Are you an “almost alcoholic?” Do you even have any idea what that is? It may sound a little strange, but it isn’t as far off as you might think. With all the media attention of the consequences of drunk driving, the national rates of alcoholism and continued teen experimentation with alcohol, you might wonder if we’re a country of drunks or people skirting the boundaries of having a problem with alcohol. You might even be worried that you could be one of them – although you’d deny it vehemently to anyone who brought up the subject or insinuated that maybe you’re drinking too much. Just about one year ago, Dr. Robert L. Doyle, a professor of behavioral health at Harvard University and psychologist Dr. Joseph Nowinski, wrote a book entitled Almost Alcoholic. Their work provided a compelling look into the fine line that may pinpoint where a person can cross over from casual drinking to being well on their way to full-fledged alcoholism. Cutting to the chase, what is relevant today – as it always is for those who are possibly concerned about their drinking habits or those of their loved ones – is just what are the signs or markers that could indicate someone has more than just a few traits indicating they’re on their way to alcoholism. In other words, how do you know if you might be an “almost alcoholic?” According to the authors, the following signs may indicate that you have moved out of the “normal” realm of social drinking and are in or approaching that part of the drinking spectrum that qualifies as almost alcoholic.
- You drink to relieve stress.
- You often drink alone.
- You look forward to drinking.
- Your drinking may be related to one or more health problems.
- You drink to relieve boredom or loneliness.
- You sometimes drive after drinking.
- You drink to maintain a “buzz.”
- Your performance at work is not what it used to be.
- You aren’t comfortable in social situations without drinking.
- You find that drinking helps you overcome your shyness.
But just looking at the aforementioned potential indicators of a near alcoholic doesn’t seem to be too reliable in determining whether you might be one. After all, simply answering in the affirmative to one or more certainly wouldn’t automatically mean you are a near alcoholic, would it? What if you only do the action sometimes or rarely? There don’t seem to be any gradations, just absolutes. Yet the grouping of these indicators is perhaps helpful in looking at the situations you might put yourself in, how you typically act or react to certain stressors and circumstances, how often you drink, how much you drink, and for how long you drink. Taking them all together, a clearer picture might emerge as to whether or not you could be an almost alcoholic. Drinking to Relieve Stress Who doesn’t feel some stress during the course of the day? If we are honest with ourselves, most of us do experience stress and try our best to alleviate it. Maybe one drink will do it, bringing you to a calmer state of mind, mellowing out your mood and taking the edge off stress. Maybe it requires more than one drink. Maybe, on certain occasions, you need a slew of drinks, one right after the other, to blot out an exceedingly unpleasant or highly stressful day. It isn’t the once in a while that you drink to alleviate stress that will get you in trouble – as long as you moderate your intake and pay careful attention to other contributing factors that might intensify the effects of the alcohol. When this drinking to relieve stress may veer into murky territory is if you find yourself doing it all the time, as in you feel that you have to have a drink every day in order to unwind and de-stress from what happened. Drinking Alone If drinking alone is an indicator – or could be – that you’re an almost alcoholic, what about the times that you have a drink at home and there’s no one else around at the time? It isn’t that you deliberately set out to drink by yourself. It’s just that you happen to be alone at the time that you decide to have that cold beer. Maybe you are in the presence of friends at a party or someone’s house or an outdoor get-together and everyone leaves to go home. You’re still nursing your drink or have been busy helping the host or are engaged in cleaning up. You find yourself by yourself and you barely touched your drink. Since it’s still full or fresh, you decide to drink it. This can’t be construed as problematic, can it? Where drinking alone will tend to get you into hot water in the long run is when you make a habit of doing it. You may believe that you have to hide your drinking from others and that’s why you drink solo. You may not want to hear their harping or see their disapproving looks. Maybe you don’t want to get into a competitive drinking contest among heavy drinking friends and that’s why you drink alone. Just be careful when you find yourself picking up a drink or drinks when you are by yourself. Monitor how often you do this and, more importantly, why you feel the need to do so. If it is becoming a frequent occurrence, consider tapering off. Get busy doing something else instead of reaching for a drink. It will be healthier