If you gave your great-grandma Mathilda a bottle of gin to drink in one sitting, she'd undoubtedly do the same silly things most people do when they're drunk, i.e. fall over, throw up, take her top off... You get the picture. But does that mean she's an alcoholic? Not necessarily. A drinking problem is not so much about how much you drink or the stupid things you do when you're drunk. It's about what alcohol does FOR YOU, rather than what it does TO YOU.
So how do you know if you have a drinking problem?
- Problem drinkers often rely on alcohol to overcome unpleasant emotions like shyness, inadequacy, worry and stress. Do you find yourself saying "I need a drink to calm down," or "If I have a drink, I'll ease up and become more sociable?" Alcohol relaxes most people, but many alcoholics describe a strong feeling of "everything is going to be okay" when they take a drink.
- Relationships start to suffer when a person drinks heavily. Those closest to us are usually the first to notice it, but they're not necessarily the first to speak up. Do the people around you make jokes about your drinking habits? Have your co-workers commented on your drinking? Is it making your home life unhappy? Do you get angry when people broach the subject with you?
- Experts believe that alcoholism has two main components: a mental fixation with drinking, and a physical response to the substance itself. Do you find yourself thinking about booze at inappropriate times (while at work, in bed at night)? And, do you regularly go out for "just one drink" and end up consuming a lot more? In the past, have you found it easy to have one drink and walk away, or have you overindulged more often than not?
- Not all alcoholics suffer hangovers, but most report feeling a certain amount of remorse, the morning after. That may be because of what they did the night before, or because they promised themselves (or someone else) they wouldn't drink too much, but did. Do you ever wake up thinking "I have to stop doing this to myself," or "I wish I could behave like other people do when they drink?"
- Alcoholism is a progressive illness - it gets worse with time. Has your drinking increased over the years? Have you seen a change in your drinking habits? Do you go out to drink more often than you used to, or have you started avoiding social situations in favor of drinking at home? Have you tried to drink other forms of alcohol (like beer instead of whiskey) in an attempt to get less drunk?
- For problem drinkers, life becomes chaotic or unmanageable. That can mean developing financial problems related to drinking, irresponsible behavior that gets you into trouble with your family or the law, insomnia, problems at work, blackouts (loss of memory) while drinking, depression, and many other problems. Not all alcoholics are alike, but most describe a sense of being out of control... Of being at odds with those around you... Of feeling different or isolated from normal drinkers.
Note: The above criteria are not exhaustive, and are not intended to diagnose alcoholism. If you suspect you have a problem, there are a number of treatment options. You can approach your family doctor, seek help at a treatment center, or attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Go to: www.alcoholics-anonymous.org for more information on alcoholism.