How Can I Tell if I Have a Drinking Problem?

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You have a drinking problem when your drinking is causing problems. Does that sound too shallow? What about those tests where you put in the number of drinking days and the number of drinks and so on?

A good analogy comes from the world of finance. So here’s a joke about personal finance…

The Pastor stops Matthew coming out of church one day.
“Matthew, you look terrible. I’ve never seen you so down.”

“Well, Pastor, my business is tanking, I can’t pay my bills, my wife is threatening to leave me and I can’t pay my kids college tuition.”

The Pastor thinks and recommends Matthew go home, open his Bible and follow the advice he finds there.

A few months later, the Pastor spots Matthew again. This time, he’s wearing a nice new suit and smiling.

"Matthew, you look great! Did you find your answer in the Bible?”

“I sure did. I went home like you said, opened it up and immediately saw: Matthew Chapter 11.”

Unfortunately, there is no bankruptcy chapter that clears up a drinking problem. But just as someone who makes $30,000 a year and someone who makes a million can have spending problems, and at either income level they can be destructive, so too the amount of drinking isn’t as important as the relationship with alcohol.

A relationship with alcohol

What does drinking mean to you? Is it inextricably linked with relaxation and escape? Are you using it to treat depression?

You don’t have to have a full blown alcohol addiction to have a drinking problem. Problems come at lots of levels. There’s no point in comparing your drinking to others and thinking because you drink less you are OK.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a great set of questions to get someone focused on the subject. This isn’t meant to label someone an alcoholic, just to help people decide if AA will do them any good. Take a look.

Common outcomes

Those who’ve recognized that drinking has become an unwanted behavior usually tell some of the same tales. Here are some of the common outcomes.

* You conceal your drinking because it’s embarrassing or your feel guilty.
* You can’t seem to enjoy going out or to activities where there is no alcohol available.
* You’ve sacrificed something you would otherwise do so you can drink instead.
* You have to pay attention to how much you drink to avoid public incidents.
* You look forward to the next chance you have to drink.
* You’ve considered stopping and may have attempted it for some period.
* You’ve made excuses to yourself or others about your drinking.
* You’ve called in sick to work because of the results of drinking.

The CAGE test

Although problems with alcohol are individualized, medical professionals sometimes use a four question test to decide if the subject needs to be explored further. If you answer yes to any of these questions, the issue needs to be explored further. If yes on two or more, it is very likely a problem exists.

Cut down – Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?

Annoyed – Have people annoyed you by mentioning or criticizing your drinking?

Guilt – Have you ever felt guilty about drinking or something that resulted from drinking?

Eye opener – Have you ever had a drink the first thing in the morning to steady yourself or to combat a hangover?

The examples we’ve shown in this article should tip you off that a drinking problem doesn’t have to be dramatic. The subject doesn’t even arise for some people until they get a DUI or someone complains to them about their drinking. Every alcoholic started with a first drink and most gradually adopted a drinking lifestyle. Problems arose slowly. First minor and rare; then not so rare; then obvious to others and finally obvious to the drinker themselves.

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