Am I an alcoholic?
That’s a very good question.
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In all honesty, there is no straightforward answer to that and whichever ‘expert’ or professional you speak to will give you a totally different, if not conflicting answer. This is because there is no scientific way of measuring this, it really is an opinion. Alcoholics Anonymous for instance, will let you make up your own mind. No one diagnoses you. Doctors and other addiction professionals have other ways of concluding an individual may be an alcoholic or not. Alcohol dependency will usually indicate you are.
It is, in my opinion, fairly easy to diagnose. What follows is a description of the traits of an alcoholic. If they fit you, then you may have to come to the conclusion that you are an alcoholic.
Firstly, and I can’t emphasis this enough, ordinary people do not think about their drinking.
It rents no space in their heads.
This means if you have spent some time looking for solutions for why you drink the way you do and have ended up reading this page.
Then the answer may be yes.
Because it’s renting space in your head.
You have a problem.
Alcoholics know they have a problem.
They know something is most definitely wrong.
It’s a nagging feeling that won’t go away.
They are vaguely aware that they drink too much but have loads of excuses and reasons for why that is.
So, by the sheer fact you are reading this, you know there’s a problem right?
We’ll go further.
Alcoholism has nothing to do with alcohol.
Are you surprised?
Alcoholism is about the way you think.
Let me explain.
Alcoholism is a state of mind, a way of thinking and being, that is so uncomfortable and unpleasant it is expressed in how they drink.
Which isn’t normal. Because alongside this state of mind is a physical allergy that means when alcohol enters the body of an alcoholic they respond differently to other people. You lose the power of control over alcohol; something else takes over and they find it extremely hard to regulate or stop drinking when they start.
The mind and body work against any intentions or ‘will power’ you may have had of not wanting to drink.
Any alcoholic can stop drinking or using for a while, or for a good enough reason, its staying stopped that’s the problem.
When an alcohol isn’t drinking alcohol to manage their internal state they will invariably be using other kinds of unhealthy behaviours to manage their emotional life.
Look closely and you’ll see how.
An alcoholic is so uncomfortable in their own skin that they will always return to alcohol to ease the discomfort in their own minds (and souls). Once they start drinking the physical allergy kicks in and they find that they nearly always drink or use far more that they intended.
The common misconception is that it’s how much you drink or use and how often that makes someone an alcoholic.
Certainly, in most cases alcoholics drink far more than is acceptable and on a more frequent basis than ordinary people, that’s for sure. However, you can be an alcoholic and drink infrequently; it doesn’t necessarily have to be everyday.
What differentiates a binge drinker or heavy drinker from an alcoholic is how that person thinks. It’s exactly the same with addiction.
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We have created a culture that has normalised abnormal drinking – we call it binge drinking, and everyone seems to do it. We have also moved the goal posts with drug use, ‘but everyone does it, I know all the dangers’ is the bulls**t lie that addicts will tell themselves in order to justify what they are doing. If you normalise something it becomes acceptable. We surround ourselves with people who are just like us, who then reflect back to us who we are. We look for justification for our behavior.
Of course not everyone who binge drinks will go on to become an alcoholic.
Many will naturally regulate their drinking as they mature, or the circumstances of their lives change and they find they have no desire to drink at abnormal levels anymore. Others, despite becoming older or their lives changing, will still, whenever they have the opportunity, drink far beyond what is reasonable and to the point that it impacts all areas of their life.
What is reasonable?
The recommended weekly allowances for an adult male are 21 units a week (UK measurement), spread over the week and not all in one night. For a woman it is 14 units. A 250ml glass of wine is the equivalent of 3 units. If you drink consistently over this amount you can expect to have some kind of mental health, physical health, emotional, financial, and social consequences.
Most people are surprised at how low this is. Because so many people are drinking way beyond acceptable levels, we have normalised the abnormal.
And the biggest excuse that most people give for drinking way more than is good for them?
Everyone else is doing it, so it must be ok.
An alcoholic will find it easy to hide amongst binge drinkers because they drink the same way. What makes them different is what’s going on inside of them.
Pay attention, we are really coming to the crux of the problem now; this is the most accurate description of an alcoholic or I can give you:
An alcoholic just feels different than everyone else. It’s like they were born different; some people have described it as looking at the world through a glass screen, watching everyone else get on with life in a way that they just can’t seem to. It feels like being born without the instruction manual for life, and whatever you seem to do it never works out in a way that seems to satisfy or fulfil you.
Alcoholics always have a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction and emptiness, and they are always looking for something to fix that feeling. Alcoholics tend to believe that if they get the right partner, job, house, or car it will bring them the feeling of satisfaction and happiness they crave.
They are always looking for something outside of themselves to make them complete.
And what happens?
Temporarily, these outside changes fix that hole inside of them. Everything seems like its going to be okay, but it’s always just temporary. It escapes them again, it’s like sand running through their fingers, they can never seem to hold on to it. Just when they are almost there, when they feel like they finally have the thing that will make them happy, they lose it and they revert back to their old feelings of dissatisfaction and emptiness.
In addition to living life in this unsatisfactory way, alcoholics also experience a lot of fear.
A disproportional amount of fear.
Fear is probably the defining characteristic of alcoholics.
It’s fear of everything and nothing; it’s always with them. It’s hard to put into words but fear is a daily companion to an alcoholic.
An alcoholic will very rarely be able to tell anyone close to them about the ‘fear’.
They are scared of what people might think of them.
They are frightened of not being good enough, of being found out, of people not liking them, of failing. An alcoholic will do whatever they can to hide this fear to the outside world, and they even find it hard admitting it to themselves. They are so used to living with this fear that they can’t remember what it’s like to be without it.
So you can see that when you feel this way on a consistent basis, it becomes so uncomfortable that you will do anything to change it. Alcohol can achieve that. In the short term it removes that sense of discomfort and uncomfortableness and for a short while you feel like everything is okay. You feel happy and unafraid, like you fit in with the people around them; the glass screen separating you from the rest of the world has been removed.
For a while at least.
It was only artificially and temporarily induced, courtesy of alcohol, and you are back to being the way they always were, still searching for whatever it is that will make you feel better (feel complete).
You can see then, that alcoholism is an internal problem rather than an external one. That the problem arises from how you think and how you feel, and that drinking is only a symptom.
You may argue that other people who don’t drink also feel that way and you’d be right. They will be expressing their internal dissatisfaction in other ways, other behaviors, alcoholics and addicts pick substances because they are accessible, widely used and very, very effective.
Pay attention, though – look around. Notice how other people express their internal dissatisfaction through unhealthy relationships, overspending, gambling, sex, moving, food, shopping, rampant consumerism etc. All that behavior is just a way to deal with uncomfortable feelings.
Feelings motivate all behavior.
By reading this far, then chances are that you have read something you have identified with, that intrigues you.
If you can recognise the traits or alcoholism, if you can identify your problem, then you can get help much earlier. The truth is, that this condition this way of being and thinking won’t go away just because you want it to. My experience of working with alcoholics and addicts is that you can’t think your way out of it and you certainly can’t do it alone.
It comes down to this: how much longer are you prepared to accept living this way?
You may have read this and thought,
‘Yeah, I identify with some of that, but it’s really not that bad.’
Are you really prepared to accept that in your life?
Are you really prepared to accept less than you deserve?
Do you want to look back on your life and see that you settled for 70% or 50% of what you were capable of?
Are you prepared to live through one more day feeling the way you do, when now you know there’s a way out?
Now may be the time to get really honest with yourself.
So, are you an alcoholic?
Yes, or No?