Am I an alcoholic? (Part 1 of 2)

Am I an alcoholic? I am asked this question roughly once a month in my counselling practice in Bishops Stortford. It is also often asked as: “how do I know if I’m an alcoholic?”. Either way, it is not a question one can answer simply by looking at you – it’s not like alcoholics set off sirens or begin flashing once they’ve tripped over that elusive line between heavy drinker and alcoholic. So, how can one tell then?

Well, we can start by considering the idea that if someone is asking the question “Am I an alcoholic?”, the chances are that they at least have a problem with their drinking. This is because people without a drinking problem never even consider the question, let alone ask it of a professional. I mean, be honest, have you ever asked anybody if you have a Brussels sprout problem? No, I’m guessing probably not.

Apart from that though, there is another test you can perform, and this is one that I often give to those who enter my counselling practice in Bishops Stortford asking the question “Am I an alcoholic?”. Before we go there however, lets look at what is prompting the question in the first place. Most people who come into counselling asking the question “Am I an alcoholic?” have reached a place in their lives where either:

  • The cost associated with drinking has become much more than the money spent on alcohol. (Maybe they’re paying a physical price with perpetual hangovers, bloating, physical shaking or yellowing skin. Maybe they’ve become tired of passing out at night, (instead of going to bed), or coming to in the morning instead of waking up).
  • The people in their life are starting to notice their drinking and are beginning to comment. (Often this means they’ve been getting a hard time from their partner or their children. At other times, their employer has noticed a drop in performance and they’re starting to walk on very thin ice at work).
  • Some major event has occurred that can be directly attributed to alcohol. (This might be a drink driving charge, or an accident such as falling over, or hurting themselves in some manner because they were drunk).

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but it gives you a flavour of my meaning. Essentially, nobody ever wonders whether they are alcoholic without there being a certain level of damage in their lives caused by drinking. The question, really, is motivated by a fear of having the dreaded label “alcoholic” attached to them. This is why “Am I an alcoholic?” is always asked with a certain degree of worry. People are frightened as to what it really means, and of how an answer of “Yes, I am an alcoholic” will affect their lives.

Next week’s blog will describe and discuss a simple test that you can apply to yourself (in total privacy), to help you answer this question for yourself.