Well, there's a million dollar question that despite my best efforts I've failed to get a clear cut answer to, but it’s a word I’ve come to hate and there are such varying definitions of 'alcoholic'. You can take as many self-assessment tests online as you like, but they’re judged by multiple choice questions that you likely sit on the boarders between, creating loopholes to sway your own conclusion either way. Besides, if the results come out as 'low risk' - great, that's a go ahead to pour the wine, no problems over here. If they determine you are 'high risk' - well, fuck it, I'll keep drinking then, that's what Alcoholics do, isn’t it? It's somehow, a very twisted authorisation to keep drinking in both cases.
I'm guessing if you're even googling 'Am I an alcoholic' then regardless of the results, you know you have some issues with drinking that need addressing; I certainly did. Obsessing over a definitive label to validate whether you need help or not, in my opinion, is irrelevant and dangerous.
It’s taken until the age of 30 after 10+ years of living a life with a lot of self destruction, frequent bouts of depression and almost daily anxiety, to actually acknowledge that the root cause of all of this has been the copious amounts of wine I have consumed on a weekly basis.
We live in a society where alcohol is the only highly addictive drug that not only we’re encouraged to take, we’re also condemned and forced to explain ourselves if we don’t. Being ‘sober’ is frowned up on, deemed as ‘boring’ and is a concept that’s entirely alien & misunderstood.
You don’t have to wake up with the shakes every morning and have whiskey for breakfast to question if you have an unhealthy and dangerous relationship with alcohol or a ‘drinking problem’. I’ve never drank in the day or every day, or anything else you may associate with being a problem drinker, but my pattern of extreme and regular binge drinking was my out of control downfall and far too easy to pass off as normal.
We should instead, be encouraging ourselves to look at if alcohol is causing problems in our lives. Damaged relationships? Dreaded hangovers? Cancelled plans? Anxiety? Depression? Problems at work? Reliant upon drinking to have a good time? Drinking on your own? Lying about drinking? Acting in ways & saying things that in no way marry up with your morals, values or even beliefs and sober thoughts? Regular blackouts? Unable to control cravings for alcohol even if you’re consciously not wanting to drink? Or maybe you’re just sick of making a twat of yourself? Just a few of the all green ticks for me.
I was so used to feeling down and insecure and although I’ve had so many happy occasions & times, those emotions have always been underlying yet somehow all consuming for me my whole adult life. I thought that was just who I was. I’ve hit rock bottom on a few occasions this last 12 months which have been my toughest yet, but I’m glad I did. It took me causing some irreparable damage in my life for me to even begin looking at changing my drinking habits and dissecting all the ways that drinking was continually ruining my life, and unbeknown to me at the time, had also started damaging my body. All the red flags before, I just happily painted over with no visible permanent consequences.
As much as I take responsibility for the paths I have taken, I also feel incredibly let down by the stigma that, as a society, we’ve created around the fine line that separates ‘fun party girl big drinker’ from ‘alcohol use disorder’. There has to be something wrong in a world where you could go out drinking as much and as often as you like with nothing but laughs and encouragement, but as soon as you decide to stop entirely to better your life and repair your mental and physical health, you’re assumed a lifetime identity of ‘recovering alcoholic’.
Alcohol is the third most addictive drug behind heroin and cocaine yet ahead of nicotine. But it is the single only highly addictive substance being so heavily marketed and glamourised through every aspect of society. We’re preconditioned from being children to grow up aspiring to drink. We’re taught through advertising, marketing, retailers, TV, magazines, celebrities and learned behaviours around us that it will become a necessity to drink alcohol as an adult to live a fulfilled life and ‘relax’ or ‘have fun’. It’s sold to us as a reward.
You’re hard pushed to find any events including weddings, birthdays, christenings, funerals, Christmas, even school fairs and kids' birthday parties without it. It’s so deeply engraved into the threads of our society yet the risks of addiction and awareness of all the potential damage it causes are rarely acknowledged, let alone highlighted. It’s more addictive than cigarettes, yet there’s no stigma around being addicted to smoking. This is ironic given that tobacco is kept behind closed counters with graphic images on the packaging of the cancers it can cause. Meanwhile, alcohol is proudly paraded in fancy bottles all over the shop floor without a warning in site.
Alcohol causes high blood pressure, strokes, pancreatitis, liver disease, liver cancer, mouth cancer, head and neck cancer, breast cancer, bowel cancer, depression, dementia, impotence & infertility, in addition to the damage it can cause to yours and your loved one’s lives. Once in the blood stream, it affects almost every single organ in the body.
There’s ample acknowledgment of cigarettes being disgusting, dangerous and addictive. You will never be accused of ‘misusing’ or ‘abusing’ cigarettes, though. Cigarettes are the known and obvious culprit. Become addicted to alcohol however, and you’re the ‘alcoholic’, you’re the one with a ‘default’ for not being able to prevent becoming addicted to this addictive substance, and you are responsible for ‘abusing’ alcohol.
