Living on the Border of Alcoholism

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) 17.6 Americans abuse alcohol, making it the most oft used addictive substance in the nation. But what’s the dividing line between alcoholism and not-quite alcoholism? The number of folks living on the edges of alcoholism could be staggering. The NCADD defines alcoholism by the following criteria: increasing tolerance for alcohol, intense craving for alcohol, physical withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is unavailable and an inability to limit consumption. What about those who fit several of the criteria, but not all? What of those who drink daily, who arrange their lives around drinking, who crave it and need to drink more all the time just to feel buzzed? If they don’t show signs of physical dependency and withdrawal are they almost-but-not-quite alcoholics? The alcoholic is portrayed in novels and on-screen as depraved and incompetent, and the stigma associated with being an alcoholic is based on those perceptions in the minds of many. The fear of being associated with all of those negative connotations may keep a person from owning up to how serious their drinking problem has become. Very few, if any, want to own the label alcoholic. Because they don’t fit the worst characterizations of alcoholism, they reason that they are still okay. Actually, the number of people with an almost-alcoholic drinking problem is frighteningly large. The problem of near-alcoholism has been well researched and written about. It can be hard for people living in the almost-alcoholic borderlands to recognize their problem – they don’t fit with stereotyped versions portrayed on-screen, and at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings they come away feeling they aren’t as bad off as some. Normally, one could ask friends and family what they think, but drinkers tend to surround themselves with other drinkers. Those closest to the almost-but-not-quite alcoholic will likely be people who share their lifestyle. Therefore, what is needed is an unbiased third party to talk to about drinking habits, like a family physician. In the meantime, the NCADD offers an “Am I Alcoholic?” online self-test.

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