Earlier this year, a poster on Reddit asked a simple question: “When did you realize you were an alcoholic?” The post triggered hundreds of responses, strangers opening their hearts to one another to share what had triggered their realizations.
It was the night I got stopped for speeding and I was drunk.
When I cracked a beer at 5:15 AM. One the bus. On the way to work.
When I started waking up in places that I didn’t have any recollection of being at.
I went out of the country for two months. When I came back, the guy who owns the local liquor store was like, “You are back!”
I’d have one drink. Then I’d have another. And I never thought, “I should stop before I get too drunk.” There was no such thing as “too drunk.” I would go for black-out wasted every time. I just didn’t see a point in drinking if you weren’t going to get knee-dragging drunk.
The stories run the gamut from slow-burn discoveries to sudden epiphanies, early catches to rock bottom realizations. Regardless of the exact trajectory of each person’s path, they all ended up at the same conclusion.
If you have ever asked yourself, “Am I an alcoholic?” it’s essential that you come to understand the signs and symptoms of alcoholism. By taking an honest inventory of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, you can start on your own path to self-discovery and healing.
The Broad Scope of Alcoholism
Unlike virtually all other recreational drugs, alcohol is consumed by the vast majority of people in the United States. Studies show that over 85% of adults have consumed alcohol at some point in their lives and over 70% report drinking in the past year, while 56% report drinking in the last month. The ubiquitous nature of alcohol consumption can make it difficult for many to recognize when drinking evolves from normal behavior to alcohol use disorder. After all, most people drink without incident and the desire to deny a drinking problem can be overwhelming.
But experts estimate that 15.1 million people over the age of 18 are currently alcoholics, representing 6.2% of American adults. Unfortunately, less than 9% of those with alcohol use disorder receive treatment in a given year. While this number reflects very real problems with treatment accessibility, it also suggests that a significant number of people struggling with alcohol addiction do not seek treatment because they fail to recognize their own disorder. By demystifying alcohol use disorder, you can gain the knowledge necessary to determine whether you have developed an unhealthy relationship with drinking.
Am I An Alcoholic? Sign and Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder is characterized by a wide range of symptoms that may look different for each person:
- Preoccupation: You spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about or consuming alcohol.
- Craving: You feel an intense desire to drink.
- Loss of Control: You drink more than you intend to, even if you are determined to limit your consumption.
- Neglect: You neglect other interests, hobbies, and responsibilities in order to drink.
- Secrecy: You hide your drinking from others.
- Blackouts or Memory Loss: You drink to the point of blacking out or cannot remember what you did while drinking.
- Tolerance: You need increasing amounts of alcohol in order to become intoxicated.
- Withdrawal: You have become physically dependent on alcohol and experience both observable and non-observable withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking, including trembling, nausea, depression, anxiety, irritability, and sleep disturbances.
- Continuing Use Despite Negative Consequences: One of the hallmarks of addiction is continuing to use the substance of addiction despite negative personal, professional, emotional, or physical consequences.
It’s important to remember that alcoholism doesn’t look any one way; there are infinite manifestations of alcoholism and each person’s experience is unique. While alcohol use is readily apparent for some, particularly those who experience profound functional losses due to their drinking, it can be more difficult to detect if your function remains high. In these cases, you may have to start investigating your reasons for drinking more closely: are you drinking to cope with your emotions? Do you need to drink to feel normal? Do you find ways to justify your drinking? Alcoholism, after all, is not about how much you drink, but about your relationship with alcohol; the fact that you don’t binge drink into oblivion or experience immediate, overt negative effects from your drinking doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem with alcohol.
Recognizing the Need for Treatment
Emily realized she was an alcoholic after waking up from an 8-hour blackout when she was 25 years old. “I don’t know where I went or what I did, or how I got home, or what happened to my phone or my wallet, and apparently I couldn’t even stand up when I got home,” she writes. “It was a Tuesday. This wasn’t even the worst night of my life. It was just the night before I quit drinking. It’s also the day my life started over.”
Recognizing that you are an alcoholic can be profoundly painful. For many, the realization of alcohol addiction brings with it a profound sense of shame, fear, and sadness. However, admitting that you have a problem is the first step to recovery; it is never too early or too late to seek help for your addiction and there is a vast community out there to support you as you begin your recovery journey.
Alcohol use disorder is a medical illness that requires professional treatment in order to create a strong foundation for ongoing sobriety. Residential addiction treatment programs are ideally suited to begin your healing process. Programs with on-site medically supervised detox programs allow you to begin withdrawal process safely and comfortably. With the support of expert clinicians and compassionate peers, you can then deeply investigate the roots of your alcoholism, identify any co-occurring mental health disorders, and develop the skills you need to move forward in a way that is meaningful for you. Specialized family programming and continuing care options are also essential for healing relationships and ensuring that you preserve your sobriety as you transition back to your everyday life.
Of all the responses to the Reddit thread, perhaps the most profound among them was this:
When someone pointed out to me that people who aren’t alcoholics don’t typically spend time trying to figure out if they are.
If you are asking “Am I an alcoholic?” the question itself may very well provide the answer you are looking for.
Alta Mira offers a comprehensive suite of treatment programs for people struggling with addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our innovative Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.
Image Source: Unsplash user Thành Nguyễn Trung