I’m Not Sure I’m Really an Addict…
The fact that you are reading this article suggests that perhaps you suspect that your patterns around a certain substance or behavior are not exactly normal. It’s OK, keep reading. The majority of the population, despite appearances, is struggling with some mild to severe form of addiction, or what might be considered deviance with regard to a particular behavior. You aren’t alone. You are, however, wiser than most if you are concerned that your behavior may be moving into questionable territory and are contemplating what might be done about it.
Or perhaps you don’t see a problem at all but you’ve had your family and friends harping on you about what they see as more than just a harmless habit. You hear their concerns, but when you think about other addicts you have known, or portrayals of addiction in popular media, you don’t see how you match up. So are you really an addict or are your loved ones overreacting?
Maybe you’d like to moderate the behavior in question, but do you need to quit altogether? Has it really come to that point?
The tricky thing about addiction is that there is a pretty wide spectrum that extends between the end points of ‘normal use’ and ‘full-blown dependence.’ Categories like ‘habitual,’ ‘overuse,’ and ‘abuse’ fall somewhere in the middle. You may feel alcohol’s negative impact on your life well before you hit the dead end of dependence—a process that might cost you many unhappy years in getting there. If that’s the trajectory you are on, it’s better to get off the train somewhere in the neighborhood of ‘overuse.’
But it’s hard to predict how bad things might get. Perhaps you drink pretty heavily right now. Is that an indicator that years down the road ‘dependence’ will characterize your relationship with alcohol? Who is to say you might not find yourself progressively drinking less over time? That happens, doesn’t it?
We wish. The reality is that alcoholism is a progressive illness. We get worse, not better.
So you are not sure you are an addict. The truth is, you may not be. But ask yourself this: when you are willing to be totally honest with yourself, are you concerned about your drinking? Can you see that a problem may be in the works? Are you afraid to talk about it for fear that you might then have to face the problem and deal with it (which would most likely mean giving up alcohol for good)?
You are not alone in these apprehensions; millions of drinkers fall somewhere along this fairly fluid spectrum. They drink more than their peers, they drink daily, they use booze to relax, and when they’re not drinking, they are thinking about drinking. Some will make the slow and unhappy transition to full-blown alcoholism and dependence. Millions will remain functional alcoholics—overusing alcohol, but never experiencing the dire consequences. Others will spend a lot of time fighting themselves and trying to gain control, but consistently failing to keep their own promises.
The question is not so much “am I an alcoholic?” It’s not a bad question to ask but you can find a host of excuses and examples that will keep the answer coming back in the negative. A better approach would be to look at your life and your patterns around drinking. Are you comfortable with the amount and frequency with which you drink? Are you free of concern about the escalating nature of your habit? Are you able to make the decision to drink less and then adhere to it? If you can answer with a strong and honest ‘yes’ to each of these questions, you probably don’t have much to be worried about.
But if you aren’t so sure, you might listen to your intuition. Perhaps try an experiment on yourself. Give up alcohol for a period of six months or a year. Is it possible? Or, make a practice of having just one drink. Are you craving more? Does one drink only spark the desire and need for another and another? If so, you might have the beginning of a problem on your hands.
The good news is that you can stop your train before it derails. Do you think you’re being paranoid, or that you are overreacting, or making too big a deal of it? Maybe you are, but the nice thing is you lose nothing by getting sober. Many people, knowing their family history or their own natural tendencies, choose to completely avoid alcohol. This is a noble decision and nothing to be ashamed of. You may find that sobriety frees you from the fear and concern you have felt around your drinking habit, and that the little bit of enjoyment you found in alcohol isn’t worth the potential consequences.