The Dangers of Psychological Addiction
Emotional Components of Alcoholism. Psychological addiction includes anxiety,
depression, mood swings, and hallucinations when the alcoholic stops drinking.
Due to an increase in alcohol-related problems in the local public high school during the last six months, Mr.
Sheller, the health teacher, decided to teach his students about alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
After presenting a definition of alcoholism and alcohol abuse and some basic information about both types of
problem drinking, Mr. Sheller decided to discuss the following topic: "the emotional components of alcoholism."
"Class, I want you to realize that when a person becomes alcohol dependent, he or she experience both physical
and psychological addiction."
Physical Alcohol Addiction
"For instance, the following are some of the more common physical symptoms or signs exhibited by
- Loss of control over one' drinking. For instance, the alcoholic, after having his first
drink, cannot stop drinking until he becomes intoxicated."
- Benders. These are drunken binges that can last several days or weeks."
- Tremors. Whereas many, if not most alcoholics have tremors of the hands, later in the
disease, they exhibit tremors of their entire body."
- Eye-openers. These are drinks the alcoholic has the first think upon wakening. Alcoholics
usually say that they drink the first thing upon wakening to reduce the pain of a hangover or to calm their
- Unsuccessful attempts to stop drinking. While some alcoholics truly want to stop drinking,
most of their attempts to do so are thwarted by the alcohol withdrawal symptoms they experience a number of
hours after having their last alcoholic beverage."
- Tolerance. This term points to one of the key components that define alcoholism. Tolerance
happens when the alcoholic needs to drink increasingly more alcohol in order to get intoxicated."
Psychological Alcohol Addiction
Mr. Sheller then shifted gears and informed the class that besides physical addiction, alcoholics also
experience psychological addiction.
As stated by Mr. Sheller, "psychological addiction is typified by the cravings the alcoholic has for more
alcohol. Indeed, people who are psychologically addicted to alcohol feel overcome by the desire for alcohol. In
fact, these feelings are so powerful that psychologically addicted individuals will do just about anything to avoid
alcohol withdrawals including lying, stealing, other kinds of crime, and in some instances, killing."
Mr. Sheller then discussed some of the more common psychological "signs" or "symptoms" that are manifested by
- Uncharacteristic mood swings. These mood swings become increasingly more noticeable by
family members and friends as the disease progresses.
- An obsession with drinking. Alcoholics are obsessed with alcohol mainly because they need
to drink in order to function on a daily basis and also because they want to avoid the alcohol withdrawal
symptoms they will experience if they don't get their next alcoholic 'fix.'"
- Loss of interest in events or activities that used to be important or fun. Due to the fact
that alcoholics associate more with fellow drinkers and are preoccupied with drinking, they often lose interest
in activities about which they were passionate.
- Solitary drinking. Alcoholics often drink all by themselves. At times this is to wallow in
their self pity, but most of the time, it is to hide their abusive drinking from others, especially from
non-alcoholic friends and family members.
- Blaming other for one's problems. Alcoholics often deny that they have a drinking problem.
On the other hand, when they become aware of their alcohol-related problems, rather than owning their part in
these problems, they frequently blame others.
- Uncharacteristic bouts of depression. Contrary to what many people think, alcohol is not a
stimulate but a depressant. This, along with the fact that alcoholics are often sad about their drinking
behavior, often makes them feel depressed even though they may have been quite positive individuals before they
started to drink excessively.
- Drinking in an abusive manner in order to forget problems and deal with pain. Many, if not
most alcoholics engage in excessively drinking to get away from their problems, reduce their pain, or to
attempt to 'chill out' and escape from reality.
- Making excuses for one's abusive drinking. This typically happens when a family member or
a friend asks the alcoholic why he or she drinks so much. Why do alcoholics so often make excuses for their
out-of-control drinking? Alcoholics do this partly because they are in denial about the seriousness of their
drinking, partly because they have a tendency to blame others for their alcohol-related problems, and partly
because they are ashamed about their excessive drinking.