for you and you won’t be establishing a pattern that could prove to be habitual and dangerous. Anticipating Drinking The association between drinking and having a good time, socializing and unwinding at the end of the day has been perpetuated and promoted for years by companies marketing beer, wine and spirits. It’s hard to pick up a magazine without seeing glossy advertisements showing young, happy and vibrant people having a great time – and holding a glass, can or bottle of the alcoholic drink being promoted. Billboards tout vodka and beer, possibly interspersed rarely with one containing an admonition to not drink and drive. Television is rife with beer commercials – and they’re not only during sports games anymore. Talk about subliminal messaging. The point being made is that it’s not only okay to drink this product, but that you’ll be happier, more social and more accepted if you do so. Given the ubiquitous nature of alcohol advertising, is it any wonder that you might find yourself really looking forward to having that drink as soon as you walk through the door at home? Or, you can’t wait for the end of the day so you can join your pals at the bar or tavern to catch up on what’s happening over a round or several of drinks? No, it isn’t merely the advertising that gets you in this mode of thinking. You are responsible for programming yourself. It’s like Pavlov’s dog. You know you’ll feel more relaxed after you have that drink, so you look forward to the reward. Pretty soon, the anticipation starts to happen more frequently. More than just anticipating it, you really want that drink. Watch out here. This kind of patterned behavior can lead you down a path that you’ll find it difficult to turn back from. There must be something else you can substitute for this kind of anticipation. Maybe it is spending time with your spouse or loved one or playing with your kinds or working outside. Try to find an appealing, healthy alternative. Drinking Related to Health Problems Let’s say you have diabetes or heart problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, even cancer. What you may not have taken into consideration is that drinking alcohol can worsen the health problems you already have – as well as lead to additional health problems. Alcohol can cause changes in blood sugar levels, which can cause or exacerbate problems with diabetics. Heart disease, kidney disease, and circulation problems can worsen by the consumption of alcohol. Any medications that you currently take for health conditions may not work as well or may fail to work as a result of drinking alcohol. But there are also mental, emotional and behavioral problems that may be made worse by the consumption of too much alcohol. These include anxiety, depression, and short- and long-term confusion. So, if you have an existing health condition – or are showing symptoms of one but haven’t yet been diagnosed – be aware that drinking alcohol can contribute to a worsening of that condition and could even bring about more health problems than you already have. Drinking to Stave Off Boredom or Loneliness Having nothing or no one to look forward to at the end of the day, or during long weekends and time you have to take off for vacations can sometimes make the prospect of having a few drinks more appealing. You may be a single parent, or are widowed, never married and currently living alone. Perhaps you are retired or are house-bound due to a medical condition or physical injury. You count the hours and they seem endless. You feel alone, unwanted, unappreciated and have no immediate hope of remedying the situation. Picking up that drink as a way to get past feeling bored and lonely is a dangerous practice that can only get worse. The more you engage in this type of aimless behavior, the more ingrained it will become. You will automatically find yourself gravitating toward alcohol as a way to pass the time without thinking or worrying about your lack of companionship or things to do. Being mindful of the dangers of drinking to ward of boredom and loneliness is the first step toward training yourself not to drink for that purpose. If you can, join a group that is devoted to some kind of activity you find enjoyable. There you will meet new people and may strike up a friendship. At least you will have somewhere to go and something to do that doesn’t involve alcohol. If you cannot leave the house for whatever reason, join a cyber-chat group or have a relative or someone you know bring you books, games and things to do. Take up a hobby that you can do at home, something that will occupy your mind and get your thoughts off how lonely or bored you are. Driving After Drinking There is no question that drinking and driving is a serious problem in the United States. Looking at the recent recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for states to lower the legal level of blood alcohol content (BAC) for drivers from the current 0.08 to 0.04 might be enough to persuade millions of Americans to limit alcohol consumption or forego driving after drinking. Then, again, maybe it wouldn’t. After all, many people who drink