This article is shareblogged from A Young Psychologist’s Blog, with thanks to the author.
A hard question. Not always an easy answer to be found. Emotionally, the answer to this question can have many implications. Does this mean I’m an alcoholic? Is there something wrong with me? How do I get help? But let’s not start there.
Many things influence our perception of drinking problems– including (but not limited to) culture, personality, biology. Studies have shown that drinking habits can vary dramatically internationally and even just across different parts of the United States. Employment can sometimes hide or reveal alcohol use problems (e.g. professional artists’ substance use habits often come with the territory). A quiet, introspective person’s drinking habits may appear very different than an outgoing, extroverted person. Even our body’s ability to consume alcohol varies widely. Metabolic capacity of the liver, body size, sex all impact how alcohol affects an individual.
Regardless of all these factors, research supports roughly 11 behavioral constructs that are indicative of alcohol use problems. Even just one of the these issues can signify alcohol misuse. These constructs fall into 3 categories, including loss or reduction of control, resulting life problems, and physiological changes.
Loss or Reduction of Control
- Tried to stop or cut down but couldn’t?
- Used alcohol for much longer than you intended?
- Spent a lot of time drinking alcohol or recovering from a hangover?
Resulting Life Problems
- Had trouble going to work, school, etc. because of drinking?
- Given up activities that used to be important to you in order to drink?
- Continued drinking despite effects on your health?
- Found yourself in compromising or dangerous situations because of your drinking?
- Continued drinking even though it’s hurt your interpersonal relationships?
- Needed a lot more alcohol in order to get the same buzz (e.g. need 7-8 drinks just to get going)?
- Needed a drink in the morning to get going or ever had the shakes?
- Found yourself craving/desiring a drink when you couldn’t have one?
If you said yes to one or more of the above questions it likely raised some additional questions like the ones I mentioned at the beginning of this article.
Does this mean I’m an alcoholic?
While alcoholic is a loaded word, it is likely indicative of an alcohol use disorder. This isn’t necessarily something to freak out about but it is something for which you should think about seeking help. Treatment works. Recovery is possible.
Is there something wrong with me?
An alcohol use disorder is a neurological/biological/psychological/social syndrome. This means that your struggles with alcohol are connected to many things including your genetics, neurology, family history, emotional coping skills, etc. etc. While some of these factors are difficult to manage and/or control directly, other factors are quite within your control.
How do I get help?
This is my favorite question. As I mentioned: Treatment works. Recovery is possible. I generally recommend help-seeking in proportion to the presenting problem.
If you answered yes to just one question above and desire to seek help, maybe start with a lower level of care such as family/friend support to change your drinking habits.
If that doesn’t work or you answered yes to multiple questions above I would encourage you to consider a higher level of care such as a residential or outpatient rehabilitation program with the possibility of combining that with self-help support.
If you answered yes to one or more of those questions above but just aren’t ready to make changes to your drinking, that’s ok too. Ultimately, you are the only one that makes decisions about your life. I do encourage you to consider all these factors and to make the best decision for yourself.
Always remember that trained, caring professionals are available to help you better understand your substance use struggles and connect you with available treatment options.
If you need and want help– reach out.
D. Ryan Hooper, Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist practicing in Chicago, IL. He specializes in addiction assessment, education, and treatment with a particular emphasis on co-occurring disorders including PTSD, Depression, and Schizophrenia. His treatment approaches are often grounded in Motivational Interviewing (MI), Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Follow him on Twitter as dryanhooper.