Am I an alcoholic?
For anyone who has ever questioned their drinking, there comes a point where you ask yourself the big question.
Some people can barely stomach the word. It’s a heavy one. And who wants to carry that weight around?
So we dabble a bit.
We hop online and try to psychoanalyze ourselves via the internet. Maybe I’m NOT an alcoholic. Maybe I’m something else.
You busy yourself with terms like “gray area drinking” or “problem drinker.” And then here comes the negotiation.
Okay, so maybe I had to go to the emergency room with alcohol poisoning twice in the past year, but look! I went an entire three weeks without drinking so I can’t be an alcoholic. Maybe I just go a little overboard sometimes.
This line of thinking inevitably spirals into notions of “cutting back” or “moderating” our drinking. And we genuinely believe we can do it. We MIGHT even succeed once or twice at it, believing (falsely) that we’ve somehow cracked the code on this whole drinking thing.
It’s a new day! Huzzah!
But this kind of back and forth never goes well.
If you have a history of drinking too much, binging, getting blackout drunk, crawling through more workdays than you care to admit with a wrenching hangover, you need to take this stuff more seriously.
You can’t allow yourself to be struck with convenient amnesia every time you string together a sober streak.
You know the kind I’m talking about, I’m sure.
One night you’re pouring your heart out to a close friend or family member. You think you might have a problem.
You nearly got arrested the other night. Or maybe you fell down your stairs and had to go to the ER. You drank too much and can’t remember what you did. Your significant other is tired of your drunk shenanigans and is threatening to leave.
And it kicks your motivation into high gear. You stop drinking for a week or two. And then you start the internal negotiations and asking all the wrong questions:
- Am I REALLY so bad?
- Maybe I just hit a rough patch. Quitting drinking is a bit extreme, right?
- My drinking is mostly normal. Lots of people get drunk and do stupid stuff.
- I mean, it’s not like a drink EVERY night. Maybe I’m just a drinker who uses it to unwind.
- I’m not an alcoholic, right? Of course, I’m not.
So you decide to drink again. Maybe it’s not a disaster.
The same friend or family member you poured your heart out to is getting an earful about how it’s fine, you were just having a rough night when you guys talked, but you went two weeks without drinking so you’re not an alcoholic or anything.
This situation only gets worse.
Once you enter into the realm of “do I have a drinking problem?” you will soon find that it consumes you. If you’re not drinking, you’re thinking about your drinking. Sometimes you’re thinking about whether you REALLY need to stop or not.
And then you’re thinking about what happens if you stop. Will your social life be over? Will the sky start falling?
Back and forth. Back and forth.
And throughout it all, you keep asking the same questions, “Am I an alcoholic? Do I have a real problem? What do I call this problem?”
Does it matter what you call it?
We get so caught up in what to label the problem that we don’t have anything left to actually solve it.
Certainly, there is an aspect of surrender that comes with labeling yourself an alcoholic. You’re openly saying, “this is a problem that can only be solved with sobriety. I can’t keep drinking.”
Some people need that. Saying it out loud can be cathartic.
But all this mental back and forth over what you do and do not want to be called is silly. Alcohol is inherently addictive. And this manifests itself in a wide array of behaviors ranging from having a few too many when you didn’t mean to, all the way to becoming physically dependent.
And so our collective drinking problem happens on a spectrum.
I say collective because 40% of Americans drink heavily and 1 in 8 meet the clinical definition of an alcoholic.
That means a lot of us are on the internet, yourself included, trying to make sense of it. But mostly we just get trapped in a war of semantics.
But what is the point?
What does wrestling with whether you are an alcoholic, a problem drinker, a gray area drinker, or whatever name du jour is popular these days actually DO for you?
Go ahead and let alcohol live in your head rent-free if you want to, but might I suggest asking yourself a different set of questions instead?
Start with this one:
“Why do I drink alcohol?”
Go on. What’s the answer?
For anyone who is back and forth with themselves over whether to quit drinking, I want to save you the agony of mulling over what “kind” of drinker you are or whether you fit some Hollywood characterization of what an alcoholic is or isn’t.
Unburden yourself from all of that.
You’re only going to drive yourself insane and waste countless hours shuffling between varying perspectives on the internet.
Let’s change the conversation a little.