believe that they are perfectly capable behind the wheel after a few drinks. The truth is that unless they have been pulled over for a DUI and convicted of the crime, they probably will continue the dangerous behavior – possibly with ultimately disastrous consequences. Study after study has found that many people are intoxicated despite the fact that their BAC is below the legal limit. In some individuals, even one drink is enough to impair their driving ability. Some serious changes will have to be made in society to the point where alcohol consumption beyond lowered limits and driving simply will not be tolerated. Will this be unpopular? Undoubtedly, it will be, especially among those who believe they can hold their liquor. Will it gain traction? Will the courts mandate alcohol-ignition interlocks, alcohol treatment programs, loss of licenses and stiffer fines for first-time offenders? The trend seems to be going in that direction. Ask yourself if you drive after drinking and, if you do, are you completely convinced that you are under the legal limit in your state – and perfectly capable of functioning appropriately behind the wheel? This is not an idle question or an inconsequential one. Maybe curtailing drinking and then driving is a better option – especially if you have been prone to drinking and driving for some time. Drinking to Keep the “Buzz” Do you find yourself sipping your drinks for the express purpose of keeping the “buzz” that you’ve got, going? Drink sippers never drink to the point of passing out. Nor do they pound them down all at once. They nurse their drinks along so that the problems that were bothering them don’t have a chance to intrude on the mellow feeling. The problem with this is that even though you think you’re perfectly fine, you are still consuming alcohol. It isn’t leaving your system through discontinuation of drinking. You’re still helping it along, albeit slowly. Doing this as a regular practice is tantamount to skirting the edge of a cliff. Sooner or later, you’re bound to get a little too close to be safe – and you may not be able to turn back. Drinking and Work Performance It isn’t that you’re in danger of getting fired – yet, but you may have noticed that your performance at work just isn’t what it once was. This seems to be directly or indirectly related to the number of days you come in hung over from your drinking the night before. You may not be as alert or focused as you need to be, as you used to be. You may take shortcuts, gloss over important details, and even miss some entirely. Deadlines come and go and you’re still not finished with the project or assignment given to you. Your boss takes notice and the impression is not good. If you’ve been passed over for a promotion, didn’t get the raise you expected, or got a less-than-adequate performance review, maybe your drinking is a big part of the problem. While you’re not a stone alcoholic, there is no question that alcohol consumption is getting in the way of your optimum performance at work. And this can prove to be a serious setback to your career and further earning and advancement opportunities. Avoiding Situations Where There’s No Drinking Allowed A pretty good clue that you may be a near alcoholic is when you deliberately avoid going to or being around people in situations where there is no drinking allowed or you know that there won’t be any alcohol present. This goes to the heart of what you think constitutes an enjoyable social situation. If you would otherwise be with these same people or at the same event and the only difference is that alcohol is served, then you know you have a potential problem on your hands. Drinking to Overcome Shyness Still along the lines of social situations, suppose you feel you need to drink in order to overcome your shy nature. Loosening up with a few drinks may seem like the optimal solution, but is it really? What are you setting yourself up for other than a dangerous pattern of alcohol consumption in order to overcome your fear of interacting with people? Losing your inhibitions isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, you could go too far and make yourself look ridiculous to others – all in the name of feeling more at-ease. Such behavior isn’t worth the risk that you establish and maintain a pattern that’s clearly not healthy for you. Breaking the pattern is one of the smartest things you can do to help avoid becoming a near alcoholic. What You Do Now Counts Hopefully, the foregoing has given you something to think about with respect to your drinking behavior. Remember that having one or more of the indicators doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a near alcoholic or even on your way to becoming one. But it is important to note that the fine line between casual drinking and getting close to being a near alcoholic is incredibly thin. It also tends to vary between people. Some will get closer to the edge than others. Some will be smart enough to recognize they’re falling into dangerous patterns and decide to do something about them. And that is where the crux of the matter is. It is what you do now that counts.