What are my drinking patterns?
We are going to start by looking at your relationship with alcohol. As problem drinkers we often fudge the details and consequences of our drinking. Alcoholics and problem drinkers are masters of rationalising their drinking and pretending it’s ‘normal’. The purpose of this exercise is to get the facts on paper, so there’s no escaping them. The decision to stop drinking must be followed by action. By completing these exercises you are taking action towards sustaining your sobriety. Because alcohol abuse has been so normalised in our culture, it’s very difficult for us to accept that we ourselves have a problem. We tend to measure ourselves against extreme examples and because we don’t meet those extremes we convince ourselves that our drinking is ‘normal’ or at least not harmful. We need to let go of all of those pre-conceived ideas and really look closely at how alcohol affects us.
In many ways it’s quite simple. Every problem drinker asks themselves the same question at a certain point: am I an alcoholic or not?
That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
It’s the question many people who drink to excess find themselves asking at some point or another.
Could I be an alcoholic? A sinking feeling in your stomach, followed by a desperate scramble to try to reassure yourself that you’re not, usually follows this thought. I know, because I’ve done it. When I was going to college and drinking vodka in the toilets before a 9am lecture it occurred to me that this is what alcoholics do. My stomach lurched in fear and I thought to myself, ‘No, I can’t be an alcoholic, because alcoholics enjoy drinking alcohol and I’m only drinking because I have to.’
I used to get really bad panic attacks and the only thing that really worked in calming them was booze. At twenty-three years old I couldn’t be in a group situation sober so I really struggled in college and work environments where I couldn’t drink. I would often nip to the pub at lunchtime and have a drink or two to get me through the afternoon. Not enough to get drunk; just enough to calm the fear and enable me to function.
But I was no good if I had to do any kind of group activity in the morning. I had to go to college and I had to go to work. These things were important so I had to find a way to get through without having a panic attack. Prescription drugs only ever seemed to work for a while. Booze was the only thing I could rely on.
Which is why, in my desperation to rationalise that I wasn’t an alcoholic, I came up with the conclusion that I wasn’t alcoholic, as I was drinking out of necessity.
Of course now I can see how crazy that is. But the truth is that I actually had no idea what an alcoholic really was. I thought it was a smelly old man on a bench. I thought there were certain criteria that you needed to fulfill in order to be classed an alcoholic. I was certain that homelessness was one of them, and I was a college student for goodness sake. So I was definitely not an alcoholic.
I was wrong.
I was in full-blown alcoholism and it took me four more years to see this. I resisted right till the end because I was never physically addicted to alcohol, and I thought physical addiction was definitely one of the criteria for defining an alcoholic. I couldn’t see that I was psychologically addicted and that my whole life was defined by drink. When that last delusion was stripped from me, I had nowhere left to hide.
Still unable to accept the truth, someone told me something that changed my life. They said alcoholics do three things:
- They drink.
- They think about drinking.
- They think about not drinking.
Oh wow, that was me. Right there. That was all the definition I needed. I was an alcoholic. And strangely, the feeling that followed that admission was actually relief. Because when I finally accepted and realised what my problem actually was, it meant I could finally start doing something about it. It was when I started doing something about my problem that everything changed.
If you are still having that debate with yourself then the following questions are designed to help you decide if you have a drinking problem.
This is an exclusive extract from my second book Get Sober Get Free which will be out in December 2015. It is designed to help you delve deeper into the reasons you may drink destructively so you can develop effective strategies to overcome your drinking. It is a follow-up to my best selling book Why you drink and How to stop.