How do you know if you’re an alcoholic?

I get asked this all the time. Even recently by a nurse. When someone finds out about my trainwreck of a past ahem, history, I always encourage any questions they may have. For such a common problem, alcoholism is still very much a dirty secret for many. Believe it or not, not everyone wants to publish a public blog declaring their status as a raging alcoholic. Go figure.

Webster’s Dictionarya chronic, progressive, potentially fatal disorder marked by excessive and usually compulsive drinking of alcohol leading to psychological and physical dependence or addiction.

For me, pretty much everyone knew I had a drinking problem, especially in the last few years, so it wasn’t really a surprise to anyone what happened to me. No one was scratching their head, let me assure you. Rarely does an alcoholic hide it as well as they think they do, and I certainly can vouch for that.  Sooner or later, the jig is up and rock bottom is different for everyone as well.  The lucky ones don’t get to the depths of despair before reaching out for help. However, I was always a late bloomer.  Late to the party and the last to leave, me. I knew I was an alcoholic, but it kinda felt like having high cholesterol. . . just keep an eye on it and manage it accordingly.  Seriously, this was my thought process.

I’m Irish. It’s a thing. At least I thought it was.

And here’s the other thing; you could ask every alcoholic out there and they’d all have a unique and individual response to that question. . . how do you know if you’re an alcoholic? 

A lot of folks also will offer “if you want to stop drinking and you find that you cannot“. That one has always seemed kinda obvious to me, but trust me, in the insanity of alcoholism nothing is obvious to the alcoholic. “You make alcohol a priority over your responsibilities” is another. “Normal people don’t worry about their drinking” is also a favorite.

I don’t know. I defer to the always astute Morticia Addams…

There is no normal, in my opinion. In the last two years I have met alcoholics of all ages, sizes, creeds and colors. Decorated war veterans. Professors from universities. Indigent folks and yes, some even homeless. Stay-at-home mothers. Business folks of both genders. Alcoholism does not discriminate. Alcoholism doesn’t care what town you’re from or how you grew up or where you went to school. It doesn’t give a flying flip if you’re a kindergarten teacher or a inmate on parole. It’s a misconception even now that most of us do not in fact sleep under overpasses and hiccup bleakly from the gutters surrounding bars in dark and shady neighborhoods.

No, I guarantee you know an alcoholic even if you don’t know you know. You do.

The good news is that we’re all in this together.  Every single person I’ve met in my journey has taught me something.  No one is more qualified to relate to an alcoholic like another alcoholic. This I know for sure.

So, sure, you can take an online quiz. You can try just drinking on weekends. You can try white wine only for awhile. Can you stop? Do you even want to?  How do you know if you’re an alcoholic? It’s a simple question although the answer is can be remarkably complicated.

Here’s my answer to that question: If you stop drinking and your life improves dramatically, then you may be an alcoholic.

I’m Jen and I’m an alcoholic.  It’s nice to meet you.

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