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Habitual Drinker? Why Your Only Steps Away From Addiction

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

As a typical UK adult, you are likely to consume alcohol at least on an occasional basis. Drinking is just something we have come to expect as being a normal part of culture and society. But when does acceptable drinking cross the line? When does drinking become too much? These are the kinds of questions we have trouble answering until, heaven forbid, someone we know develops an alcohol addiction. You may be that next someone if you are a habitual drinker.

Doing anything as a matter of habit indicates a certain amount of compulsion. That does not necessarily mean your compulsion is a bad thing; it simply means that habitual behaviour is something you do without thinking much about it. According to the Oxford dictionaries, a habit is defined in two ways:

  • a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up; or
  • an addictive practice, especially one of taking drugs.

The two key components that define habitual behaviour are the regular tendency to practice the behaviour and the difficulty one has in giving it up. If you are already a habitual drinker, you are someone who consumes alcohol on a regular basis and, if you tried, would have a difficult time stopping. This should be a warning sign. If you drink out of habit, you are just steps away from developing an addiction.

The 3 Steps of Addiction

Drinking out of habit increases the risk of developing an addiction due to the way addiction works. As you probably know, an addiction to anything is not something that happens instantly. It can take weeks, months, or even years of habitual behaviour in order to become addicted. How long it might take you to transition from drinking out of habit to clinical alcoholism really depends on how your mind and body respond to drinking.

Here are the three steps of addiction that explain why drinking habitually can lead to alcoholism:

  • Step #1: Intense Pleasure – The brains of alcoholics derive significantly more pleasure from drinking as compared to those who are not alcoholics. This intense amount of pleasure is the result of an overproduction of endorphins when alcohol reaches the brain. It is believed by some scientists that it is this intense pleasure that drives the alcohol cravings that will eventually lead to addiction.
  • Step #2: Developing Tolerance – Every time alcohol is introduced to the body, the brain must compensate. One of the things it does is encourage the production of the previously mentioned endorphins. After a while, the brain gets used to a certain amount of alcohol in the system and no longer responds as aggressively. This is known as tolerance; it is the second step in developing an addiction. Tolerance requires the drinker to increase the amount he or she drinks in order to still feel good.
  • Step #3: Developing Dependence – Just like the brain gets used to a certain amount of alcohol in the system, so does the rest of the body. This is known as dependence. When the body reaches this point, it must have a constant level of alcohol to continue normal functioning. The existence of dependence equals addiction.

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What you may not know is that not everyone follows the three-step process of addiction at the same speed. You might be the kind of person whose body processes alcohol fairly rapidly. In such a case, you could be a habitual drinker for years before tolerance and dependence set in. Someone else may develop alcoholism much more quickly. It is not unheard of for someone to go from problem drinking to full-blown alcoholism in a matter of weeks.

Ignoring the Problem Is Not Wise

Every person who drinks habitually is at risk of becoming an alcoholic. So what about you? You may consider yourself safe or able to stay sober if you really want to, but that does not necessarily mean anything. The danger of addiction is that it can be easily established without you knowing it. You could already be an early stage alcoholic and still think you have everything under control.

If you have a drinking problem, no matter how minor you believe it to be, ignoring it is not wise. Problem drinking that is not dealt with almost always leads to alcohol abuse. Likewise, untreated alcohol abuse almost always results in alcohol addiction. Drinking habitually is the first warning sign that a person might become an alcoholic, so do not ignore it if drinking out of habit is something you do.

Alcohol Is a Liar

In closing this guide, there is one more thing we want to address about habitual drinking. In short, alcohol is a 'liar'. You may think you need a drink in order to relax, avoid social awkwardness, or get through some particularly stressful situation, but that is the alcohol talking. It is not rational thought. Don't believe it. Millions of people manage to successfully negotiate life without ever taking a drink. You don't need alcohol to function.

It is unfortunate that our society seems to think only the town drunkard with years of drinking under his belt qualifies as an alcoholic. The fact is that there are plenty of people addicted to alcohol who still maintain 'normal' lives by all appearances. They go to work, they pay their bills, and they look like everyone else walking down the street. Yet in the backs of their minds is an ongoing craving for alcohol.

Do not believe the lie that you can continually drink out of habit without any danger to yourself. Remember that habitual behaviour is characterised as doing something out of regular tendency and being unable to stop doing it. If you drink out of habit, you are already in danger.

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Hopefully this guide got your attention. If you are at all concerned that you drink out of habit, the most important thing you can do for yourself is to find out where you stand in relation to alcoholism. You may be just steps away from an alcohol addiction that could utterly destroy your life. If so, you need to know that you don't have to allow it to happen. You can avoid addiction by taking the steps necessary to get treatment now.

Treatment and support for all kinds of alcohol problems are readily available across the UK. We can help you locate it when you contact us for more information. Whether you choose to seek treatment from an independent counsellor, a rehab clinic, or the NHS, it is imperative that you do so right away. The longer you wait, the greater the chances are that you will become an addict in the future.

If you forget everything else you've read here, remember this one thing: the habitual drinker is just steps away from addiction. You don't want to be among those who take that final step.

Sources:

1. Oxford Dictionaries Online – http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/english/habit

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