As an addiction professional I get this question all the time. Whether a person drinks 2 glasses of wine every evening or gets completely wasted four times a year, many people wonder if they may have a problem with alcohol. If you search in Google you will find a slew of checklists for you to evaluate your drinking habits. You will see the same questions repeated throughout these lists such as: Do you drink alone? Do you drink more than 3 times in a week? Do you have 3 or more drinks per drinking episode? Have you done things you’ve regretted while drinking?
The first thing you need to know about many of those questionnaires you find online is they are put up primarily as marketing tools for rehabs. They are written and designed so that anyone who completes the questionnaire will come to believe that they need the services provided by the treatment center. Most people who drink any alcohol at all can answer yes to one or more of those questions listed above, yet most people don’t have a drinking problem that requires any kind of help.
2020 has been a trying year for all of us. Many people have turned to drinking as a means of trying to cope with the stress, boredom, and isolation brought on by the pandemic. Drinking is a form of entertainment for many people. Being confined to your home, whether you are alone or stuck at home with your family for any length of time is stressful even for naturally happy people.
If you were a busy person whose life was jam packed with activities and obligations prior to the pandemic, then the first few weeks of the shutdowns were probably a bit of a relief to you. It’s nice to not have to be anywhere or do anything and let some of your obligations go for a little while. But after a few weeks, that relief turns to boredom, and then for many it turns to anxiety and restlessness. As weeks turned into months, many people began suffering from hardcore cabin fever. During a difficult time, drinking occasionally for pleasure and as a pressure relief can quickly become drinking daily because you believe you need it to get through the day.
When people ask me if I think they are an alcoholic or in a danger zone of becoming one, my first answer is always no, because there is no disorder or disease that compels people to use alcohol against their will; and because taking on the alcoholic label is not helpful. When I say this I’m not saying that people don’t struggle with alcohol, some people do. I know from my own personal experience what it feels like to believe I needed alcohol to get through my day. That belief made the thought of not drinking or drinking less impossible for me to imagine, and that is what is now defined as the disease, alcoholism.
When I sought help for my problem, I learned quickly that all treatment was based on Alcoholics Anonymous steps and that the main requirement for alcoholism treatment is to take on the alcoholic identity — which means accepting that you are powerless over alcohol and always will be. Thankfully, even with my educational background in mental health, none of that made sense to me. I never bought into the notion that I, or anyone, was powerless over alcohol, and I inherently knew that labeling myself an alcoholic would escalate my problems. And, as it turns out research shows that for most who take on that belief their problem gets worse, not better.
So, you can steer clear of those online questionnaires, and reject the idea fully that just because you feel like you may be struggling right now with alcohol, you are sick, powerless, and suffering from alcoholism. You are not an alcoholic, but if you’re wondering if drinking may be a problem for you, here are a few questions you can ask yourself.
- Am I drinking more frequently than I’m comfortable with?
- Do I feel like I need to drink; e.g. to feel good, to get through the day, to ease stress and anxiety?
- When I drink, do I drink more than I initially intend to drink?
Here’s the thing, only you can know if drinking is a problem for you. So if you answered yes to one or more of these questions, it’s probably a good idea to take some time away from alcohol for a while. And yes, you can just simply take a break and explore different options for relaxation, alleviating boredom, anxiety and stress, and entertaining yourself.
If you find not drinking to be difficult, it’s likely because you’ve developed a habit of drinking for certain reasons, and you believe you need alcohol for those reasons. Perhaps you can, like I did, run a little experiment. Figure out what those reasons are and if alcohol has actually helped you in those areas. Then stop drinking for a time, and see how it goes. It’s important to know, nothing is actually compelling you to drink, even if you’ve developed a habit. Like all habits, you always maintain the ability to stop and take some time off. You don’t have to swear off alcohol forever, just until you show yourself that you don’t need alcohol for the things you thought you did.
However, and this is important, if you’re drinking heavily daily, and when you stop drinking you begin to experience tremors (shakes), nausea and/vomiting, severe headache and/or anxiety, as well as other alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it is strongly recommended that you go to a hospital or your doctor for an evaluation. You may need to get medical detox services to ensure your safety as alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening.
The pandemic is coming to an end probably sooner than many think, and you can take comfort in knowing that you haven’t crossed a line with your alcohol use from which you can’t return. You can take a break from it, or adjust it to levels at which you will feel more comfortable. Most people (90%) who once fit the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder (aka alcoholism) get over it; and the vast majority don’t get any kind of treatment whatsoever. The odds are heavily in your favor that you can solve your problem and simply move on with your life.
Michelle Dunbar is the co-author of The Freedom Model for Addictions: Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap and The Freedom Model for the Family. She is the Executive Director of the Saint Jude Retreat. If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use problem, there is an empowering solution that has proven to be three times more effective than addiction treatment and twelve times more effective than 12 step meetings. Go to www.TheFreedomModel.org for more information or call 888-424-2626.
For more information about The Freedom Model go to TheFreedomModel.org
Become an insider!
Sign up for our free email newsletter, and we'll make sure to keep you in the loop.