How do I know if I have a drinking problem and if I have, what can I do about it?
First of all, you have to understand whereabouts you are in the complex picture of alcohol consumption. Be patient and read the paragraphs below before you answer the questions about your own drinking.
PLEASE note this is not a diagnostic article. We cannot diagnose over the Internet, but we can offer you an opportunity to think about your alcohol intake. It should answer any questions you may have. Read on.
For many of us, heavy drinking is something that develops gradually. It often has a social context; the Friday night drinking binge after a hard weeks work or the drinking to entertain potential or actual business customers.
Because alcohol is so much a part of our leisure culture, and the normal way most of us relieve tension and stress, you can forgive people for not recognizing the warning signs of creeping alcohol dependency.
All studies of alcohol consumption conclude that the higher the average consumption of alcohol in a population, the higher the population’s incidence of alcohol related problems and in the US the figure is going upwards.
But we have to make a distinction here; there are many problems caused by alcohol and in particular, binge drinking – violence between individuals and you only have to take a look at the casualty department of many hospitals to see the results of this; drink-driving, loss of working days and we could go on.
The distinction is that there is a difference between healthy drinking, heavy drinking and alcohol dependency, with the proviso that heavy drinking can develop into alcohol dependency syndrome.
It may be helpful to think of it as a continuum although the nature of the beast is complicated, so it is offered merely as a guideline.
We have chosen a couple of scenarios to illustrate this continuum. As you will see individuals have different patterns of drinking in the early days because the way in which different people drink is very influenced by culture, occupation, class, religion and family history.
Teen Drinking Scenario
First there is Pete. Pete is white, 43 years old and a self-employed builder. He has been married to Gill for 22 years and they have two children.
Pete grew up in the next street and has kept in touch with all his mates from school with the exception of one or two who moved away. Pete has earned good money from his trade and always paid his wife a good weekly sum for housekeeping costs. The care of the home and the kids has always been Gill’s responsibility and both feel this arrangement has worked well for them.
Pete had his first alcoholic drink at ten years old. His dad drank in the same pub and allowed Pete a sip or two when he popped in to tell his dad that Sunday dinner was ready. Pete’s father never kept alcohol in the house and Pete has followed this rule religiously. Pete’s dad died of a heart attack at the age of 59.
Pete started drinking on a Friday night with his mates at the age of 17. It was something they looked forward to all week. Saturday nights was kept for dates with girls. On a Friday, the lads would drink four to five pints to begin with and then with more experience they could put away more and often had competitions to see who could hold their booze and who couldn’t. The first one to throw up would buy two rounds the following week.
When marriage set in, the wives joined the husbands on a Saturday night and gradually over time the lads would meet in the pub during the week and then progressing to four or five nights a week. During his lunch break, Pete would often join a couple of his friends for a pint or two before going back to work. By the time Pete was 37 years old he was drinking between 8-10 pints a day and often 15 pints plus at the weekend. He was still holding down his job and earning money. His only bone of contention was his wife who made it clear she did not like his drinking.
When Pete hit his 40th birthday he had begun to notice that his hands were a little shaky in the morning, causing him a few problems with work. He started to call into the pub at 11am for a couple of pints to “sort me out”. Over the next two years the withdrawal symptoms got worse and he now wakes up feeling nauseous and vomits. He often has night sweats and bad dreams and can not stop his hands shaking until the first drink at 11am. Work has now completely disappeared and Pete and his family are on benefits although his wife works part time. It is at this point that Pete comes for treatment.
Parents Influence on Teen Drinking
A different story could be told for Sam, an executive Sales Director, 42 years old. Sam is of mixed race and neither of her parent’s ever drunk alcohol. Sam began drinking as a student and has always drunk wine. She is well paid and attends many business lunches where alcohol is freely drunk.
On the outside Sam is a confident assertive individual, but has actually always felt shy and quite anxious around large groups of people. She noticed that alcohol allowed her to be witty and funny. By the time she was twenty-two, her drinking was mainly at weekends and involved drinking two bottles a night over the weekend period.
As her affluence and success grew, she moved onto a couple of glasses a night and felt this relieved her tension levels. Over the next year or so, the amount progressed into a bottle of wine a night. If she was on the telephone talking to friends, she could dip into a second bottle and by the time she is thirty, two bottles a night is Sam’s normal consumption. By the time Sam approaches a counselor, she is drinking three to four bottles of wine a day and has begun to notice her hands are shaky in the mornings. She is seriously concerned.
Teen Social Drinking
The continuum shows the progression: “OK” social drinking > alcohol becomes pleasure habit> tolerance increases>more consumption> more tolerance> alcohol still wanted for its tension relieving effects and pleasure but need more>drinking patterns may change, i.e. begin drinking at lunch time and not just in the evening> body begins to need alcohol>notice withdrawal symptoms>alcohol reduces symptoms>individual drinks to avoid symptoms>withdrawal symptoms worsen>drinking becomes more urgent and biggest priority>health deteriorates
So where are you. Answer the following questions honestly. Even if you decide that you do not want to talk to a counselor, it may help you think about your situation and whether you want to change it.
Has anybody ever told you that you drink too much?
Do other people have a different opinion about your drinking than you do?
(It is important to take into account others views of your drinking because often people close to you will notice the problem before you do) Do you sometimes think that alcohol or some other drug may be causing you problems in your life?
If you answered yes to this, it is a good idea to ask some questions and describe to an alcohol and drug counselor exactly what is going on for you. You may want to try the following two questionnaires. One is the DSM-1V test for individuals who are overusing alcohol or drugs and the second measures whether the individual has begun to develop dependency.
Is My Teen Drinking? Quiz
Answer the following questions quickly and honestly, without stopping to rationalize or split hairs. Go with your first response.
1) In the last 12 months, has using alcohol or other drugs occasionally caused you to miss work, college or perform poorly at work or college, neglect your children or fail to perform household duties?
2) In the last 12 months, while under the influence of alcohol or some other drug, have you occasionally driven a car, operated dangerous machinery or participated in potentially hazardous sports?
3) In the last 12 months, have you been arrested for driving while intoxicated, disorderly conduct or any other substance-related offense?
4) In the last 12 months, have you continued drinking or using drugs despite fights or arguments with people close to you expressing concern about your drug or alcohol use?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, it suggests that you are misusing alcohol and/or drugs and need to do something about it. Do not be over-alarmed; sorting it out now is better than doing nothing.
The following questions determine whether there is some dependency. Answer quickly and honestly.
1) In the last 12 months, have you been consuming more alcohol or drugs than you originally intended to at a given time, or does your drinking and drug taking go on longer than you originally intended?
2) In the last 12 months, have you wanted to cut down, or have you tried to stop or cut down, and not been able to?
3) In the last 12 months, has your tolerance increased – does it take more alcohol or drugs than it used to get you high, or achieve the desired effect? Or does a given amount have less effect than it used to?
4) In the last 12 months, have you had any withdrawal symptoms for instance, have you felt shaky, sick or dizzy in the mornings after drinking, or thick-headed after smoking marijuana, or paranoid after using cocaine?
5) In the last 12 months, have you spent a significant amount of time procuring alcohol or drugs, using alcohol or drugs, or recovering from their effects?
6) In the last 12 months, have you been spending more time drinking or drugging and less time with your friends and family, in work or college/school related activities, or pursuing hobbies, sports, or other interests?
7) In the last 12 months, have you experienced any emotional or physical side effects – such as depression, anxiety, liver damage, or stomach trouble – but continued to use drugs or alcohol anyway?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, there is dependency present and it is a good idea to think through what you want to do about it.