Alcohol is entrenched and celebrated in our society. It is expected that adults drink in most social situations. It’s normative for people to use alcohol as a way to relieve stress and have fun.
Social norms dictate that all we need to do when drinking causes us problems is to temporarily abstain. We’re encouraged to go “on the wagon” for a brief time and then resume. Millions of us have cycled this way. The red flag we often ignore is that it gets worse each time we repeat the cycle.
The question that gradually haunts many of us is:
“Am I an alcoholic?”
It’s uncomfortable to consider a question when we’re afraid of the answer.
We are further hindered by our inability to fully trust ourselves. The bottom line is that it’s a personal choice whether or not to identify yourself as an alcoholic.
At the start of each new year, treatment centers and 12 step programs see an influx of folks looking to reduce or eliminate their use of alcohol. The catalyst is most often being uncomfortable with what drinking has cost us. We experience losses financially, in health, relationally, and in our overall quality of life.
This is one of the greatest red flags for alcoholism: The cost progressively increases.
100 Forms of Alcoholism
We are unique and we’re the same. We drink in different ways for different reasons and we’re all the worse for it. Some of us drink until we black out. Some of us only need a few drinks to make really bad choices. Some of us drink very little, everyday, and find we can’t be okay without it.
Our greatest commonalities are that alcohol negatively impacts the course of our lives and we don’t see it until we’re forced to. It’s the fishbowl affect. When you’re living in it, it’s hard to see the big picture.
One of the biggest red flags for developing a problem with alcohol is when we negotiate with ourselves. We establish limits as lines we won’t cross. When we say, “weekends only” or “no more than two or three” we often find a progression in which the limits change. We start telling ourselves, “not before noon” or “I’m not getting drunk tonight.”
We start to rationalize and justify our drinking. We say things like, “It doesn’t affect my job performance” or “Everything at home is just fine.” It doesn’t seem to occur to us that if it wasn’t a problem, we wouldn’t feel any need to justify why it’s okay to keep doing it.
We find that we don’t enjoy drinking as we once did. We feel bored, empty, and angry. Depression becomes a constant companion. We drink not to feel good but to avoid feeling bad. The most tell-tale aspect of having a problem with alcohol is when we cannot with any degree of certainty predict whether we will lose control when we drink.
Embracing simplicity allows us to move toward a clear course of action. Rather than endlessly considering whether we’re an alcoholic, we can reason as many have that, “If drinking alcohol causes you to have a problem, then you have a problem with alcohol.”
Please also consider the recovery adage that, “Even if you’re not an alcoholic, you still don’t have to drink.”