Unless you have personally witnessed a loved one suffer from alcoholism, it’s very difficult to identify the characteristics of an alcoholic. If I was to ask you to identify the female alcoholic in a lineup of 10 people, it would be impossible. Alcoholics come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
A female alcoholic might also be a PTA mother, a businesswoman driving a Mercedes, a nationally-recognized athlete, or a PhD candidate. She might have two vacation homes, four cars in the driveway, and two children in prep school, or she might have very little, materially.
No two female alcoholics have the same story, but they do share a fundamental similarity: they have an obsession with alcohol and a compulsion to drink no matter what consequences they face.
When I personally reached the point of emotional desperation from my alcoholism, I was a successful real estate agent with money in the bank, a house, a car, and all of my relationships in tact (although barely). It was only when I hit my own bottom that I came to fully understand that you don’t have to be homeless and begging on the streets to be a real alcoholic. I was badly shaken by the realization.
I now know that in fact, there is a set of easily identifiable data for women to consult to determine whether she is an alcoholic or whether she is consuming alcohol excessively and should cut back.
Do I Have a Problem?
If you are curious about whether you have a problem. you can take the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) “Am I Alcoholic Self-Test” here.
Here are the questions from the test that spoke to my heart, not just my observation:
- Do you feel guilty about your drinking?
- Have you tried to control your drinking by switching brands, switching types of alcohol, limiting the number of drinks, or any other method?
- If you have tried to control your drinking, have you sometimes failed to keep the promises to yourself?
- Do you avoid loved ones while you are drinking so that you can drink as much as you want without judgment?
When I pondered these questions, memories of spending nights at a secluded bar, drinking alone on a barstool with mornings of extreme remorse came to the forefront of my mind.
Every time I drank, I felt guilty. I tried to control my drinking countless times but to no avail. It was these questions that jolted me into reality, and the symptoms of alcoholism that sealed the deal: I am an alcoholic through and through.
The common symptoms of alcoholism are as follows:
- Blackouts or memory loss
- Frequent arguments with loved ones
- Mood swings
- Anxiety, headaches, insomnia, or ‘the shakes’ when one ceases the use of alcohol
- Continued use of alcohol to cope with emotional problems
- Flushed skin or puffiness in the face
- Hidden bottles of alcohol in unexpected places
- Drinking alone or in secret
Generally, when you experience one or more of these symptoms as a result of alcohol consumption, a problem exists.
Do I Need Treatment?
Women are less likely to receive drug and alcohol treatment, yet we are more likely to develop medical and social consequences from alcoholism.
As women, we have the tendency to run ourselves into the ground trying to execute all of our responsibilities perfectly. We can often ignore our illnesses, fighting off the common cold with Emergen-C and Daytime Theraflu while pushing through our task list.
This tendency often leads women to ignore the signs of alcoholism. Unfortunately, the disease of alcoholism is progressive and ignoring the symptoms only provides more time for alcohol to strengthen its grips on our lives.
It’s easy to push alcoholism to the side and convince yourself and your loved ones that you don’t need treatment with excuses like: “I can’t just up and leave our family, I have responsibilities,” or “We cannot survive without my paycheck.”
You may well have responsibilities and if you are employed, your paycheck clearly contributes to your family’s desired lifestyle. But what are our priorities when we are struggling with the disease of alcoholism?
We cannot help or provide for others if we are unable to provide for ourselves.
If you have ever paid attention to a flight attendant’s ‘Safety Procedures’ demo before takeoff, you probably remember them saying: “If the cabin’s oxygen levels drop, there are oxygen masks located above your seats. If you are traveling with a child, ensure that your own oxygen mask is securely fastened before placing the oxygen mask on your child.”
This concept of helping yourself to ensure the maximum help of others feels like it goes against our very nature. However, it is imperative to our ability to function both properly and efficiently.
Women in Recovery
With over 28 years of sobriety, attending treatment for my alcoholism was the best decision I have ever made.
The women in the recovery community are strong. I don’t mean just “capable of handling life,” I mean that these women are resilient. They play an active role in their lives, pushing through the hard times and truly enjoying the good times.
Before I got sober, life happened to me. These days, I choose what happens in my life: I choose whether to let go of my resentments or hold onto them to the point of misery; I choose to connect with something greater than myself on a daily basis to maintain humility and keep my ego in check; I handle problems instead of avoiding them and I I have made life-long friendships in sobriety; these women went to my wedding, they stood by my hospital bed when I had to get a heart valve inserted into my chest, they supported me when my husband and I decided to open up a treatment center, and so much more.
I thought getting sober was a death sentence to a fun social life. Boy, was I wrong! These have been the best 28 years of my life.
I hope that you, too, get the opportunity to thrive in sobriety. The first step is admitting you have a problem, which is often the hardest part, but to quote Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
Susie Hopson-Blum is an owner, founder and Director of Admissions of New Method Wellness Treatment Center, a premier dual diagnosis treatment center. In long term recovery herself (28 years), Hopson-Blum’s experience managing and directing a behavioral health treatment facility began in 2006 when she opened a sober living house, Sober Pacific Living. As clients continued to come in the door with a passion for treatment and recovery, Hopson-Blum used her professional expertise and personal experience to create New Method Wellness, a substance abuse treatment center that takes a holistic approach to recovery.
Hopson-Blum is a Certified National Drug and Alcohol Assessor from the National Association of Drug and Alcohol Interventionists and is passionate about being an integral part of the intervention process. As an intern level-certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor, Hopson-Blum has years of experience directing and guiding families in assisting their loved one from active addiction to the safety of treatment. Prior to opening New Method Wellness, Hopson-Blum sold real estate for 35 years.