Who Answers?

Are You an Alcoholic?


A lot of people grapple with the idea that they may be an alcoholic, even long after they begin attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.  They often find themselves seeking an answer through Google searches, and picking up questionnaires from meetings.  While listening to the stories of other alcoholics, they may sometimes think to themselves, yes that sounds like me. I must be an alcoholic too, while at other times hearing differences that bring thoughts like well I never got that bad in my drinking. I must not be an alcoholic.

Sure, many alcoholics share similarities in their drinking, but they are not all prerequisites to an alcoholic identification.  Not all alcoholics have had DUI’s, or have lost their jobs, while at the same time many have.  Many people look to their outside world to gauge their problem with alcohol, and think that as long as their job, or family, or friends are still in tact, they are doing just fine.  Sure, alcoholism takes many people to disparaging places of hopelessness and demoralization: loss of family and friends, homelessness, legal troubles, institutionalizations, etc., but these things are in no way necessities to make an alcoholic diagnosis.

Alcoholism is indiscriminate.  It can ravage the life of a successful business man on Park Avenue just as it can rob the hope from a man who sleeps on a park bench.  Aside from the confidentiality of Alcoholics Anonymous, this is another point of what it means to be anonymous: it doesn’t matter who you are or what your life looks like.

There are many people in our country who abuse alcohol.  An alcohol abuser might look a lot like an alcoholic from outward appearances, but there is a great difference.  Many college students are alcohol abusers, who binge drink, may even black out on occasion, and who do things they might regret while intoxicated.  Those things are not necessarily indicative of alcoholism, although they can be helpful in determining if one is alcoholic.  I knew many people like this in college, yet they proceeded to graduate, and then their irresponsible drinking stopped when it was time to get employed, go off to grad school or start a family.  They left their drinking days in college, and it was no problem for them to do so.  That is not my story, however.

Page 44 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous makes a clear and simple distinction of what it really means to be an Alcoholic.  It shuffles through all the possible determinations, such as blackout drinking, legal troubles, drinking in the morning, switching from one liquor to another, problems with the family, problems with an employer and gets right to the heart of the issue.  It states, “If when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.”

Determining if you are alcoholic is really as simple as that.  Do you find that when you want to stop drinking, it’s close to impossible to stay quit for very long on your own?  Have you made resolutions to quit drinking that you have not been able to keep?  And when you do drink, are you able to limit the amount you drink, each time, with great certainty?  We alcoholics love to remember that one time when we were able to have only one or two drinks.  We love to remember that time we were able to stop for a month.  We do have these experiences, but generally speaking, when we are honest with ourselves, we realize they are a large minority to the instances we could not limit our drinks, and could not stay quit when we honestly desired to quit.  Out of my hundreds of times drinking past the point I had intended, I cling to that one time I had just one glass of wine at dinner.  Truth be told, there was probably a good reason I only had one: such as, there was no more wine to be had.  I probably would have had more had it been there.  I can’t let myself be fooled by such an event.  Most the time when I drink, I can’t stop myself until there is either no more alcohol to drink, or I pass out.  That may not be your case: perhaps you intend to have 2 drinks, and have 5.  The amount is really of no importance.  The principle here is a legitimate lack of control.

Alcoholism is the only disease that is by nature self-diagnosable.  Nobody else can tell you whether or not you are alcoholic, although they may be able to offer some wisdom based on what they see.  Deciding if you are alcoholic is not easy, but if you are, admitting it is literally the first step to change.  As a generalization, people who don’t have a problem with alcohol usually don’t question if they are alcoholic.  Accepting that you are an alcoholic is not the end.  In fact, if you are ready to do something about it, it can be the beginning to a new life full of hope and possibilities that you never thought possible.


Works Cited:

Alcoholics Anonymous. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition. New York: A.A. World Services.

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Filed under: Addiction, Alcohol and Drugs, Substance Abuse · Tags: alcoholic, Alcoholic Anonymous, alcoholism

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