Why do you even want to drink alcohol?
I mean you clearly think it’s a problem (it’s why you’re here), but that’s not enough to make you stop drinking altogether. So why is that?
Why drink at all?
Let’s try to unpack some common responses to this question.
Is it? What’s fun about it?
It’s expensive, doesn’t taste particularly great, and is likely to make you do or say something regrettable, (or worse). Oh, and let’s not forget the puking, the public pissing, and risky hookups.
Super fun, right?
Hangovers are a riot! I love feeling like I’m dying of thirst for an entire Sunday.
Seriously. What’s fun about it?
Besides, if you’ve ever been the sober one out of a group of drunk people, you already know how the “fun” looks from an outside perspective.
Your friend over in the corner is all red faced and grinning like a moron and can hardly form a coherent sentence. Is THAT fun?
Or how about your girl to the right dancing and falling over herself while people look at her sideways. Is she having fun?
Oh and your roommate who woke up in a pile of his own puke. Was he having fun?
You get my point.
(I’ve been all of these people at one point or another and I can definitely say that it was not fun for the people around me.)
Okay, but I like to loosen up and hang out with friends.
As do I! Why is alcohol necessary for that?
Are you saying you have to be buzzed or drunk to hang out with your own friends? You can’t laugh and talk shit without alcohol?
Surely you don’t believe that.
(Or maybe you need new friends.)
Right, but I don’t want to be the only one not drinking.
Let me ask you this, if you were the only person in a group not smoking cigarettes would that be a reason to start smoking?
Yes, peer pressure and all. It’s how I started smoking way back when.
But generally speaking, nobody begrudges the lone non-smoker in a group of grown people. The same should be true of alcohol.
Also, “everyone else is doing it” is a terrible reason to keep engaging in behavior that is harmful to you.
Besides, I think you overestimate how much most people care if you drink or not.
It helps me relax.
Yah I know. It gives you the warm fuzzies that first glass or two, but then what? Relaxed turns to loose which devolves into messy shit show human.
There are plenty of other things in this world that are relaxing and won’t turn you into a proper jackass. For the price of a night out on the town, you could book a massage.
And here’s the thing about alcohol “relaxing” you.
Alcohol is a sedative with pretty immediate effects, so I get why it’s tempting. It’s what I loved about it.
But the flip side is alcohol’s ability to deplete serotonin levels in your brain in the long term which leads to crippling mental health issues.
Not very relaxing!
So yes, you might get an instant ahhhhhh from one drink, but if you continue to drink (and you will; it’s why you’re here), you’ll find it is actually making your anxiety, tension, and irritability significantly worse.
It’s why you wake up with hangxiety.
What’s hangxiety? It’s that racing heart, panicky, “holy shit what have I done” feeling you get after a night of drinking. And that bad boy can last upwards to 24 hours after you drink.
The math doesn’t add up.
Feeling relaxed for an hour or two vs feeling cranked up, anxious, and like you’re going nuts for a whole day? And then potentially developing an anxiety disorder in the long term?
All of THAT for an hour or two of warm, happy vibes?
It’s a no brainer.
Yah, well I need it to decompress from a hard day.
Wait. You NEED it?
Let’s evaluate that for a second.
What is going to happen if you don’t drink after a hard day? Will your head spontaneously combust? I’ve certainly had days that have felt that way, but it’s not what will happen.
Plus, there are dozens of ways you can take the edge off a hard day that don’t involve ingesting something that can easily get out of control.
I know that, but my job is shitty and I hate my life right now.
And now we’re starting to uncover the roots, which means facing even harder questions that make you angry to think about.
Does alcohol make your job less shitty? Does it make you life more bearable?
What you’re really saying is that you’re in over your head and alcohol helps you disconnect from it temporarily.
I think I can safely say that anyone who has had to come to grips with their drinking knows this kind of escape tactic all too well.
The problem is we can’t stop disconnecting. The longer you drink to avoid problems, the less capable you become of solving them.
Alcohol isn’t helping these situations. In fact, it’s probably exacerbating them. Not only do you have a job and/or life you can’t stand, but now you’re hungover, broke, and riddled with anxiety from too much drinking.
You’re going to have to deal with these things eventually. Getting drunk to avoid your problems only delays them and gives them room to grow bigger.
