A teacher once asked “How do you eat an elephant?” After getting answers like “KC Masterpiece” and “very slowly”, he answered with “One bite at a time”. I will share my story one ‘bite’ at a time. ‘Am I A Real Alcoholic?’ is the first installment of the One Bite at a Time Series.
My first experience with group therapy was in early of May 2016. My fundamental question at this time was whether I was a real alcoholic. For months preceding, I sought out answers to this question online. I knew that I was a functional alcoholic but was I a real 12-step-type alcoholic? As life events unfolded, it became clear to me that I was in a danger zone, so I sought out help. I have seven months of sobriety now, but doubt still creeps in occasionally. Recently, I found myself reviewing this fundamental question.
Before I continue, I want to briefly talk about the Allergy. It is a concept that is rooted in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book). According to the book, alcoholics have a special sort of allergy that causes them to drink uncontrollably once they’ve had that first drink. It is tied to intense craving. Many people don’t seem to have this problem. People in recovery call them ‘normies’.
Admittedly, it may not be a real allergy. My own belief is that the Allergy is a meaningful metaphor, but not a real medical problem. Here is something that I heard in my first week of group recovery:
“When you’re not drinking, you’re thinking about it. When you are drinking, you can’t seem to stop.”
This was true for me. I spent many days counting the minutes until I could drink. Once I had that first drink, I didn’t care to stop. It was such a selfish and obsessive thing. To me, alcoholism means having a hell of an obsession with alcohol and an inability to stop drinking once started.
My Search For An Answer
An article from the Recovery Village website concludes the following: “If you find yourself regularly thinking about your next drink, or if you’ve tried to cut back on drinking and never quite succeeded, you may have an alcohol addiction”.
I definitely had this obsession, where I regularly thought about my next drink, and I did try to quit on my own.
According to Chapter 2 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a distinction between the hard drinker and a real alcoholic. This certainly did not help me convince myself that I was an alcoholic. It made me wonder which category I fall into and fueled doubt. However, I have come to the conclusion that I am an alcoholic and I belong in a 12 step group. Every time I question my alcoholism, I think about something I heard at my first meeting:
“If you question whether you are a real alcoholic, you just might be a real alcoholic.”
There are several questionnaires out there which address the question, “Am I An Alcoholic?” Here is my take on a few of them. Disclaimer: The results of these questionnaires are not intended to constitute a diagnosis of alcoholism and should only help you to further understand alcoholism. These questionnaires are not intended to be a substitute for an evaluation by a health professional.
SoberNation offers this article, https://www.sobernation.com/are-you-a-real-alcoholic.
This article is a good introduction to alcoholism. According to its short questionnaire, I have alcoholism as a presence in my life. The first question asks about what has been called the Allergy. Was I starting to lose control and not satisfied with just a drink or two? Definitely. My behavior became reckless and careless when I drank. My manners and politeness fell by the wayside. One common trait of alcoholics is hiding alcohol and drinking from others. This was something that I felt I had to do to continue managing my drinking. I justified my drinking to myself but I could not justify it to others. There were times when I had too many drinks and changed personalities. Blacking out and passing out were fairly regular things for me through the years.
This website, NCADD.org, has a comprehensive self-test. The results suggested that I have a serious problem with alcohol. I answered ‘yes’ to many of the questions. In the interest of time, I will only mention some things to which I answered ‘no’.
- Blackouts have been something that I’ve had for my entire drinking career. They have not become more frequent. In fact, I probably had them more often when I was younger.
- Somehow I have managed to never have legal consequences for my drinking. Getting a DUI, in and of itself, is a bad measuring stick for alcoholism. It’s certainly concerning but plenty of non-alcoholics get DUI’s, and plenty of alcoholics don’t get DUI’s.
- My doctor never told me that I need to quit. I never developed the shakes or serious withdrawal symptoms. Who knows what the future will bring, but I managed to stop before serious health problems developed.
