Am I An Alcoholic?
Self-diagnosing alcoholism is no easy task. There’s a long list of reasons that factor into that statement, but the obvious one is well, no one wants to admit they have a problem. Alcohol is deeply rooted in almost every society and has been part of our history’s fabric since nearly the dawn of time. Since it’s legal (if you’re of age), just about everywhere, and often encouraged, admitting you have a problem is a tough thing to do.
Alcoholism can take many forms. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), the medical term for alcoholism, doesn’t only apply to those who end up penniless on the street. It can be anyone that has a propensity to seek solace in the sensation alcohol gives them, or anyone that exhibits no control when drinking.
This means the person that drinks once a month but blacks out heavily every time they do so can be quantified as an alcoholic. This also means that the person with a stable job, a healthy relationship, and an impeccable willingness to give to others but drinks four beers every day can be an alcoholic as well.
Since there’s no real black and white and no blood test that says, ‘you are an alcoholic’ diagnosing the disease becomes a fickle process. But to this point, before we continue on and give you some advice on how to self-diagnose, we first want to differentiate between an alcoholic and abusing alcohol.
The principle difference is that an alcoholic often exhibits no control when dealing with their addiction, while the alcohol abuser falls victim to bad habits. The problem is: lots of the symptoms overlap. The thing people need to remember is that alcohol is an addictive substance. Not only that, but it’s harmful to the body.
The reason we address this point is that if you’re someone that has bad drinking habits and you suddenly decide to refrain from the substance, or you’ve become aware of your own unproductive patterns, then there’s a rather large chance you’re going to experience some similar symptoms as alcoholics. If you’ve been going out every night with your friends because your social life is booming, then you stop drinking, you’re probably going to feel crappy because your body has accustomed to consistently consuming an addictive substance.
While this should never be an excuse to excuse alcoholism, it’s certainly something to be aware of before reading on and panicking over the symptoms we address. Just as well, know that a disease will vary in severity from person to person, no matter what type.
How Do I Know if I’m an Alcoholic?
If you find that these are things you’re currently struggling with, chances are you need to address the issue.
Drinking alone to avoid embarrassment
Drinking in isolation is one of the symptoms of alcoholism. If you are drinking alone because you’re scared or worried about the impact you’ll have on others, than that is a problem. That very decision is made due to a person’s awareness of their lack of control, and is often brought about by other people’s responses to your actions once intoxicated. Isolating yourself in hopes of finding a ‘safe place’ to drink is a sign of alcoholism. So too is guilt when drinking, which is mutually exclusive to this.
Experiencing Heavy Consequences From Your Drinking Yet Continuing To Drink
Have you recently (or ever) had a DUI? Multiple? Does your work life or day-to-day responsibilities suffer because of your drinking the day prior or the day of? Are your relationships damaged due to your routine drinking? If consequences are piling up and continue to do so, why don’t they stop drinking? Alcoholics understand the consequences of their alcohol abuse, but they continue to drink and are unable to stop.
Constantly Blacking Out?
Most people don’t black out when they drink. In isolated incidents most drinkers have probably gone over the top but that was a rare occurrence(s). If you find that every time you drink and the only way to satisfy your thirst is to continue drinking until the point of memory loss, that could be a huge red flag that you have a problem.
Does your routine revolve around drinking?
Sometimes this happens and we don’t even know it. A year ago, five days a week you played basketball after work then went home and cooked a homemade meal. Now those five days you drink and the other two are a struggle to bring yourself to the gym. If you find that your life has now become centered on those moments of release you feel from drinking, then there’s a possibility you’re progressing along the stages of alcoholism.
Do you have AWS (alcohol withdrawal symptoms)?
This one can be tricky, because again alcohol is an addictive substance that if constantly consumed then refrained from will cause just about everyone to experience some form of withdrawal symptoms. We mean this in a bit more of an extreme, as in every time you don’t drink you feel like you’re withdrawing.
