When Do I Know My Drinking is a Problem?
Jun 22, 2022
When do I know my drinking is a problem?
First, you found your way here. That itself speaks volumes. I am not a social drinker. But I am guessing social drinkers rarely, if ever, question their drinking.
I have friends who are social drinkers. They are the polite ones at the party, taking teensy sips from fancy cocktail glasses. They also twirl their drinks with umbrella swizzles just to hear the ice-cubes clink. Then, when the ice has melted and the drink gone stale, they push their glass away, a good shot still at the bottom, and say, “I’ve had enough.”
This has never been my experience!
What about you?
Many people think that by looking at someone you can tell if they are an alcoholic. That is a myth. It doesn’t matter what your gender is, nationality, age, personality, or socio-economic status. The symptoms of addiction affect the person on skid row the same as a person living in a palace.
There are many signs that someone is having problems with their drinking. Here are four common symptoms of addiction that I have experienced. In this article, I use the term addiction and alcoholism interchangeably.
How many can YOU relate to?
Common Symptoms of Addiction
- You have a difficult time stopping once you start. The obsession and compulsion to drink are primary drivers of addiction. I thought about drinking all the time. I did not know how not to drink. The compulsion to drink to make that feeling go away would trigger the cycle all over again, defying all logic, common sense, or prior commitments.
- Addiction is a progressive disease. That means it never gets any better, only worse. In the beginning, I loved drinking. It was a lot of crazy, insane, fun. Then it was fun with problems. Then, the problems began to stack up at work, home and in my closest relationships. Then it was just problems. Family breakdown. Bankruptcy. Mental health. Drinking alone. In the mornings. In secret. Drinking instead of eating. And then dealing with the consequences of all that. On and on it goes. It has a life of its own.
- You may do a lot of swearing off alcohol or not, trying to convince yourself you don’t have a problem. Social drinkers don’t lie about how much they drink -- to others or themselves. Sigmund Freud described three types of denial: 1) Simple denial is when someone denies that something unpleasant is happening; 2) Minimization is when a person admits an unpleasant fact while denying its seriousness; and 3) Projection is when a person admits both the seriousness and reality of an unpleasant fact but blames someone else.
- Addiction is a family disease. Every person in the family (or extended family) is affected by someone’s addiction. Some more closely than others. One of my instructors, Dr. Jean LaCour, says it best. “Addiction is not a spectator sport. Eventually, everyone in the family gets to play.” It is also a disease that is genetically passed from one generation to the next. The genes that a person is born with account for half of that individual’s risk for addiction. When two parents have an addiction, that risk increases even more. One study showed that if both parents were alcoholics, the child was 400% more likely to become an alcoholic. If both parents and a grandfather were alcoholics, that child was 900% more likely to become an alcoholic. The intergenerational effects of addiction are also passed on, including undealt with trauma. That means any trauma that happened to your great-great-grandmother gets passed on until someone deals with it. These reenacted patterns of hurt ripple through the generations, with each generation impacting the next. That is why quitting drinking is such a powerful and phenomenal accomplishment. By stopping drinking, you are not only stopping the effects on your family but breaking the generational cycle!
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the standard text used to diagnose every recognized feature of every recognized mental illness, including addictions. It lists eleven criteria for a substance use disorder. How many you identify determines whether you have a mild, moderate, or severe substance use disorder:
- Two or three symptoms indicate a mild substance use disorder.
- Four or five symptoms indicate a moderate substance use disorder.
- Six or more symptoms indicate a severe substance use disorder.
- Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you meant to.
- Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to.
- Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from the use of the substance.
- Cravings and urges to use the substance.
- Not managing to do what you should at work, home, or school because of substance use.
- Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships.
- Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.
- Using substances again and again, even when it puts you in danger.
- Continuing to use, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance.
- Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance).
- Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.
There is Help Available
For many people, “being in recovery” means being in Alcoholics Anonymous, an abstinence-based 12-step program. Today, it is recognized that there is no one-size-fits-all recovery treatment method and that recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a personal journey with many different pathways.
Non-12-Step Support Group (i.e., Life Ring)
Group or individual counselling
Support recovery house
Employee assistance program
Medication-assisted addiction treatment (i.e., Suboxone)
Acupuncture for detox
Outpatient detox program
People Can and Do Recover
The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that relapse rates and treatment outcomes are comparable to other chronic diseases, such as Type 11 diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.  This blows the bad news out of the water that people don’t recover. People can and do recover. All the time.
Moving forward, answer one of the following questions that best suits your current circumstances. Reflect on the answer.
- What does recovery mean to you?
- What is one thing you can do today to improve the quality of your life?
If you care to share, what does recovery mean to you?
P.S. Do you have my FREE Guide? If not, you can download it here. How to Quit Drinking. And Stay Quit.
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