How Do You Know If You Have a Problem With Alcohol?
Many people feel they have their drinking under control, that they couldn’t possibly have a problem because they’ve never gotten into serious trouble because of drinking. While for some people who drink regularly that may be true, for the vast number of drinkers, it’s just a matter of time. If they haven’t suffered negative consequences yet, they more than likely will soon. So, how do you know if you have a problem with alcohol? Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the issue.
Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Questions
We might as well start off with the list of 12 questions from the Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlet, “Is A.A. For You?” While we’re not debating whether or not you should be joining a 12-step organization at this point, it is instructive to look at the questions to get a better idea if alcohol is becoming a problem in your life (or that of a loved one). Go to the A.A. website to actually take the test and see your scores.
- Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted for a couple of days?
- Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking– stop telling you what to do?
- Have you ever switched from one kind of drink to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk?
- Have you had to have an eye-opener upon awakening during the past year?
- Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble?
- Have you had problems connected with drinking during the past year?
- Has your drinking caused trouble at home?
- Do you ever try to get “extra” drinks at a party because you do not get enough?
- Do you tell yourself you can stop drinking any time you want to, even though you keep getting drunk when you don’t mean to?
- Have you missed days of work or school because of drinking?
- Do you have “blackouts”?
- Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not drink?
If you answered yes to four or more questions, according to the A.A. website questionnaire, you are probably in trouble with alcohol.
Other Signs You May Have a Problem with Alcohol
But let’s get to the more practical way of looking at things – the way we behave every day, the way we think, the way we do what we have become accustomed to doing. Maybe that’s an easier way to determine if we have a problem with alcohol.
Do you find yourself doing (or thinking) any of the following?
- Have to have the “hair of the dog” – You wake up feeling still woozy, or you know for a fact that the feeling in your gut means you’re still pretty loaded. Talk to the old-time drinkers in your acquaintance and they’ll tell you that you’ve got to have the “hair of the dog.” Down a quick drink or two – or more, but who’s counting – and you think you’ll be okay once more. Does this sound like you? How often have you reached for a beer or a shot first thing in the morning to get your thought processes straight again? Even once is too much. This is a bad practice that is often a sign you have a problem with alcohol.
- Doing an Internet search for hangover cures – There must be something that can get you over this killer hangover, you tell yourself. Surely there’s an easier way than letting it gradually subside. Your head is throbbing, you’re sick to your stomach, probably have vomited more than once, and you generally feel like you’re half-dead. You have to get to work or school and you can’t even drag yourself out of bed. You go on the Internet and do a Google or Bing search for sure-fire hangover cures – and then you start in on them one by one. The worst part is if you think they work. This gives you the excuse to keep on drinking way past your limit. You believe you have a secret antidote to combat hangovers. Don’t fall for this, but if you have, it’s time to start some serious thinking about whether you may have a problem with alcohol.
- Maintaining a secret stash of booze – Maybe someone in your family, your spouse or partner, even your kids, has made comments about you drinking too much. If it becomes too much of an issue, you may have had to pledge to get rid of all the liquor – beer, wine, spirits – in the house. You go through the process, pouring the stuff down the drain or giving it away to your neighbor. Surely, this will be the end of it. But it isn’t, not for you. What you do instead is squirrel away your secret stash of booze in places you think no one will find them. You won’t have anyone deter you from having your drink when you want it. It’s funny how we don’t consider the fact that others know when we’ve been drinking. It doesn’t matter if we’re masters at concealment, we can’t hide that simple truth. If you keep your booze hidden around your place, you may have a problem with alcohol that you need to look at.
- Always popping gum and mints to disguise the smell of booze – You’d think you owned stock in a gum or candy company, for all the products you have in your house, office desk, car, on your person. Can’t go back to work without chewing some strong gum or sucking on Altoids? If you think that by disguising the smell of booze you’re fooling someone, you’re mistaken. If you’ve had that much to drink, it shows in more ways than one. Your physical movements, your judgment, reaction time, even your words are affected. Then, there’s your eyes, and that tell-tale bloodshot look… Always popping gum and mints to disguise the smell of booze? You’re most likely having a problem with alcohol.
- Gallons of hot coffee at the ready – It’s a myth that drinking gallons of hot coffee will undo the damage caused by drinking too much alcohol. Only time can do that, but it certainly doesn’t stop party hosts from offering, or drinkers from ordering, or friends from suggesting that you down repeated cups of the hot stuff. You’ll probably just have to use the rest room more often, but drinking coffee won’t bring you down from a drunk or magically wipe out the alcohol from your system. If you engage in this practice – drinking lots of coffee after consuming too much booze – you’ve probably got a problem with alcohol. At least, it’s something you need to look at.
- Stuffing yourself with food – Similar to drinking coffee is the myth that stuffing yourself with food and then bingeing on alcohol will somehow keep you from being drunk or feeling the effects of alcohol. While it is true that you should never drink on an empty stomach (alcohol irritates the stomach lining), the practice of wolfing down vast quantities of food for the intention of drinking heavily after is just another sign that you could have a problem with alcohol.
