When someone who has the potential to become an alcoholic first starts drinking, he is present and has the majority vote in decision-making. In the beginning, alcohol appears innocent—a release, a relaxation, a comfort, a tiny escape. The alcoholic hasn’t yet recognized the alcohol for what it will become to them—necessary, demanding, isolating, inescapable.
Time passes and the alcoholic justifies his drinking. He still has majority vote over alcohol in making decisions, but alcohol has increased its power. He believes he’s hiding the addiction from friends, family, and coworkers. He has become a functioning alcoholic.
More alcohol is needed more often in order to achieve the same state of numbness. Justifying drinking turns to defending it at just about any cost. Friends are replaced with drinking buddies and the TV, and if he’s lucky, a few close relationships who remember the alcoholic before alcohol and are hoping he’ll see what’s happening and choose to get help.
More time passes, power over choices is shared equally between the alcoholic and alcohol. People avoid him later in the day when his personality shifts after large quantities of alcohol are consumed.
It doesn’t take long before his body physically needs the alcohol. He drinks during work. He may even have to get up in the middle of the night to stop the shaking caused by the lack of alcohol. He cares less about his appearance. Hygiene is questionable. Senses are dulled. He can no longer taste, smell, or even feel. Stopping suddenly would be life-threatening, and alcohol has gained majority power. All choices feed the need for alcohol, but he doesn’t care, if he is even aware. He becomes more defensive and more reclusive. Alcohol is now in charge.
Even if the person is aware it’s happening, he seldom chooses to get help. Perhaps he thinks he can control it on his own, doesn’t believe he has a problem, is embarrassed to admit he needs help, doesn’t know how to get help, or some combination of these. Whatever the reason, the addiction is often so powerful he is willing to pay whatever cost is required—losing family, friends, jobs, possessions—to hold on to it. Seldom do interventions, pleading, or tough love have any effect. Sometimes rock bottom gets his attention, but it is painful to watch and wait. Everyone associated with the alcoholic is affected as alcohol gains power and especially when alcohol is in charge.