There is a lot of information out there to help someone identify if they are an alcoholic or addict. And many of the criteria fit me perfectly, but some do not. I wanted to take a minute to go through some of the things I thought about in my own journey that brought me to understand that my drinking was a problem. I just didn’t do it the way other people did.
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:
1. 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.
With drinking, if it is lingering on your mind, if you are feeling badly about how much you drank, or how often you drink, or how you behaved while drinking these are all good indicators of an abnormal relationship with alcohol. In simple terms, a person who is 100% non-alcoholic would never feel guilty about any of those things because they wouldn’t drink enough to have those experiences.
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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 over-drinking.
Again, break this down into the most simple terms; a non-alcoholic person will not consume enough alcohol to experience these issues.
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 party or night out, 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!
Daily Drinking- People get really hung up on this daily drinking thing, like, if you don’t drink every day then you aren’t an alcoholic. Here’s the TRUTH: being an alcoholic is not about WHAT you drink, or HOW OFTEN you drink, or HOW MANY you drink. Being alcoholic is about a loss of control when you drink.
It doesn’t matter if you only drink once a year at the family reunion- if every year at the family reunion you OVERdrink, and make an ass of yourself. Addiction is about lacking control. Maybe it only takes you 3 glasses of wine to be drunk and loopy. At that point you are impaired, not dependable, unable to properly care for yourself or your children, and unable to drive. It doesn’t matter if you only have those 3 glasses of wine once a week or once a month if the end result is impairment and an inability to stop once you start.
Once I had my first drink, I knew I was going to have more. And it had a mind of its own. There were a few times in my drinking life that I went out and didn’t get drunk. Literally, 3-5 times. In 13 years. Once I started drinking, I couldn’t stop. It doesn’t matter if that was every day, once a month, or once a year. And it doesn’t matter if getting drunk took me 30 drinks or 3. The point is, I was drinking to get drunk, and non-alcoholic people don’t do that, either.
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.
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