not signs of an alcoholic -- nice photo by Mr. T in DC

People ask what are the signs of a person who is an alcoholic? I am simply going to refer to my experiences with Jane, my alcoholic partner, in answering this question and not look for general answers on the internet. As background information I was meeting up with Jane for about 10 years before living with her for about 2 and a half years. I still live with her.

The first day we went out together Jane was drunk but I didn't realise it. She picked me up at a London railway station and she drove the car back to her flat (apartment). She was well over the drink drive limit and was a severe danger to me and herself and I had no idea at the time! Only about 6 months later (I forget exactly when) did I realise that she was drunk on that first date and that she risked my life! In fact, she got lost getting home, a journey of about 3 miles across London so I guided her, which I felt was strange (strange behaviour is a good initial sign of an alcoholic). It was strange as at the time as she had been living in London for 2 decades and I was living in the country. Weird really. Anyway I put it down to nervousness or just not being very good at directions.

It took me about 3 -4 months for it to dawn on me that Jane was a serious drinker and probably alcoholic. And I wouldn't say I was stupid or unobservant. However, at the time I was naive about alcoholism and unless you have met and associated with an alcoholic you don't know how they behave. We are used to meeting people who drink normally and have no point of reference to gauge alcoholism. It is a strange unknown world and a very secretive world, which makes detection all the more difficult.

Back to my first date with Jane. When we eventually got to her home she talked. She confessed to me that she wanted to die - a shocking and a crazy thing to say on a first date. I should have gone and never returned at that point. One of the problems of looking for signs of a alcoholic is unless you are in tune with it you often don't recognise it. This is partly because an alcoholic is drunk at weird, abnormal times (anytime) and we associate drinking with the evening. We don't expect someone to be drunk first thing in the morning.

Anyway we met again and so forth. After about 3 months we were in her flat, in bed. She looked different. She was acting a bit strange but nothing startlingly odd. Lets remind ourselves that alcoholics are very good at hiding signs of alcoholic abuse. Their whole bl**dy life revolves around how to get the stuff, hide the stuff and drink it. If an alcoholic is bad at a lot of things, they are damn good at deceit, lies and hiding bottles of vodka. You can search for a week and not find the vodka!

As I said, she looked different. I thought she looked more masculine as if she was a drag queen. That sounds odd I know but I now know that alcohol (neat vodka) changes the shape of her head. True. It becomes more rounded. It fills out. This is after quite a lot of booze, say about a bottle of vodka. I don't know what is happening. Perhaps water build up in the skin or something. Maybe this is unique to her? Later on I would see other facial signs, when I had become more experienced. Other initial signs that are more subtle than the obvious:
  • after about 2-3 miniature vodkas -- eyes look glossy and glazed and she looks tired. Jane says she is tired but doesn't know why! She hides the fact that the booze is knocking her out by claiming that she is tired because of work etc. etc. As she is tired and sleepy at odd hours, say 10 in the morning this is strange. Strange to feel tired after a good nights sleep.
  • invariably she would need to fall asleep fairly quickly after consuming neat vodka. This must be a good sign of an alcoholic - falling asleep at abnormal times or being "tired" at strange times. Once asleep she would then start the binge when she woke up. She would and still does take the booze to bed.
  • another sign would be screwing up doing basic things such as heating up a pre-prepared meal. Or dropping something. Just doing normal things in a clumsy manner. This is not Jane being simply clumsy it is her being drunk.
Back to Jane and the early dating months. On one day she phoned me. I hardly knew her at the time. In retrospect I know that she had drunk a lot of spirits (guess: 2 bottles). She said she felt ill and that she was going mad or something. I forget the details but she gave the impression she was plain ill. I recommended calling an ambulance and she did that. I think she rang back the next day and admitted that the ambulance people wouldn't take her to hospital. She admitted she had got drunk but at the time but this did not mean to me that she was an alcoholic. This alone was not one of the signs of an alcoholic.

Eventually it dawned on me. She had been acting oddly when she met me. She would fall asleep in front of me on a date. I still didn't get it though! Then one weekend when she was visiting me in the country I found several bottles of vodka in the bed (she had stayed in bed after I had got up). The clearest signs of an alcoholic is hard evidence - the usually well hidden bottles of half used vodka.

Thereafter when she came to stay she would pop up upstairs to do something and I would hear a slight cough. That was the sound of her drinking a slug of neat vodka that took her breath away briefly. After that I gradually became an expert. Here is a list of signs of an alcoholic from my perspective:
  1. Slightly odd behavior
  2. The smell of marzipan in the air -- this is the smell of processed alcohol coming out of the mouth
  3. Falling asleep at odd times
  4. Being clumsy
  5. Having accidents
  6. Being unreliable
  7. Being messy
  8. Looking glazed at unexpected times
  9. Being argumentative (for men this probably means being aggressive too)
  10. Being jaundiced (yellow face and eyeballs)
  11. Missing work
  12. Staying in bed too long
  13. Being down and depressed
  14. Being negative
  15. Being sick lots more than usual
  16. Making yourself sick (possible - Jane does this)
  17. Going to hospital more than usual
Remember alcohol puts you to sleep in high doses. Excessive sleeping must be one of the signs of an alcoholic. Other signs are accompanying health problems that are wide ranging. There may be other bad habits such as poor diet and there may eating disorders, for example. There will probably be depression.

For someone new to alcoholism, the signs of an alcoholic are not initially obvious and they are well hidden.

Signs of an alcoholic to home page

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I'd like to hear the experiences of both alcoholics and the victims of alcoholics, please.