We protect and victimise alcohol at all costs, despite it being the number one most dangerous drug, the third most addictive drug, responsible for killing 3 million people per year and associated with 40% of child abuse cases, sexual assaults and homicides.
Quit smoking and whether you had 2 cigarettes a week or a packet a day, you’re met with praise and congratulatory responses. You become a ‘non smoker’, not a ‘recovering smokeaholic’. Stop drinking and you immediately owe the world an explanation, whilst often being stigmatised, judged and strangely of all, even pitied.
There are so many inconsistencies and hypocrisies in how we view different drugs. We’re fickle, however, as have a look at cigarette adverts from the early 20th century and see how much they were also glamourised. Could alcohol eventually slowly move in the same direction, given the growing desires and trends to live a healthy lifestyle? One day we may look back on today's alcohol advertising in shock as we do now with these images. Marketing is EVERYTHING!
Magic mushrooms are illegal and class A, yet not considered to be psychologically or physically addictive and only 0.2% of users require medical attention compared with 1.4% of drinkers. The main risk factor is taking the wrong kind of mushrooms which may be poisonous, which would be avoidable if legal and regulated. They are statistically the safest drug along with cannabis and LSD both being ahead of alcohol on the safety scale. Alcohol is just legal and culturally acceptable and we’re programmed to not question what we’re taught. We assume it’s fine as everybody else is drinking, and given our innate tendency to fall prey to confirmation bias, we will literally believe anything that supports that what we and the majority are doing is ‘right’, and rarely question it despite the glaring alarm bells.
Alcohol addiction is a difficult topic to publicly post about and it makes a lot of people extremely uncomfortable, but I really believe we need a much broader understanding and acceptance of how easy it is to very slowly slip into the trap that is alcohol abuse, alcohol use disorder, alcoholism, alcohol dependency… whichever it may be, to any varying
degree… and whatever you want to call it…The title really is irrelevant. The reality is, if drinking is consistently negatively impacting your life and you genuinely feel out of control, then it is a problem.
The lack of education surrounding these topics prevents people from getting help long before they turn their whole world upside down, and then some...like I did. So whilst it’s not easy to share, it would be hypocritical of me to not at least do my bit and speak openly about how we need to be creating more awareness about the signs of problem drinking, offering help and educating from a young age.
My intentions aren’t to preach about how great sobriety is, or how terrible drinking is for everybody. There are many people who can take it or leave it. They can choose when to enjoy a few drinks with friends, head home at the end of a fun night and wake up with no dramas. They know when to stop. They don’t have to drink several times a week. That unfortunately, has never been me. It’s all fun and games, until it’s not.
I’ve attempted moderating, switching drinks, slowing down, drinking water between drinks. Whilst it may work for a week or two, it doesn’t take long to slip back into old old habits. I spent so much time creating new rules of what time I can drink from, how much I can drink, what I can drink, what days I can drink, not to drink alone, etc etc. I’ve broken every single one of my well intended rules, every single time. Moderating really was exhausting and I personally did just get completely sick of thinking about drinking, drinking, recovering from drinking and trying so hard to be a ‘normal drinker’.
It wasn’t a guarantee that something bad would happen when I drank, but in honesty I never got to choose which version of wasted me would appear. It’s not EVERY time that I’d blackout, stay out on my own for hours after my friends went home and not remember a thing, invite any randomers who wanted to continue the party back to mine, fall out with people I love, stay up on my own drinking two bottles of wine AFTER a day or night out, be emotional or just act like a dickhead. I’ve had countless amazing times drinking, too. But I was playing Russian roulette each time. The only thing certain was that drinking had cost me way more than just money for as long as I remember.
I’ve done a hell of a lot of things I’m completely ashamed of in drink, but I’m no longer ashamed of admitting I had a drinking problem. Nor does it sit right with me personally that we pressure alcoholics into constitutions that centre around anonymity, enhancing and reinforcing a shame and guilt that I guarantee they are already ridden with. No disrespect or discredit to AA who have helped millions of people in their recovery, it would just be great to see an evolution of attitude in society whereby the ‘anonymous’ part of such communities wasn’t so necessary.
Since being medically advised following some blood test results in January that I needed to stop drinking entirely and trying to whilst failing miserably, I have spent time most days learning as much as I can about addiction and alcoholism. I’ve found the whole process fascinating and getting a clearer understanding of everything that had led me into that hole really helped me gain perspective and finally get my head around cutting it out entirely.
The majority of people who drink, if told they could never drink again, would likely react with an element of anxiety, push back and reluctance. This often applies whether somebody drinks a bottle of wine once a week, a glass of wine a night, binges 2 bottles of wine 4 times a week or drinks a litre of vodka a day. Ultimately, what does actually determine whether an addictive substance has any grip of you? I guess there may be an argument to say a lot of people are on a spectrum of addiction to some degree.