This is NOT all-inclusive, official, doctor-recommended, or the one-and-only way to identify alcoholism. This is my opinion based off of my experiences as an alcoholic in recovery for the past 9 months as well as someone who works in social work land. Take it at that and go no further, please.
I decided to write this post because I’ve been asked a lot during my sobriety about how I know I’m an alcoholic and how one would be able to identify themselves or someone they know as an alcoholic. The only purpose identifying someone else as an alcoholic should serve is to try to help them. I will warn you however that calling an alcoholic ‘an alcoholic‘ will more than likely be met with denial, dismissal, or aggression. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) Most of the following information is from other websites or sources. I have pieced together the important/relevant parts/my opinion and formatted this post to first describe the symptoms of alcoholism, then ask important questions to assist in identifying whether one is an alcoholic or not, and then offer suggestions on how one can help a loved one who is struggling or how alcoholics can help themselves.
~ Indicators ~
- weight loss due to malnutrition
- insomnia or oversleeping
- unexplained nausea or sore stomach
- redness of the face or cheeks
- numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- random body spasms/twitches while sleeping
- tremors or shaking
- erectile dysfunction
- high blood pressure
- Repeatedly Neglecting Responsibilities: Because of drinking, repeatedly neglecting reponsibilities at home, work, or school. Spending less time on activities that used to be important to you because of drinking. For example, neglecting your household responsibilities (e.g. paying bills, cleaning, cooking), performing poorly at work or school, skipping work, school, personal or social commitments because you’re hung over
- Alcohol Use in Dangerous Situations: The use of alcohol in situations where it could be physically dangerous, such as drinking and driving, drinking with people who you either don’t know or who you know might possibly be dangerous, mixing alcohol with prescription medication against the advice of your doctor or operating machinery while drinking
- Legal Problems Due to Drinking: If, due to drinking, you are experiencing repeated legal problems. For example, getting arrested for fights, drunk and disorderly conduct, domestic disputes, driving under the influence
- Continued Drinking Despite Relationship Problems: Alcohol is causing or making problems worse in your relationships with friends, family, partner(s), and you continue to drink. For example, fighting with your family because they don’t like how you act when you drink or going out to drink with your buddies even though you know your partner(s) will be very upset
- Drinking to De-Stress: For example, getting drunk after a very stressful day at work or drinking if you’ve had an argument with a loved one
~ Questions ~
If you answer yes to 5 or more questions, then you are probably an alcoholic. (in my opinion)
- Do you have a lot of contacts in your phone with nicknames, such as “the coke guy” or “The Replay HAWTIE,” because you know you wouldn’t remember their real name the next morning?
- Are you so worried about getting enough alcohol at parties you hide alcohol in the back of the fridge?
- Do you mentally divide up the portions of alcohol when sharing with a group at a restaurant because you want to make sure you ‘get enough’?
- Do you get upset when people ask questions about your drinking?
- Do you consistently bring alcohol into situations where there wouldn’t otherwise be any, like a hike, movie theater, or your office?
- Have you lost your cell phone/keys/wallet more than once in the past year?
- Do you feel guilty about your drinking?
- Do you hide your drinking from friends and family by hiding empty bottles or lying about consumption?
- Do you keep drinking until you pass out, throw up, or black out?
- Would you drink a specific kind of alcohol even though you know you don’t like the taste or effect because you want to get drunk?
- Is it hard for you to stop drinking after one or two drinks?
- Do you use the phrase ‘road beer’?
- Do you drink even when you are sick?
- Do you worry a party or social function won’t have enough alcohol, so you have a few drinks before you go or bring your own?
- Do you keep alcohol in unusual places at home, work or in the car?
- Do you harass people who aren’t drinking, or who go home before 2 am, by saying things like, “Ohh is it past your bedtime?” or “Seriously, come on, just have one more with me”?
- Is being a drinker such a part of your identity that everybody around you knows you love to PARTY and some of your friends will only hang out with you when they ‘feel like getting crazy’?
- Have you ever wet the bed after a night of drinking?
- Have you ever felt the need to cut back on your drinking?
- Have you promised a loved one to stop drinking or cut back on your drinking and failed?
