How Do I Know if I’m an Alcoholic? – Part 1 of 7
Could I Be Alcoholic?
Our clients come from various backgrounds, communities, and perspectives before entering our program at Heartland House. Before embarking on their journey toward recovery, they are first in need of an answer to the question, “Am I an alcoholic?”
There are numerous resources out there that are fairly easy to find. In this article are, what we consider to be the most comprehensive informational pieces that define the disease of alcoholism and what to consider in one’s self-evaluation.
A “rough patch” vs. the Disease of Alcoholism
Let’s talk about the difference between what may be considered a “problematic experience” vs. true alcoholism, or substance use disorder. Everyone has the potential for a problematic experience to occur with alcohol or drugs. This could manifest in many ways such as a bout of binge drinking in college that leads to illness or alcohol poisoning, one night of blacking out, a bad hangover, or trouble with the law.
Something to consider here is – if after one night of binge drinking and/or blacking out that results in a bad hangover or trouble with the law – are you able to stop or moderate? According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 26.9% of adults admitted to binge drinking while only about 6% of adults actually have Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), or alcoholism. This means that the majority of people can binge drink, or drink heavily, and then moderate or quit on their own.
There are also socioeconomic, cultural, and mental health factors to consider. For example, some recreational alcohol and drug use are accepted and even encouraged in certain cultures, leading you to experiment with substances that you may not have otherwise tried. If you experimented with alcohol and marijuana in high school in the United States, and say you even got caught and got in some legal trouble, this does not necessarily mean that you will end up with a substance use disorder. (click here to read more).
Alcoholism – The Disease
If you’re already feeling a little bit like you might be an alcoholic, keep this in mind: it is not your fault. Alcoholism, or now medically referred to as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a diagnosable, treatable, disease.
Decades ago, alcoholism was widely considered to be a moral defect, but in the 1930s, physicians began changing the perception of alcoholism and alcoholics. A noted psychiatrist of this time period and Director of the Center of Alcohol Studies at Yale Medical School, E. M. Jellinek’s, wrote a book defining the alcoholism as a medical disease, shedding a new light on the disorder. (reference)
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has defined Alcohol Use Disorder as “a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.”
How can we help?
Over the 57 years that Heartland House has been serving men in recovery from substance abuse disorder, we have learned a lot and come a long way in pursuing this mission; and we strive to continue to shift and update our programs and services with new information as it comes to light. Throughout our history, we have utilized many recovery tools that have their roots in 12-step programs, government initiatives, and studies and surveys.
There are many different quizzes or questionnaires you can take online to diagnose yourself, and we encourage exploring different ones. We have found that you will likely get the same overarching answer from all of them.
That being said, we have gathered 6 questions that we think can help you determine if you have an alcohol or drug problem:
Is it hard for you to imagine life without drugs or alcohol?
As mentioned above, if you’ve done some experimenting in your youth, or even in adulthood, but were able to let that go and continue to lead a “normal” life, then you may not be alcoholic. If alcohol or drugs have become a part of your everyday life, however, you may want to keep digging. Let’s move to question two.
Has your substance use caused problems in your personal or professional life?
Even those who have experimented may have found themselves in a drunken fight or showing up late for work due to a hangover, but they can usually stop or moderate after a bad experience. If such occurrences are the norm for you and you find your personal and professional life slipping on a regular basis, you may have a problem.
Do you need to use drugs or alcohol to feel “normal”?
Non-alcoholic people generally drink for social enjoyment or for taste. They do not need to drink to change the way that they feel, or use alcohol for its effects. If you don’t feel normal without alcohol, but you feel “normal” only when you are drinking or drunk, you may have a problem.
Have you ever felt defensive, guilty, or ashamed about your drinking or using?
If you have felt this way once or twice due to an experiment gone awry, that does not necessarily mean you are alcoholic. If this is a constant feeling after a night of drinking, or you feel defensive and constantly find yourself making excuses, then you might be an alcoholic.
Do you have a habit of drinking or using alone?
Plenty of people who live alone or go out alone may enjoy a glass of wine or beer, what we’re looking for is the shameful behavior referenced in question #4. Do you drink or use alone because you are worried what people will think or say? Or are you drinking or using alone to avoid questions and comments from friends or family they’ve made in the past about your habits? The reasons behind the behavior are where it is recommended that you explore.
Have you tried to stop drinking or using on your own and found that you couldn’t do it?
As mentioned above, most people who have binge drank or experimented with drugs in the past can stop on their own when they want to, or if they must due to a bad experience or run-in with the law. If you have had similar experiences but have found you cannot stop drinking or using on your own, even when you really want to, you may be an alcoholic.
If you’ve answered “yes” to any one of these six questions, you might be an alcoholic.
Our experience has shown that even though symptoms may be obvious to outside parties such as loved ones or medical professionals, only the alcoholic can truly diagnose themselves.
And finally, if you’ve answered “yes” to any of the above questions, here is one more:
Do you want help?
If so, Heartland House may be the place for you. Please call us anytime and we’ll see how we can be of service to you.
If you have a medical emergency, please call 911.
Here are a few other resources we’ve gathered that may help you self-diagnose:
More References about alcoholism as a disease:
In case you missed the other blogs in this series: