Many people are able to drink alcohol in moderation without having problems in their lives, but if your drinking is creating difficulties with your health, your career, your finances, or your relationship, then you have likely developed alcohol use disorder – an addiction to alcohol. It’s possible to be an alcoholic even if you never let yourself get really drunk. Some alcoholics drink all day, every day, while others limit their drinking to the evening or even weekends.The good news is that addiction – and alcohol use disorder is a form of addiction – is a treatable problem. The first step is admitting that your drinking (which probably started as casual and enjoyable) has become an all too important part of your life.
Many people with alcohol use disorder feel stigmatized. However, this is not a path that anyone ever sets out to take by choice. Realizing that you have become an alcoholic is painful and the road ahead may be difficult, but it is important to realize that it is never too late to change, heal, and redirect your life to a more purpose-driven path.
There are three main reasons why people start drinking:
- Recreational use – to lift yourself up from everyday life.
- Self-medication – to dull or drown emotional or mental or physical discomfort or pain.
- Performance enhancement – because you believe that having a drink helps you to do what you do better, whether socially, mentally, or physically.
Addiction Changes Your Brain
You may not realize that your habitual drinking has actually changed your brain and altered its reward circuitry. This is the reason why abstinence – completely staying away from your alcoholic drinks, including wine and beer – is so difficult, especially at first. With time and treatment, however, it’s possible to heal and overcome your addiction. It’s never too late. Within about 90 days (more or less), the brain begins to adjust and you will start to feel like yourself again.
It’s important to realize, however, that abstinence – not drinking alcohol — does not mean the same thing as sobriety. Sobriety equals abstinence plus “recovery,” which is to track down and address your reasons for using drugs or alcohol in the first place. Recovery is the work that has to be done to understand why you got where you did, what unresolved issues you need to figure out, and what holes you need to fill … and then doing so.
Do you have an addiction?
It’s fair to say that your use of alcohol has become an addiction if having a drink or several has become a repetitive, habitual behavior that is destructive to the quality of your life.
Below, you will find information that medical doctors use to identify people with alcohol use disorder. With your journal, take some time to think about each of the criteria listed and how it relates to your life … and then go through the list again with an important shift: Pretend you are a person to whom you are close (your spouse or lover or best friend or parent or child or perhaps your employer) and write down what you think they’d say if asked whether this criteria describes you.
Write down each statement … your thoughts and feelings from each perspective … and then write a paragraph about how you feel when you’ve completed the exercise.
Alcohol use disorder is the diagnosis if one or more of the following criteria are met within a 12-month period:
- Recurrent alcohol use results in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, home or school.
- Recurrent alcohol use in situations where it is physically hazardous (for instance, while driving a car).
- Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or worsened by use of alcohol (such as arguments with your spouse or children).
- Experiencing tolerance, defined as either a need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effect or a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount.
- Experiencing withdrawal, as evidence by either the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol or when medication is taken to relieve withdrawal symptoms.
- Alcohol is taken in larger amounts or over a longer time period than originally intended.
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
- A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol (you spend a lot of time thinking about it, how you are going to get it and when you can have/use it).
- Important social, occupational or recreational activities are neglected or abandoned because of alcohol use.
- The alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent psychological or physical problem related to alcohol use.