Many of the symptoms you read about on checklists across the internet are very accurate and I want to cover some of those also. But in my head, noticing that my drinking was different from other people was a long process and it was just a small detail here and there that got my attention.
I’ll tell you the things that really make sense to me:
Do you sometimes feel guilty after drinking?
This is a big one for me. It is so simple when you think about it; when you feel badly about something you did, the implication is whatever you did was not ‘right’. And I can apply this to many different areas of my life. If I am thinking about a conversation or situation over and over again and I don’t feel good about how I handled it or what I said, then it’s a pretty good indicator I did not do the right thing.
2. Do you sometimes regret things you’ve said or done while drinking?
For me this is an absolute yes. There were many times I regretted driving home, or making a phone call to someone I wished I hadn’t, or gone to a party I wished I would have skipped, or said things I regretted. I think most people can relate to this if you’ve ever had even one night of overdrinking.
3. Have friends or family ever mentioned concern about your drinking?
This, to me, is a good indicator there is a problem. I have never met a non-addicted person in the world that ever had a friend or family member approach them about their drinking or drug use. If you are doing it enough for other people to be that aware of it… we may have a problem.
Now here are some of the big ones that did not apply to me:
Blackouts. I was not a black out drinker. I drank every day of my life, a lot. And I can count on one hand how many times I blacked out. That doesn’t mean I’m not an alcoholic! Blacking out just wasn’t a regular part of my drinking story.
Drinking alone. This also was not a big thing for me. Sort of. I wouldn’t necessarily sit at home by myself and get drunk. I would, however, get home at the end of the night and have more drinks. So many people bring this ‘symptom’ up when they are defending their drinking habits and I always tell them this was not a part of my story. I didn’t go out of my way to drink alone or isolate to drink alone, but I was willing to drink at home when no one else was around or everyone else had gone home.
Morning drinking. Another one that is brought up over and over… “I don’t drink in the morning like alcoholics do”. Wrong. I didn’t drink in the morning either. Don’t get me wrong, there was a time or two that this happened. But it was a time or two in more than a decade of hard drinking. And I certainly wasn’t getting up in the middle of the night to have a drink either. But I am still an alcoholic!
So here’s how it made sense to me: The first thing I noticed was that my friends were always ready and willing to go home at the end of the night, and I couldn’t figure out why they would go home when we could drink more. I was always ready for more. Whether that meant going to another bar or party, or having the party at my house, I just didn’t want to stop. And that doesn’t mean I was getting wasted every time.
When I was a new drinker in my early twenties, I didn’t drink that much because I hadn’t built up a tolerance. A night of drinking may have been 4 or 5 beers for me. Nothing crazy at all. Except that it was every single night and there is nothing normal about drinking every single night regardless of how many you have.
The next thing that caught my attention was how much time I spent thinking about alcohol. What I mean is, I was always in some sort of thought that involved drinking. I was either thinking about the next time I would drink, or planning the next time, choosing the place we would drink, inviting the people to drink, talking about drinking, actually drinking, or hungover from drinking.
I always tell people that if, on Friday afternoon at work, everyone else is working diligently to get things done before the weekend and you spend most of Friday afternoon planning happy hour, where, when, inviting the people, etc. then we may have a problem. Simply put, it is just occupying too much of your mind space and this is not a normal relationship with alcohol.
Another big one to me is trying to put RULES on drinking. I hear this all the time, and was guilty of it myself! I’m only going to drink after the kids go to bed, I only drink after 5pm, I only drink wine, I only drink on Saturdays, I’m going to stop drinking for 30 days to prove I can, I’m only going to drink one drink per hour, I drink a glass of water between every drink, I only drink beer, no hard alcohol…. blah blah blah… The truth is, when you are putting rules around something to try to control it, then you have already lost control. Again, I have never met a non-addicted person in my life that puts rules around their drinking. They don’t even think about alcohol that much.
There are a few more things I always talk about when trying to figure out if things have gotten out of hand, but these are some of the big ones for me. I hope this helps put things in perspective a bit and helps to show the abnormal relationship I had with alcohol that made me understand I didn’t do it in a ‘normal’ way.