Are You an Alcoholic?

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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If someone called you an alcoholic, would it bother you? If you believe you aren’t an alcoholic, would you be willing to be evaluated by a Substance Abuse Counselor? Most people aren’t aware of what classifies someone as an alcoholic. Is it the drink consumption? Is it only when you drink alone? Is it when you depend on alcohol to cope?

are you an alcoholic

What about sanctioned alcoholism that has, in this day and age, come in the form of bar crawls, frat parties, fundraisers, drinking games, open bars at weddings and any other venue or event that will allow alcohol? Are we forgetting that alcoholism is a disease? Alcoholism, as the late Mitch Hedberg said, is the only disease you can be yelled at for having.

According to Jerry Nelson, a Substance Abuse Counselor, it is this very question we ask ourselves that may classify us as being alcoholics. When asked by clients ‘Am I an alcoholic?,’ Nelson’s response was “Do you think ‘normal’ drinkers ask that question?”

Nelson goes on to say that “Only alcoholics understand what ‘normal’ drinkers are. They’re the ones that walk into a bar, order a drink and leave an hour later with half the drink still in the glass.” Does this sound like you? Or do you stay and have a couple more leaving nothing in your cup? Do you think this is normal? Nelson would say no.

Alcoholism has many faces, and we can’t ignore the health effects of alcoholism being more prominent in individuals of low socioeconomic status. That’s just one statistic from one study so please don’t ignore that alcoholism is everywhere. Alcoholism is not just the fall down scruffy looking drunk guy in a bar and it’s not a group of laborers that just finished their day at a local factory. Alcoholism is not exclusive to Frank Gallagher of the hit Showtime series Shameless. The Institute of Alcohol Studies actually suggests that individuals in high-income earning managerial positions are more likely to drink regularly and above recommended levels during the week.

Let’s put it to the test…

If you use alcohol enough, you’ve probably been ‘yelled at’ for something alcohol related. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol-related accidents costed $44 billion in the United States in 2014. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself if you depend on alcohol, or if your alcohol use has become problematic? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders would find reason to believe you have Alcohol Use Disorder if you meet 2 of the 11 following criteria:

1. Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?

Ever go to a happy hour with co-workers for just one drink and find two hours later… a few drinks in… you’re still there? It is easy to tell ourselves that this is normal and we aren’t the only ones. And that is likely correct, you aren’t the only one. But does this behavior become acceptable because you are surrounded by others doing this same thing?

2. More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?

Let’s say you’re meeting an old friend for a drink and to catch up on old times. You’re friend orders you both one of your favorite glasses of wine. You’ve already told yourself that you’re just going to have one or two drinks as you have been drinking a lot lately and are trying to stay on the wagon. While your friend sips on their first glass you have already finished and are ready for the second. You wait painfully for your friend to finish ordering another. Is this normal behavior?

3. Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?

Many of us can probably say we have spent more time drinking than we like to admit at certain times in our lives. We rationalize with ourselves – what is a lot of time? Is it two days? Three? What it may come down to is how it’s affecting us? Do we get sick? Does it affect our relationships? Our work? It is important to take the time and recognize what drinking is doing to our lives.

4. Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?

Think of it like cigarettes – do you have to stop what you’re doing to have a drink? Is there an urge that is nagging you so much you can’t get through the day without a drink? Alcoholism is an addiction and cravings go hand and hand with addictions. Asking for help is the first step.

5. Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?

While all of these questions are important to our health and our future when it comes to our alcohol intake, please take some time as you answer question number five. No one likes to think they are out of control and it is difficult to admit when we are. Once our drinking starts affecting our livelihood it is time to admit that we may need to make a change.

6. Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?

As mentioned above, when our loved ones begin to notice a problem, let them in. Let them help. Sometimes as much as we want to stop we just can’t. It may seem impossible but know that it is not.

7. Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?

Are you someone who used to play a sport but gave it up? Did alcohol have anything to do with why you gave it up? Did it start with stopping at the bar with teammates to celebrate a victory and then spiral from there?

8. More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?

Drinking and driving. It is well known that alcohol lowers our inhibitions and as such we are not as likely to make the sound and responsible decisions our sober selves may have made. If you answer yes to this question please seek help before you hurt yourself or others.

9. Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having a memory blackout?

According to the New York Times, “Alcoholism is not a form of depression, but both are quite common, and there is plenty of overlap between the two.” Sometimes it is hard to tell what is causing what. Is the depression causing the drinking? Is the drinking causing the depression?

10. Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?

Drinking to get drunk. Is this you? Have you ever uttered these words? You just don’t want to feel anymore. One drink isn’t going to do it. Is two? Three? Four? How much does it take to get to the desired state of mind?

11. Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

The most common psychiatric disorders that co-occur with alcoholism are depressive disorders and bipolar disorder, which are both under the mood disorder umbrella. Depressive disorders affect 6.7 percent of the United States population. Instead of walking you through another dry set of criterion for a depressive disorder, it’s safe to say if you are experiencing a recurring depressed mood, have lost interest in pleasurable activities and are drinking alcohol to excess, you may benefit from a formal evaluation.

Now What?

Moving away from the psychiatric disorders, don’t you want to know if you’re an alcoholic? The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) made a nifty questionnaire to help you take your first step toward a definitive answer. Some of the questions include:

-Do you drink heavily when you are disappointed, under pressure, or have had a quarrel with someone?

-Have you ever been unable to remember part of the previous evening, even though your friends say you didn’t pass out?

-Do you often want to continue drinking when your friends say you’ve had enough?

-Have any of your blood relatives had trouble with drinking?

The questionnaire is sure to disclaim that they are not giving official diagnoses but they sure did a great job of highlighting events that we’ve come to be comfortable with in movies, sitcoms and other portrayals of human interaction. I dare you to watch a major network on television for 2 hours and not see a depiction of one the above questions. We see signs of alcoholism in society everyday but we minimize it through statements such as ‘blowing off steam’ or ‘celebrating’.

In summary…

Don’t panic if you think you’re an alcoholic because you had one too many last night, or made a poor decision after a late night of drinking and showed up late to work the next morning. It’s possible you’re experiencing an underlying psychiatric disorder and you’re using alcohol to cope with that disorder. It’s also possible that you’re perfectly fine and simply drank irresponsibly.

Either way, you may have to improve your ability to cope with stressful life events. If you want to go to a professional, he or she can charge by the hour and sift through your mental health status and history, alcohol consumption, genetics and additional life domains and still end up with a chicken or egg situation. However, regardless of the cause, a trained professional can help you evaluate your drinking habits and assist with extinguishing the abuse.

Even when we think we are alone, there is always someone there to help. Sometimes it takes us being honest with ourselves to make the first steps towards getting help. It is never too late to make the healthy choice and always know you are not alone. You are not the first person who answered yes to two or more of the above questions and you certainly won’t be the last. As scary as it may be at first it’s your life, don’t you want to live it?