The Best Predictor of Alcoholism
After discussing the above physical and psychological "signs" and "symptoms" of alcoholism, Mr. Sheller caught
his students "off guard" when he made the following statement: "as observable as an alcoholic's psychological and
physical signs and symptoms are, the "best" and most reliable way of determining whether or not a person is alcohol
dependent is probably NOT by looking at his alcoholism signs and symptoms while he continues to drink but rather by
observing what happens to him when he stops drinking."
Due to the fact that this statement puzzled most of his students, Mr. Sheller further explained what he meant
with the following. "Depending on the signs or the symptoms the drinker exhibits, one can be fairly certain that
the drinker may be alcohol dependent."
"On the other hand, when a drinker stops drinking and experiences various physical and psychological withdrawal
symptoms, one can be very confident that the drinker is alcohol dependent. This is because alcoholics, and not
alcohol abusers who are not dependent on alcohol, experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they stop
Now that the students understood what Mr. Sheller was talking about, they asked him to give some examples of
alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Mr. Sheller reminded his students that alcohol addiction has both physical and psychological components. As a
result, when an alcoholic experiences alcohol withdrawal symptoms, he experiences both physical and psychological
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms of Alcohol
With this is mind, Mr. Sheller then gave the following examples of fairly typical physical withdrawal symptoms
- Nausea. This is usually one of the first withdrawal symptoms that is physical.
- Vomiting. Along with nausea, the alcoholic often vomits when experiencing physical
- Loss of appetite. It's usually hard to have a healthy appetite when a person is feeling
nauseous and is vomiting.
- Excessive sweating, especially on the palms of the hands and on the face.
- Pulsating headaches. According to alcoholics who have undergone alcohol withdrawal, these
throbbing headaches are especially painful.
- Seizures. While not a common as some of the other physical withdrawal symptoms, several
alcoholics suffer through seizures when they stop drinking.
- Difficulty sleeping. With all of the other pain and discomfort of alcohol withdrawal, it
probably comes as no surprise that the alcoholic often has insomnia problems.
Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms of Alcohol
After discussing the physical withdrawal symptoms of alcohol, Mr. Sheller actually shocked his students when he
stated that as painful and as uncomfortable as physical withdrawal symptoms were, the emotional and psychological
turmoil alcoholics experience when they stop drinking can be as bad or even worse.
To substantiate this statement, Mr. Sheller asked his students to try to imagine what it must be like to
experience anger, frustration, confusion, and anxiety when alcoholics try to stop drinking.
And to compound things, he asked his students to picture what it must also feel like to experience paranoia,
depression, irritability, and a sense of panic due to the lack of alcohol in the alcoholic's system.
And finally, Mr. Sheller asked his students to visualize what it must feel like when alcoholics experience an
inability to concentrate, rapidly vacillating emotions, an unbelievable craving for alcohol, and auditory and/or
visual hallucinations, all because they are trying to quit drinking or are unable to get more alcohol.
Alcohol Treatment: The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Mr. Sheller concluded his presentation with the following: "Class, now you have a fairly good idea why most
alcoholics fear physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms and usually give in to the temptation to simply
resort to drinking once again in order to avoid these withdrawal symptoms."
I have intentionally painted a bleak and dreary picture of physical and psychological alcohol addiction because
this is the reality that alcoholics live with on a daily basis. I want to emphasize, however, that there is some
light at the end of the tunnel and a ray of hope for most alcoholics.
Indeed, if they truly want to quit drinking and get through their physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms
with as little pain and discomfort as possible, they can get professional medical assistance at their local drug
and alcohol rehab facility.
This is possible because the professional staff members at alcohol treatment hospitals and clinics can prescribe
various medications that help alcoholics get through their withdrawal symptoms relatively pain-free as well as rid
their bodies of any remaining alcohol via the alcohol detoxification process.
At this point, if the alcoholics 'buy into' and follow their treatment plan and get the support and out-patient
rehab they need after their initial phase of alcohol treatment, they can learn how to stay sober and start on the
road to alcohol recovery--that is, if they get the treatment they need before their disease advances too far."