- Can’t turn down a party invite – You know that certain friends like to party hearty, and that way too much booze will be served. But you can’t resist the urge to go and hang out with your friends. You say yes when you know there will be consequences afterward. Besides the camaraderie, there’s also the drinking games that often occur. Binge drinking isn’t a test of endurance or a demonstration of your prowess: it’s just stupid, and can get you into serious problems with alcohol.
- Have to be the life of the party – We all have a certain image of ourselves, one that may not square with who we really are. Sometimes we want to step outside our self-imposed boundaries and use alcohol as a means to do that. Maybe you find that drinking alcohol makes you the life of the party – and this is something that you deem to be very important. But the more you use alcohol as a crutch to liberate you and help you be more outgoing, the more you are setting yourself up to have a problem with alcohol.
- Drinking in order to feel better about yourself – You’ve always been insecure, lacking confidence, in the shadow of others. You feel that you’re better able to project a sense of self-assuredness, success, and joie de vivre when you drink. While alcohol does lessen our inhibitions, it’s hard to judge when enough is enough. Worse yet, when you come to rely on alcohol to “loosen you up,” to be one of the gang, to be popular or well-liked or always included in activities, it’s no longer you – it’s the booze that’s taking over. In this case, too much alcohol – like too much of anything – is not a good thing.
- Telling yourself drinking runs in the family – While genetics do play a part in the tendency for some individuals to be vulnerable to alcoholism, not every person who comes from a family of heavy drinkers will turn out to have a problem with alcohol. Some do, and others don’t. But to tell yourself that drinking runs in the family – which it may very well – is only an excuse that you use to fool yourself into thinking it’s okay for you to drink as much as you please. You do have self will. Nobody’s forcing you to drink. If you’re using this as your basis for continued drinking, you are stepping into dangerous territory. You may soon, if you don’t already, have a problem with alcohol.
- Have to prime the pump – When you know you’re going out to a party or dinner at a restaurant where alcohol will be served, do you fell you have to prime the pump by getting a jump on the drinking at home? This is a dangerous practice, and one that is common among young adults and teens. Drinks are expensive to buy (for those old enough to drink), so it’s cheaper to drink at home and get ahead of the rest of the group. It’s also a way to get that buzz quicker. Teens often prime the pump by stealing liquor from their parents’ cupboards and replacing it with water (and sometimes food coloring). The funny thing is that most people who prime the pump don’t drink any less when they get to that party, get-together, or restaurant or club. Often, they get to a point where they feel that they may as well keep going. This is a nasty and dangerous habit to get into. If you’ve been priming the pump, you may have a problem with alcohol.
- Drinking to forget – Everyone has times of difficulty. Whether it’s stress at work, an illness in the family, poor health, financial problems, the loss of a loved one (death, divorce or breakup), sometimes the easiest thing to do is to drink to forget about it all. The problem is that once you sober up, the problems are still there. Nothing’s changed except the fact that you got drunk and were out of it for a period of time. If you find yourself reaching for the bottle or successive and multiple shots as a way to stop thinking about something that’s troubling you, you may have a problem with alcohol – and it will only get worse the longer you continue the habit.
- Need more to feel merrier – One drink is never enough, for certain people at certain times. If you’ve established a regular routine of having drinks with your pals every Friday night after work, or during the pickup basketball game at the park, watching Monday night football and cheering on your favorite teams, you’ll undoubtedly find that, sooner or later, you’ll start to need more in order to feel merrier. In other words, what used to satisfy you and make you feel good – that state of drinking where you feel a buzz – no longer works. You need more in order to achieve the high that used to come so easily. This is called tolerance.
- Loss of time and place – The more you drink, the more likely you are to experience blackouts. A blackout is when you have been drinking for a lengthy period of time, or consumed too much alcohol in a short period of time, and cannot remember events, places, or actions afterward. Generally speaking, you lose hours at a time, may wake up in a strange place with no recollection of going there, and no memory of what you did in the intervening hours (from the last thing you do remember). This is not only dangerous for your physical health, if you drink and drive, you are putting yourself and others at serious risk for alcohol-related crashes, injuries, and death. Date-rape, assault, kidnapping, robbery and other crimes are also a higher risk for people who black out. If you’ve lost time and place as a result of drinking episodes, you are likely in trouble with alcohol. By this point, your troubles are starting to mount up. If you haven’t gotten into serious trouble yet, you’re bound to shortly. You need help to get your act in order and cut down or quit drinking.
What Can You Do About It?
If you’ve seen the light and determined that, yes, you may have a problem with alcohol, what can you do about it? First of all, don’t panic. The good news is that you can take steps to cut down or quit drinking. You may need some help to do so. Most people do.
Start by talking with your family about your desire to change your behavior. If that’s not an option – because your family members are not supportive, are heavy drinkers themselves, are deceased, estranged, live in another part of the state or are otherwise unavailable, talk with your doctor, a member of the clergy, or a trusted friend.
You can also go online and check out 12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to benefit from checking out the website. There are publications that you can download or order. The fellowship also has online meetings, chat meetings, and other resources that you will find instructive and helpful.
In fact, your two biggest avenues of support are your family and 12-step groups. If you have a problem with alcohol and want to do something about it, start today. Remember that only you can decide how you will live your life, how you will chart your future – or let alcohol make your choices for you.