If you are wondering if you or someone you care about is an Alcoholic, it is likely with good reason.  Maybe your relationships are suffering or your professional or personal relationships are in turmoil.  Maybe it’s a decline in health.  Whatever it is, you’re here and wanting to explore what it means to be an Alcoholic.

Before answering the question, it’s important to understand these common myths about substance use and sobriety.


Myth #1: Substance Use is only a problem if you use every day – If I don’t drink every day or close to it, I’m not an acoholic

Often times, I will have clients tell me that they don’t use that often so it’s clearly not a problem.  The truth is that there are people in this world who can do more damage to their lives in a single day of substance use than many people can do in a lifetime.  Case in point, a client who sometimes blacks out when drinking– client goes out drinking at a work conference, gets drunk, blacks out, and wakes up in someone’s bed with a stranger thus violating their marital vows and their partner’s trust.  I have seen this happen more than once.

If you black out while drinking and it has happened more than one time, it is an issue of safety.  Blacking out while drunk is dangerous.  In my work as a trauma therapist, I hear often about trauma that began during a black out episode.  It’s important not to minimize this.

Additionally, you need to examine your behavior when you have been drinking.  Do you become mean, irritable, or destructively impulsive.  It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t happen often.  The damage done in a single night of drinking can destroy relationships.  Having your partner humiliate you publicly after a few drinks is hard to recover from even if it only happened once.  That decrease in inhibitions can be incredibly destructive.

The frequency of substance use is not what determines whether it’s a problem or not.  The impact the substance use has on  relationships, mood, functioning and physical health are for more significant.


Myth #2: If I Am Not An Addict Or An Alcoholic, I Don’t Need To Be Sober

This could be true but its not necessarily true.  People who are Addicts may have a harder time giving up substance use due to dependency or addiction issues, but there are plenty of people who are not Addicts who may benefit from sobriety.

Not all people use drinking and substances the same way.  Some people are able to stop after a drink or two without any issue and alcohol doesn’t impact their lives negatively.  Other people quickly go from one or two drinks to binging even if it wasn’t their intention.  Their able to switch off the drinking isn’t easy.  Some people may only have a few drinks but do it every day and notice the impact it has on their overall functioning, sleep, and physical health over time.

There are a lot of reasons to get sober.  Addiction is only one of them.


Myth #3:  If you are not dependent on Alcohol, you don’t have a problem

We have all known someone who is a typical Alcoholic or at the very least, seen the movie — the kind of drunk who wakes up in the morning, starts drinking and can’t physically tolerate not drinking anymore.  They are not functioning in any capacity and alcohol has taken center stage in their life.

This is the worst case scenario and it’s excruciating for everyone who cares about them.  It does happen this way, but it’s not what I see most commonly.  Most often, I see people who are not dependent on alcohol.  They have no physical dependency symptoms and they are highly functional in every aspect of their lives.  They work hard, they have meaningful relationships.

Not being dependent on alcohol does not mean there is not a problem.  However, not being dependent on alcohol does make it easier to get sober since there is no detox period.


How do I know if I am an alcoholic and If I need to get sober?

Here we are at the question we began with.  When considering sobriety, it doesn’t really matter if you are a true “Alcoholic.”  This is not the critical question to ask yourself if you are considering getting sober and whether or not you identify with that label is not that important.

The better question to ask yourself is this: is alcohol adversely impacting my life in terms of the way I show up in my personal relationships with family, friends and loved ones or does it interfere with my functioning professionally, personally or physically?

The second prong of this question is this: am I able to moderate my drinking effectively or does this issue keep coming up despite my efforts?

There are people who can not effectively manage or moderate their drinking.  Therapy can help assess this.

Not all people can manage or moderate drinking.  There are Moderation Management strategies that can help and a therapist can help you address this, but not all people are able to drink moderately.

Accepting when there is a problem is not always easy.

Therapy can help.

There is an abundance of free support available for people who are interested in a sober lifestyle including AA 

There are a wealth of self-help books about creating and sustaining a sober lifestyle.  There are people who embrace sobriety without AA.

And if you are a loved one struggling with a partner or family member’s substance use, I highly recommend Alanon.

My primary recommendation is that you stop focussing on the question of whether or not you are an Alcoholic and instead ask the question of whether you need to get sober.  The label does not matter — what matters is the choices you make moving forward.

Embracing sobriety is not easy in a culture where Alcohol has been supported by billions of dollars in advertising convincing us that this is how to socialize and have friends and blow off steam.  However, I have seen so many clients embrace sobriety and discover that they can do all the same things while drinking something that doesn’t have alcohol and still have fun.

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