- I never had hallucinations from drinking, but definitely delusions.
- Only once have I sought help for alcoholism. I have tried to quit on my own but without success.
It is my opinion that this particular survey does a pretty good job of giving a quantitative answer to the question.
Here a link to AA.org’s online questionnaire. It has 12 questions, go figure. I answered ‘yes’ to most of them, but here are a few things that jumped out at me:
- Did I switch types of drink (such as from whisky to beer) in hopes of keeping one from getting drunk? Personally, my goal was never to ‘not get drunk’. I never minded getting drunk. I did try to avoid getting ‘too drunk’ but I was often unsuccessful.
- Have I had an eye-opener in the last year? Perhaps I’m not as serious of a specimen as some, but I always had scruples about drinking in the morning. Mostly it was because I knew that I’d get tired by lunchtime if I started drinking.
- Do I envy people who can drink without getting into trouble? I never got into much real trouble with drinking so it’s a moot point.
- Do I tell myself I can quit anytime? No. Do I keep getting drunk when I don’t mean to (get drunk)? Yes. I did not believe that I could just quit anytime. It was difficult to do on my own. I did get ‘more drunk’ than I intended to often.
- Have I missed days of work because of drinking? No. Another one of my scruples. My work ethic is pretty old school. You show up for work, no matter what. Granted, if I was truly sick with the flu or an injury, then I would make arrangements to stay home. Calling in sick because of a hangover is feeble, in my opinion. It’s not fair to your co-workers.
Regardless of the negatives here, the conclusion is that I might have trouble with alcohol.
A Few Of My Own Questions
Going to a 12 Step Meeting
Here’s a thought:
Since I made the effort to go to a 12 step meeting, then I must have a problem with alcoholism.
One would assume that going to a meeting is a red flag for alcoholism. The fact that I sought out help in this way tells me that I had a problem. In fact, I was told that I essentially completed Step 1 by going to a meeting. I had unconsciously decided that I was powerless over alcohol and that I needed help. My life had become unmanageable, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered with it.
On the flip side, I wondered if going to a meeting makes you an alcoholic. By getting involved in group therapy, does that turn you into an alcoholic forever, whether or not you actually are an alcoholic? Are you now branded and can never return to being normal? All I can say is that if you start going to a 12 step group, and you actually don’t have a real problem, there are worse things you could be doing with your time. On a daily basis, I wish that normal people had a program that helped them become emotional sober and mature. At the very least, you will build character in AA, even if you have a marginal issue with alcohol. If you develop a pattern where alcohol is causing problems for you and your relationships, then you are in a good place in AA.
Is 12 Step Work the only way?
To take this a step further, this article raises this following topic:
“Anyone who can quit without the help of…(12 steps)… is not an alcoholic”.
I don’t believe this is true. It is a myth from another era. I don’t know if this idea is perpetuated by the ‘certain type of hard drinker’ text from Chapter 2 of the Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book) or from devout members of 12 step groups. It’s simply not true. There is example after example of hard-knocks alcoholics and addicts who quit without the help of the 12 steps. So let’s just move past this claim because it gives me a headache.
If you are reading this…
Anyone who is going to great lengths to determine whether they are an alcoholic might be an alcoholic.
The fact that I’m writing a blog post about searching for an answer to the question of whether I’m an alcoholic is probably a red flag for me. If you have come this far reading this blog post, you are probably either at risk or very concerned about yourself or someone else.
Are You a Real Alcoholic?
The truth is that I’ve had phases and stages of alcoholism. Alcohol was a big part of my life for about thirty years. Each chapter of my life has had its own distinctly bad characteristics. In the end, I have decided that I definitely have a problem. The 12 step solution is working for me. If you are having trouble with alcohol, then I highly suggest giving it a shot.
If you are wondering whether you are an alcoholic, and you are reading this, then you just might be. Only you can say. This is the ultimate question: Do you think you are an alcoholic? If the answer is yes, then you just might have a problem.