Deconstructing the Myths and Perceptions Surrounding Alcoholism

Despite affecting millions of people around the world, alcoholism is a very misunderstood illness that is only complicated further by the socially acceptable nature of the substance. In order to shed light on the struggles of those with alcoholism and dispel the misconceptions regarding its severity, we must deconstruct the myths surrounding it in order to help people better understand what alcoholics are feeling and how these myths can undermine the nature of their illness.

Every day, millions of people around the world live in a reality crippled by the grip of alcoholism, which exerts power over the decisions and choices that they make. To make matters worse, alcohol is a very socially acceptable drug and the pressure to “let go” and have some fun after a stressful day makes it extremely difficult for those suffering from alcoholism to avoid it.

The common perception of alcohol as a safe and harmless substance does nothing to help the perception of alcoholics, who are typically seen as weak-willed individuals who simply can’t handle their inhibitions. With the prevalence of this perception, the danger and severity of alcoholism get swept under the rug, and the 200-plus million people worldwide suffering from the disease continue to do so in isolation.

“Alcoholism is lonely,” explains Karen Opas, an alcoholic in recovery. “Even when you are surrounded by people, you don’t feel the connection. Even when those people really love you. Because you think they love the mask you are holding up to the world, not the real you, not the worm inside that is your core self. And I drank even harder to get rid of that realization.”

Myth: Alcohol Causes Alcoholism

Getting into the habit of having a few too many on the weekends might seem like a surefire way to throw yourself into the clutches of alcoholism. Although regular binge drinking can certainly push those predisposed to the illness down the wrong path, alcohol isn’t the actual cause of alcoholism. There are numerous risk factors for alcoholism that underlie it, such as family history with alcohol, cultural experience, and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. For example, if one of your parents is an alcoholic, you are four times as likely to develop the illness than individuals in the general population are. The fact that many people view alcohol as a fairly harmless substance only exacerbates another common myth surrounding the illness: those who fall into alcoholism simply don’t have the willpower to handle it.

Myth: You Need Only Willpower to Stop

Alcoholism is a mental illness that can take its toll on the physical health of those suffering from it and tear apart their personal lives. Unfortunately, many people—without understanding the sense of helplessness that alcoholism creates as it throws you into a downward spiral of alcohol abuse—see alcoholism as something that can be stopped through sheer willpower. One study found that the alcoholic brain shows a reduction in white matter in regions of the brain important for learning new behaviors and impulse control; this is damage that increases with the level of alcohol consumption. Willpower goes only so far: with the nature of these neurological changes and the way that they affect how alcoholics perceive the world, it’s easy for the illness to take control.

Catherine Brawn Fortier, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and co-author of this study, explains the devastating effects of alcohol on particular brain regions:

The idea that alcohol affects the brain has been established for decades. We now can use neuroimaging techniques to see, in vivo, that alcohol has wide-ranging effects across the entire brain that contribute to a wide range of changes in psychological abilities and intellectual functions. These brain areas are critical to learning new information and, even more importantly, in self-regulation, impulse control, and the modification of all complicated human behaviors. In other words, the very parts of the brain that may be most important for controlling problem drinking are damaged by alcohol, and the more alcohol consumed, the greater the damage.

Myth: Detoxing Isn’t Dangerous

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances to detox from. Many believe that the decision to stop drinking is one that has to happen only on the behavioral level when, in reality, the effects that alcohol dependence has on the brain make quitting cold turkey a potentially life-threatening process. If your body has developed a high tolerance to alcohol, abruptly stopping can lead to dangerous side effects including hallucinations, mental confusion, seizures, and death. Gaining the desire to get clean is a positive step forward, but after making this decision, you must ensure that you have the help of a residential treatment plan to slowly wean yourself off of alcohol and ensure that you can take the right path toward a safe recovery.

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Myth: Alcoholism Doesn’t Affect Successful People

Society’s perception of an alcoholic is typically one that consists of living in squalor, the unkempt addict drinking from a brown bag in an alley. However, alcoholism affects people of all socioeconomic statuses and can have equally devastating effects on physical and emotional health regardless. In fact, research has revealed a positive correlation between success and drinking, shattering the typical image of an alcoholic. The ability to hold down a job and be successful doesn’t preclude the possibility of alcoholism; it’s an illness that can take hold of people of all backgrounds. At the end of the day, many high-functioning alcoholics become skilled at hiding the illness behind the mask that they portray to the world, and they suffer through it in loneliness.

Promoting Compassion and Understanding

Promoting Compassion and Understanding

The socially acceptable nature of alcohol use can make life as an alcoholic one of isolation and despair. Despite feeling the constant desire to drink in order to deal with yourself and those around you, others often fail to recognize the dangers and realities that come with excessive use, pushing you further into your own world of substance abuse and what seems like an endless cycle of self-loathing.

Promoting an understanding of the far-reaching negative effects of alcoholism and the helplessness that it creates is essential to empower those suffering from the illness to seek proper recovery and treatment. The feeling of not being able to live and enjoy your life without the crutch of alcohol can make you forget who you truly are and ignore the treatment possibilities at your disposal. With the right residential treatment program, you can feel the compassion and understanding that others have for your illness and learn to live a life free of dependency.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive addiction rehabilitation for alcoholics that want to live their lives free of the constant need to use alcohol to feel comfortable in their own skin. If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism, contact us today to learn more about our programs that can provide a positive pathway towards recovery.