Can you overcome alcoholism?

The answer is yes, but the process likely won't be easy

I was recently contacted by a reader of my website with the following:

“I am not sure if I understand your statement correctly? Are you saying that you can overcome alcoholism permanently?”

I began my reply with, “Yes, (name). Tens of thousands have. However, overcoming alcoholism permanently takes work, the work of reinventing yourself. It’s not a quick fix …”

In the DSM-IV alcohol dependence (alcoholism) is defined by one or more of the following conditions being present: craving alcohol, developing a high tolerance for alcohol, a loss of control when offered a drink or once drinking, or physical dependence. (If someone is physically dependent there may be major withdrawal symptoms like shaking and nausea, as well as psychological symptoms like panic and anxiety.)

The term alcoholism is broadly conceived to include problem drinking, which is defined by its effects. If a pattern of drinking leads to health, employment, education, legal, parenting or marital problems, it is problem drinking.

Only a small proportion of problem drinkers, however, become alcohol dependent.

A man might drink excessively to medicate his grief over a marriage failure, but never progress to becoming an alcoholic. His friends and family might see him as an alcoholic for a while, but then two or three years later he’s back to his old light-social-drinking self. He had recognized the negative effects of his drinking and done something about it.

The process began with his recognizing and acknowledging his drinking was becoming a problem. He undoubtedly reflected on his life, and then took steps to reinvent himself so he could have the life he wanted. He may or may not have sought professional help along the way. In the process of self-reflection and action, other changes undoubtedly rippled through his life. He may have remarried, changed jobs, moved or gone back to school. Some friends disappeared and others reconnected.

The broad process of permanent change is much the same for the full-blown alcoholic as for any problem drinker, and it begins with self-acknowledgment of the problem.

However, there are complications. If the alcoholic has not already stopped drinking, the withdrawal should be attempted only with medical supervision. (Severe alcoholics have died during withdrawal.) Long-term alcohol abuse has undoubtedly damaged/altered his brain. The cravings won’t disappear just by choice, and there may be lapses due to loss of control with certain triggers.

Fortunately, the brain is plastic, and with appropriate therapy, it can heal itself. This part of the healing process is the post-acute withdrawal phase, commonly known as the “dry drunk” phase.

If alcohol has been used to medicate physical or psychological pain, it is likely the brain changes have lowered his tolerance for pain. Over time the brain can recover from this too, but in the midst of healing the cure might often seem worse than the poison.

For the recovering alcoholic to stay focused on re-creating his life, to face and clear the ghosts of past trauma, and to deal with the wave of changes that usually accompany recovery may we’ll require skilled professional help.

The bottom line is, however, alcoholism can be overcome permanently.

But not all alcoholics dare to believe it and are willing or able to make the emotional, social, intellectual and financial commitments necessary to achieve it.

 

 

 

 

You can reach Registered Psychologist Dr. Neill Neill at 250-752-8684 or through his website www.neillneill.com/contact

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tree clearing and grubbing will take place March 8 for the French Creek Water Pollution Control Centre upgrade and expansion project. (PQB News file photo)
Work scheduled for March 8 as part of $48.5M French Creek Pollution Control Centre expansion project

Resident questions Regional District of Nanaimo regarding lack of activity to date

Construction of a roundabout in Qualicum Beach has started. (Town of Qualicum Beach photo)
Construction of new roundabout in Qualicum Beach has begun

Traffic detours in effect to keep workers safe

A man receives his COVID-19 vaccine. (CP file photo)
COVID-19: Vaccination site in Parksville Community Centre to start March 15

Approximately 60,000 Parksville Qualicum Beach residents to be vaccinated

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

The intersection of Melrose Street and Third Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Suspect in custody after two pedestrians struck in Port Alberni hit and run

RCMP asking for video footage, credit witnesses for quick arrest

A Cowichan Valley mom is wondering why masks haven’t been mandated for elementary schools. (Metro Creative photo)
B.C. mom frustrated by lack of mask mandate for elementary students

“Do we want to wait until we end up like Fraser Health?”

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

Comox Valley RCMP had access to 20 Street blocked off between Cousins and Choquette avenues as they conducted a raid of a house on the block. Photo by Terry Farrell
Comox Valley RCMP raid Courtenay problem house, several arrests made

Comox Valley RCMP conducted a raid of a problem house on 20th… Continue reading

(Pxhere)
B.C. research reveals how pandemic has changed attitudes towards sex, health services

CDC survey shows that 35 per cent of people were worried about being judged

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Most Read