Classic withdrawal symptoms include nausea, accelerated heart rate, shaking, nervousness, sweating, clammy skin, anxiety, and more. Particularly, if these symptoms force you to drink again, it’s usually indicative of a problem. ‘Hair of the dog’ is a common idiom that refers to drinking more to curb the physical consequences of having drank, but if this is a common occurrence then it could definitely be a sign of alcoholism.
Do you need alcohol to feel normal?
Of course, everyone loves to release stress. Everyday life can be taxing. You leave work to return home (and possibly to other responsibilities) and nothing quite says ‘relax’ like a nice glass of wine. It’s such a tool for decompression that it’s often advocated. How many times have you heard ‘you should have a drink’ due to some life event or negative feeling (like a breakup) that needs curbing? Probably one too many.
However, as this concept evolves through practice often an alcoholic doesn’t feel comfortable in their own skin if they don’t have a drink. Those stresses become explicitly manageable through the use of alcohol, and eventually alcohol no longer becomes a tool that helps you decompress, but something you require to escape the anxiety which is now married to sobriety.
The signs that we just labeled are often obvious ones that help dictate whether or not someone is suffering from alcoholism. It’s also important to know the ebb and flow of alcoholism, as often it’s quantified by the entire progression, rather than one certain trait. Although there are tons of different stages of alcoholism paradigms, what’s most commonly used by healthcare professionals is the 4 Stage Model.
Stage 1: Social Drinking and Tolerance
This is often considered the first phase of alcoholism. This is where the alcoholic first encounters alcohol as a substance used socially and then due to their drinking creates a tolerance. They migrate from the drinker that is sufficiently intoxicated from a few glasses of wine, to being able to double that without the same effect. It is rare for the alcoholic or their immediate peers/family to have any suspicion of alcoholism in this phase.
Stage 2: Drinking for Normality
We touched on this in our six signs of alcoholism, but this stage occurs when the alcoholic removes drinking from the social environment and begins to use it as a coping mechanism. They use alcohol to constantly take the ‘edge’ off life and then without they feel abnormal (as with sobriety comes anxiety and the full weight of responsibility).
Stage 3: Solitude and Consequences
This stage is often contributed to the direct dependency of alcohol. Loved ones reach out to show concern. Relationships begin to crumble. Maybe there’s a DUI in there or some legal trouble that involves drinking? Despite all of this, the alcoholic continues to drink. Except now they feel guilt. Due to this guilt and embarrassment for their own lack of control, and how others regard them, stage three is often directly tied into isolationism.
Stage 4: Health Issues and Complete Loss of Control (AKA the Crisis Stage)
This is the end all before rock bottom. The alcoholic falls headfirst into dependency. They prioritize nothing else but drinking. This is where serious consequences occur (often related directly to the alcoholic’s health). This is also where the alcoholic is at the highest risk. If someone reaches Stage 4, the road to recovery is often a long and difficult process.
Above is a generalized progression of alcohol. If you feel that this is occurring to you or someone you care about, it’s important to try and take note of where they are along the journey. However, if these signs and stages didn’t really help you identify if you’re an alcoholic (or if you’re trying to clarify for someone else) then know that there are processes which have been created by professionals to determine AUD. While they’re not notable for being the most accurate, as it’s often too ambiguous, they’re certainly a great starting point when first self-analyzing.
There is a self-assessment test called CAGE which was developed in 1968 by Dr. John Ewing, who studied alcohol and it’s repercussions for most of his life. It’s composed of four questions.
Have you ever felt that you should cut down your drinking?
Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
Have you ever felt bad or guilty about drinking?
Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to calm your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
These are great questions to try and identify the negative forces behind your drinking. Each one can be extracted individually and then quantified, but it’s the culmination of all four that make the test accurate.
Self-diagnosing alcoholism can be a difficult endeavor. Often newly recognized alcoholics are filled with feelings of shame, anxiety, and helplessness. We want you to know that you’re not alone. Millions across the world deal with what you’re dealing with and millions have beaten it.
But fortunately for you (or someone struggling close to you) there’s help and teams of professionals out there who’ve dedicated their lives to the methodology behind treatment and recovery. Luminance Recovery uses a holistic treatment approach to help people beat their addiction and lead a life free from alcohol. Call us today to learn about our addiction recovery program.
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