I know saying that doesn’t do anything to solve the underlying problem, but neither does alcohol. So here we are.
I’m miserable and I’m sick of feeling that way.
Man, do I hear that.
You know for years I lived in a cyclical hell of my own making. I’d wake up hungover, go to work (at a job that was ripping me to pieces), suffer through the day, come home, drink and smoke, eat nachos, repeat.
It was a lonely, isolating, miserable way to live, but I did it for the better part of a decade.
Honestly, it’s one thing to avoid your problems, feel sorry for yourself, and hope it all goes away on its own. But to think that alcohol is actually HELPING anything?
Quite the opposite. And I know you know that. We all know it.
Alcohol is an avoidance tactic, plain and simple. Allowing it to get to the point where you feel powerless is only piling on to your problems.
Nothing good will come of that.
Whatever, you don’t understand my life or my problems.
That’s probably true. But I DO know that drinking alcohol has never solved a single problem for anyone and you’re no exception.
Also, my heart goes out to you.
Once you take away the alcohol, you’ll be left with what is likely a raw, gaping wound that will take time, patience, and a lot of support to heal. Feeling things you’ve been drowning in alcohol for years? It’s A LOT.
Nobody chooses that for themselves.
But the thing is, there were decisions, experiences, and mistakes along the way that got you to this place and it’s time to start putting yourself back together, something that is not easy and requires support from other people. I had to start getting counseling to even begin doing the emotional work, because there was no alternative.
I couldn’t keep living like I was and even if my brain could not fathom a world that did consist of me being in pain, I had to trust that it could exist and there were people who wanted to help me get there.
So let’s start there.
What benefits are you getting from alcohol?
Here’s another way to look at it.
If you’re thinking about whether you should be drinking, ask yourself what benefits you’re getting from alcohol.
Go ahead and list them out.
Does is save you money? Nope. Takes a lot of it, actually.
Is it healthy for you? Yes! I read somewhere that…. WRONG. Nope, nope-ity, nope. No amount of alcohol is good for you. Look it up. Or click here if you don’t believe me.
Does it make you look and feel better? Actually, it does the opposite. Alcohol ages you and mostly makes you feel like sluggish rubbish.
Are you enjoying a thriving, meaningful career because of alcohol? Ha! Unless you’re a wildly successful sommelier, in which case… don’t get high on your own supply.
Does alcohol help you maintain that lean, sexy figure? You mean this jiggly beer gut?
Are you meeting more personal and professional goals because you drink alcohol? Ummmm….
We can keep going, but I think you get the point.
The darker side of why you drink alcohol.
Sometimes you run through a thought exercise like this and uncover deeper demons. Or maybe you didn’t even need to do much digging. You already know.
You drink because you’re struggling with mental health issues, loss, abuse, poverty, and other BIG things that have no fast or easy remedy.
Hopeless things that you’re tired of carrying.
It’s not so simple as having some a-ha moment about alcohol. You likely know that alcohol is adding to your problems, but you don’t know what else to do.
That’s a very real place that a lot of people find themselves. You are most definitely NOT alone.
So the question to you is, “Are you going to give up?”
Sometimes deciding to try is the most powerful step forward.
And the good thing about that is you don’t have to know how. You can be completely clueless about how you’re supposed to manage any of this and quit drinking at the same time.
Just be willing to try and then go seek help from those who do know.
That might be AA or another alcohol recovery program. Maybe it’s a grief and loss support group. If it’s available to you, it might be counseling.
But if you’re going to try you have to take action, even if you hate the thought of sitting in a room with strangers talking about all those things you’re hiding from.
Trying to figure out just how bad your drinking problem is and what to call it is a useless exercise if all it’s doing is preventing you from actually taking action.
If alcohol is causing any problems in your life, no matter how big or small, then get rid of it.
That will be easy for some and a seemingly impossible hurdle for others (it’s not, though, I promise). But if you want to get somewhere with this whole drinking thing, start by asking the right questions.
- What’s the point of drinking at all?
- Why do you want to keep drinking?
- What’s it doing for you and your life?
If you’re honest with yourself, I don’t think you’ll find many good reasons to keep at it. And that, my friend, will be the beginning of a powerful mindset shift to help you get on the path towards a better, healthier, more fulfilling life.