Am I an Alcoholic?

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For many of us, the way in which this question is posed may result in a less than honest look at our drinking. When assessing ourselves against the term ‘alcoholic’ and what we believe it entails, it’s much easier to determine our patterns as normal, and brush over the impact drinking is having on our lives.

The term alcoholic and whether we define ourselves as such is steeped in so much stigma and shame that we often stop short of a honest reflection of our relationship to alcohol. What if we were to reflect on our drinking in a different way; instead of asking, “Am I an alcoholic?” we ask, “Would I be okay in 5 years’ time if my drinking where to stay the same?, or “Would I be supportive if my children were to grow up and drink in the same way?”. Or simply, “Is my drinking enhancing my life?”. While we live in a culture that defines success in material terms, a life fully lived does not simply mean we have a job, a home, or money in the bank, it is something that only we can define when we honestly look at how we live our lives.

Harmful drinking is not just morning to night consumption, black out drinking or risky behaviour. It can be a pattern of drinking that over time fuels our depression and anxiety, impacts our sleep, and contributes to our health concerns. It is drinking that slowly erodes at our relationships, our life force, and the way in which we relate to the world.

Drinking for most of us is an adaptive behaviour, a solution to our problems, a way to make life more bearable, and which allows us to keep going. Drinking has provided a sort of relief to the challenges of being human. Unfortunately, it is also a solution that comes with a raft of negative consequences, so that our adaptation eventually becomes maladaptive and begins to compromise, rather than enhance, our functioning, threatening our survival, rather than promoting it.

Having unsolicited diagnoses handed down to us by well-meaning others will typically invite more resistance than change. For those of us who are extremely invested in continuing to drink, this type of ‘advice’ may instead intensify our resolve to do so. However, what we are talking of here is not how to label or pathologise our behaviours, but how to be an active participant in defining our problems. It is an opportunity to begin the work of developing more sustainable solutions and to set ourselves free.

Questions to Consider When Thinking About your Relationship with Alcohol:

  • Do I like how I behave when I drink, when I have run out of alcohol or when I am recovering from drinking?
  • What consequences have unfolded as a result of my drinking? Am I willing to experience these consequences again?
  • How is my drinking helping me? How is it hurting me? Is it helping more than hurting, or hurting more than helping?
  • What are some likely outcomes for me and my family if I continue to drink as I do now? What might this look like in 5 year’s time?
  • How do other people treat me when I have engaged in drinking behaviours? Do I like being treated this way? What would I need to do differently in order to be treated differently?
  • Would I be okay for my children to develop a similar relationship with alcohol? What kind of example am I passing to them? Am I willing to pass this legacy?
  • What principles of mine have I violated when drinking? What responsibilities of mine have been compromised or promises broken? Is this okay for me?
  • What price would I be willing to pay in order to continue to drink? What price would be too high?
  • What are my top priorities in life? Does my behaviour honour these or run incongruent to them? What part does alcohol play in this?
  • Do I see a problem? If I see a problem, what am I willing to do differently? What professional help and support from important others might I need in order to begin to change?
  • Am I ready to change? If so, what is the first step?

The spirit of our times is avoidance, distraction and disconnection. When we are engaging in behaviour influenced by this cultural context, it can distort the reality of our behaviour while also allowing us to stay in a level of denial about it. In a culture where excessive drinking is normalised, and very often celebrated, it can be particularly challenging for us to get clear on whether our drinking is okay or not.

While our drinking may be relatively in line with the cultural norm, it can still be problematic for us personally. Defining our own problem and holding it up to the light for an honest self-appraisal is the foundation on which sustainable change rests.

If you feel that your drinking is problematic, and are looking for support, you may like to read My Drinking is Problematic – What do I do?

Byron Private offers an effective pathway to recovery for those living with drug and alcohol addictions, PTSD, eating disorders and mental health. If you or someone you love is needing help, please reach out to our clinical team for a confidential discussion on 02 6684 4145.