Do you have a drinking problem? Are you an alcoholic? How can you know, and what do these terms mean anyway?
If you go to the doctor, and she says you have cancer – shows you the MRI pictures, and you see a tumor – you believe it, and start thinking almost immediately about how to get better. It’s black and white, cut and dry – and for the most, the decision to get treatment is an easy one.
Not to belittle the challenge of cancer, but – if only it were that easy for someone with a drinking or drug problem!
People diagnosed with cancer can understand their diagnosis, most will accept it as accurate, and most will accept of the need for treatment. People don’t tend to understand the true meaning of terms such as alcoholic, substance abuser or chemically dependant – although they tend to have a misguided idea in their heads about what these things mean. And they won’t tend to believe a doctor, or anyone else, if they are told that they suffer the disease of addiction.
The term alcoholic is not a medically accepted diagnosis, yet has wide cultural connotations and understanding. It’s a tough and problematic word. People don’t tend to understand it, yet think they do, and since two hallmarks of the disease are delusion and denial – it’s all too easy to self-define alcoholism in such a way so that you don’t meet the criteria – no matter how bad your problem becomes.
You believe that alcoholics are homeless bums – and since you still work, ergo you are not an alcoholic, no matter what drinking is doing to other areas of your life.
The addicted mind, as a defense mechanism preserving the drinking, defines alcoholism as whatever you are not. And that tricky addicted mind can shift those definitions as it needs to, always ensuring that your self-definition of "alcoholic" is anything but what you yourself are.
So Let’s Forget About the Word "Alcoholism"
Just for a second, let’s forget about the term alcoholism. It is a useful term, and understanding the disease of alcoholism can help you to get better, once on a road to recovery – but if you’re still drinking, don’t think you’re an alcoholic, but have a small nagging voice inside your head saying there’s a problem…lets look at things in a different way.
Do You Have a Drinking Problem?
People without drinking problems almost never experience problems because of their drinking. If drinking causes you some problems, in any area of your life, yet you still drink – then you have a drinking problem.
There – it’s as simple as that. If drinking causes you problems, you have a drinking problem. If you have a drinking problem, you should change your behaviors.
While drinking, we tend to associate with others that also drink. While drinking heavily, we associate with others that drink heavily – and we use our associates as a way to gauge our own problem. Not a great diagnostic technique, obviously, but it’s human nature to peer model, and it’s also a great defense mechanism for the addicted mind.
It is not normal to get drunk a lot. About half of Americans basically don’t drink at all.
Forget about comparing yourself to your friends. It’s tempting, but it doesn’t offer you any real insight into yourself. Keep it simple. If drinking is causing you any problems, you have a drinking problem.
Write it down. On a piece of paper, make two columns describing your drinking – one for benefits, and one for costs. Start with the benefits, and in the benefit column, write down anything and everything positive that you can think of about drinking.
You might say: It relaxes me I enjoy the taste of…. I enjoy socializing with friends at the bar.
Whatever, be thorough, and make a full list of everything good that you can think of about drinking. Now – do the same for costs, but this time, do it in a more structured way, and be honest – there is little point in the exercise of you are not being honest with yourself.
Firstly, write down how many drinks you have a week. No lying, is it, 20 – 50 – 150?
Now think about health, and think of any influence your drinking has on your health. Has your drinking affected your weight, your fitness, your heart, your blood pressure, your liver, your energy or your mind? Do you think that if you keep drinking at the level you are drinking now, you will start to experience any health problems?
Has drinking ever caused you personal problems? Has it ever affected your relationship with your spouse, friends, children or family? Has your drinking ever caused you to miss an important social event? Would you like to see your children drink as much as you do? Would your spouse/mom/brother be happier if you drank less?
Has your drinking ever caused you to perform poorly at work or school? Do you go to work with a hangover on a regular basis (more than once a month)? Do you perform as well at work when you are hung-over? Have you ever been noticed for being hung-over or drunk at work? Do you sometimes call in sick to work due to a hang-over? Would you be a better employee if you didn’t drink? Have you ever lost a job or been reprimanded due to alcohol?
Have you ever had any contact with law enforcement as a result of your drinking?
Now Take a Look
OK, that’s it. Now you should have two columns. What do your columns look like?
If you’re feeling really brave – have someone that knows you well complete the same "costs" exercise for you. See what problems they think your drinking is causing you. If you are a social drinker, with nothing to worry about – your "costs" column will be empty.
If that column aint’ empty – you have something to worry about.
Drinking should bring only pleasure – if it brings any kind of problem on a regular basis – and you don’t stop drinking, then you have a drinking problem, and you either need to quit on your own, or get some help so that you can. When self-diagnosing the problem, forget about the term alcoholic – and just decide if you have a drinking problem or not – and if you do – think about how much you are willing to sacrifice to keep on drinking.