Happy Hour with friends on a Friday after work, a couple of beers while backyard BBQing and a glass of red wine with dinner — they all sound harmless. In fact, news reports have stated in recent years that red wine in moderation may actually be good for the heart. But if I’m drinking to excess, am I an alcoholic? What are the signs of alcoholism?
Most of our population, ages 18 and older, has enjoyed a libation in their lifetime — 86.4 percent, according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (the most recent data available). For some, moderation comes naturally. But for others, their relationship with alcohol is complicated.
Over 15 million people struggle with an alcohol use disorder in the USA, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which also reports that less than 8 percent of those receive treatment.
Answering the Question: Am I an Alcoholic?
Do you wonder, “Am I an alcoholic?” If so, read on for 10 signs you might be.
1. You Drink to Relax, Cheer-Up, Forget
You had a long, busy day at the office followed by tending to exhausted children who have emotional outbursts; of course, you’re stressed and overwhelmed. You’re navigating your way through a divorce with an ex who questions, berates and belittles you at every turn; of course, you’re experiencing anxiety. Or maybe the man or woman of your dreams has just left you; you miss that person, so of course, you’re depressed.
But are you drinking enough to where you ask yourself, “Am I an alcoholic?”
Most people who struggle with alcoholism (or substance abuse of any kind) do so for emotional reasons. After the kids are down, you’ve dealt with your ex or you don’t want to feel sad, do you immediately pour a glass of wine just to relax — but end up consuming the bottle (and maybe even one or two more bottles)?
Using alcohol to ease undesirable feelings is risky. It may provide some relief, but that relief is temporary — whatever the situation is and the feelings are, they’ll be there as soon as you sober up. And consistently using alcohol as an emotional crutch will ultimately make things worse.
2. Once You Start, You Just Can’t Stop
After you open a bottle of wine and have that first glass, do you always finish the whole bottle? Or once you’ve had one beer, do you continue drinking until all beer in the house is gone?
This drinking to excess — the inability to stop at just one glass or just one beer or cocktail — signals you’re not in complete control of your drinking and may have a dependency on alcohol.
3. Your Tolerance Is Higher
If one craft brew used to give you a nice buzz but you now need a six-pack to reach that same level, it’s a sign that your tolerance — your body acclimating to alcohol consumption — is increasing. And a high tolerance is a strong indicator of addiction. So if you need to drink more than you previously did to get drunk, ask yourself, “Am I an alcoholic?”. That your body is exposed to alcohol regularly enough it’s adapted to better cope with it means you might be.
4. You Neglect Your Responsibilities and Relationships
If your alcohol consumption is causing you to miss deadlines at work, ignore your schoolwork, neglect studying for your tests, and fail to go grocery shopping, cook dinner or even clean up after yourself, then you’ve got a problem. Alcohol is no longer an occasional indulgence — it’s significantly impacting your daily functioning.
What’s more, if you find that alcohol is a greater priority than your friends, significant other or family — like you missed your son’s play because stopping for one drink after work turned into an all-night affair, or you missed your anniversary date because you got drunk after work and passed out on the couch — it’s time to take a good look in the mirror and seriously ask yourself, “Am I an alcoholic?”.
5. You Black Out Frequently
Some people drink so much that when they wake the next day, they have no memory of what happened. They wake up asking, “What did I do? Who did I see? What conversations did I have? And how did I even get home?!”.
This alcohol-induced amnesia — best known as blacking out — is another indication you’ve got issues with alcohol because it means you drank far too much. And if it’s happening frequently, the odds are good you’ve got an alcohol dependency.
6. You Hide Your Alcohol Consumption (and in Peculiar Places)
For every alcoholic beverage you consume in a public setting, how many do you consume in private? Do you pour vodka in your Yeti cup and cover it with sparkling water when your husband walks in the kitchen to appear innocent?
Whether you’re a teenager hiding bottles of Jose Cuervo in the depths of your sister’s closet, a mom or dad of two kids stashing Jack Daniels between old boxes in the garage or a new college grad bringing Smirnoff to work in your water bottle, you clearly have a problem. If any of these remotely sound like you, it’s time to ask yourself, “Am I an alcoholic?”, because alcoholics are excellent at making sure they get what they need and covering their tracks.
7. You Lie about Your Drinking
An extension of No. 6. is someone lying about their drinking. While the parent who pours vodka in her cup when no one is looking and waiting to pour the sparkling water over it until the spouse enters the room isn’t technically lying, as no words are spoken, it is a clear act of deceit. Because it’s probable that problem drinkers and alcoholics are in denial, they’ll likely drink in secret and/or lie about how much they’ve consumed so it appears less severe than it really is. This behavior is a significant sign of a serious problem.
8. You Experience Withdrawal Symptoms
There are many symptoms of withdrawal someone dependent upon alcohol may experience should he or she go without alcohol: abdominal pain, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, confusion, high blood pressure, increased body temperature, an unusual heart rate, agitation, fever, hallucination, and seizures. The symptoms begin as soon as 8 hours after a person’s last drink, but are said to decrease within five to seven days.
9. You Drink Before and/or during Dangerous and Inappropriate Situations
Do you sit in your parked car before heading into the office and have a spiked coffee before going in? Or did you drink that spiked coffee before you even left the house? Are you on medications you shouldn’t mix with alcohol, but you do anyway? Doing these things is risky. And taking those risks consistently makes your main priority clear: alcohol.
10. You’ve Tried to Quit but Just Can’t Do It
So for whatever reason, you decided to quit drinking — but you realized that it’s not as easy as you thought it’d be. All you can think about is how badly you want a drink. Your stomach hurts, you feel anxious. And to make yourself feel better, you grab a drink.
You tried. You really did. Taking that step to at least try shows you recognize how alcohol is impacting your life — but your inability to walk away completely is a surefire sign you’re dependent on alcohol.
Alcoholism vs. Alcohol Abuse
Alcoholics (or those with alcohol dependency) have a physical and/or mental need for alcohol. They depend on alcohol as an emotional crutch and will experience withdrawal symptoms if they go without a drink for too long.
Because its symptoms are progressive and can be fatal, alcoholism is considered a chronic disease. Alcoholics experience cravings, an increased tolerance to alcohol and a physical and mental inability to stop drinking.
Alcohol abuse, however, is when people under the influence engage in high-risk, dangerous or unsafe behaviors. This often includes actions with recurring negative impacts on a person’s health, relationships, and job or school. These high-risk behaviors include binge drinking, drinking when driving, consuming alcohol when not of legal drinking age, and failing to meet personal or professional responsibilities because of drinking.
Are you asking yourself, “Am I an alcoholic?”
The answer is this: Alcohol abusers can somewhat control or limit their drinking; alcoholics cannot. But neither is a positive or productive way of life.
If you can relate to any of these signs, your best bet is to talk to a professional. A licensed addiction therapist can give you a complete evaluation and assessment to help you determine whether you’re an alcoholic.
Signs of Alcoholism: Conclusion
If your evaluation determines that the answer to “Am I am alcoholic?” is “yes,” it’s time for treatment — which will begin with medically supervised detox. Once all alcohol is out of your system, you’ll begin the road to recovery, the mantra of which is to take one day at a time.