~What’s Next? ~
For the person thinking someone they love might be an alcoholic…
First, check yourself. Ask yourself: do they really need help or are you pushing your own agenda? Next, you need to realize a couple o’things.
You can’t help people who aren’t ready to help themselves, but you can love them through it. Don’t assume they aren’t helping themselves though. Perhaps the helplessness is the sign of their being out of their comfort zone. If we want to help, we can do some positive things like give encouragement or discuss the situation with them and let their own intuition discover the best way to help themselves.
You can help them by just being there and being supportive. You can still plant seeds. Most minds are so conditioned it is almost impossible to shed any light on their world. So just smile, nod, suggest, and if it does not help, then move on with no regret because you tried. Support is important. Talk to your friends don’t leave them when they go through hard times, you’ll need them when you’re going through a hard time.
People who don’t help themselves usually don’t trust others or themselves. Until they do, help them along by being a friend, but don’t engage in crazy behavior with them. Don’t enable them. Put the tools in their hands to help themselves, show them how to use them, step back, and be there when they trip. Love them when they fall. Repeat repeatedly.
You can’t make people be what you want them to be and you can’t decide what is best for them. You can only choose for yourself. There is a huge difference between can’t and won’t. Can’t might be open to help. Won’t can’t be your problem. The best thing is won’t might not always be won’t. Hope for that. Their path is not yours to blaze, and who’s to say they’re not exactly where they need to be at this very moment?
Focus on your own well being (boundaries) so that you can provide stable support when they ask for help. Allow them their process no matter how difficult it is to watch. It is neither our right or responsibility to manipulate their journey. Stay strong! Use your strength to combat their weakness. It takes time.
For the person thinking they might be an alcoholic…
First, if you think you might have a drinking problem, you do. If you think you might be an alcoholic, you are.
Your friend who you always end up finishing their drink because you don’t want it to go to waste isn’t wondering if they have a drinking problem. Neither is your friend who you can hardly ever convince to come out with you. They’re not the one who is on a first name basis with that one drive-thru window attendant of Burrito King who’s always there at 2:15am.
If you want to quit drinking, but the idea sounds so foreign that you don’t even know where to begin, here are some pointers.
**You should consult a physician if you think it could potentially be detrimental to your health to completely stop drinking abruptly.**
There are a couple of ways you can stop drinking, but I’ll be real with you. You have to come to the decision to stop drinking completely. None of that halfsie shit. You’re kidding yourself (i.e. lying to yourself) if you think you can cut back and only drink on the weekends or only drink in certain situations or with certain people. You’ll always find an excuse to drink as much as you want. ALWAYS
Trust me. I was terrified my life would be over if I quit drinking. I was afraid my social life would go right out the window and I’d be one of those boring people (like the ones I was always giving shit to about not drinking ‘enough’). I was afraid I wouldn’t have anything to do and none of my friends would want to hang out with me anymore if I wasn’t the life of the party. When I say this, I mean it with every inch of my body. My life wasn’t over when I quit drinking, but quite the contrary. My life finally began when I got sober.
I don’t know what the non-AA route of sobriety looks like yet, so I can’t speak too much about it. I am however currently in the process of learning more about SMART Recovery (http://www.smartrecovery.org/). I know there are alternatives to AA, but I’m not sure about their efficacy. If I find some, I’ll report back. Until then, I can only speak about how AA has given me the sobriety I had thought was impossible.
For the longest time, I didn’t go to an AA meeting because I thought I would bear witness to a bunch of drunks sitting around a table talking about Jesus. This has NOT been my experience. Don’t get me wrong – AA is definitely spiritually/religiously affiliated, but I have yet to encounter any proselytization. (This could be the experience of other people however). I know for a fact I would not be sober today if it weren’t for AA. All I can do is say, go to a meeting. You can find one on this website: http://www.aa-ksdist23.org/ and see for yourself. Check it out and see if it works for you. Don’t knock it til you try it. I would also recommend seeking therapy in addition to AA. This has worked wonders for me.
This has officially been my longest post. I’m done now. I hope this was helpful. If you know me and have questions, please contact me and ask. I am really open to talking about all of this.
Keep it weird, y’all.