Almost Alcoholic

whisky

I must have googled “Am I an alcoholic?” a hundred times. Maybe, if you’re reading this blog, you have too.

I think the problem with that question is the word alcoholic. Many of us have a very fixed idea of what an alcoholic is. It’s the person who drinks everyday. It’s the person who drinks in the morning. It’s the old man swigging meths from a paper bag. It’s the down-and-out whose life is literally in the gutter.
 
When you’re used to viewing alcoholism in these terms, anything that falls short is hard to define. When my drinking worried me enough to go to an AA meeting a few years ago, I sat there feeling like a fraud. As I listened to other people share, I felt guilty, like I wasn’t ‘alcoholic enough’. So I slunk off and never went back, telling myself that perhaps I didn’t need to worry about my drinking after all. There were others much worse than me.
 
Last month I discovered a book called Almost Alcoholic. It’s a bit heavy going in places but something clicked when I read it. It’s written by two American doctors who argue that no one drinks ‘normally’ one day and alcoholically the next. They say alcoholics pass through a large grey area first, in which the ‘Almost Alcoholic’ exists.
 
Here are the five key signs of an almost alcoholic:
1. You continue drinking despite at least some negative consequences.
2. You look forward to drinking.
3. You drink alone.
4. You sometimes drink to control emotional and/or physical symptoms.
5. You and your loved ones are suffering as a result of your drinking.
 
I answered yes to every one. Something about that really stuck with me. For the first time it felt like there was a label, a diagnosis that fitted exactly. Rather than trying to guess what would happen if I carried on drinking here was someone explaining it in black and white. I couldn’t pretend my drinking was normal anymore. And that was scary.
 
I realise that ‘not reaching rock bottom’ can be a bit of sticking point for me. Or maybe it’s just an excuse that I cling to. It’s strange because in other areas of my life I’m very proactive. If I put on weight I tend to sort it out pretty quick. I would never wait until I was morbidly obese before tackling it. I have good control over my finances. If I got into debt I would never wait until I went bankrupt to do something about it. So why has my approach to drinking always been so different?
 
I guess the point is I that I’m doing something about it now. Reading that book, alongside lots of fantastic sober blogs, rattled me. It was as if someone had forced me to dangle over a cliff edge, just so I could have a good look at what was waiting below. I didn’t like what I saw down there.
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28 thoughts on “Almost Alcoholic

  1. Drunky Drunk Girl April 15, 2013 at 3:34 pm Reply

    YES! You’re onto something, for sure. It took me a long, long time to realize this: you’re an “alcoholic” if you drink *alcoholically.* That is, if you use wine, for instance, instead of drink it. This weekend, I went boating, and I saw once again how “normal” drinkers drink: slow, steady, without the desire to “get drunk.” I mean, two bottles of prosecco consumed between two people over the course of several hours? What? I would’ve downed both in less than an hour. One girl “nicely” had, oh, about 3 or 4 drinks…over the course of about 4 or 5 hours. What? I would’ve had all 3 in the space of an hour, then KEPT GOING. Why would I stop? More importantly, how could I WANT to stop?

    What struck me most was how these people neither noticed how bizarre their “control” was NOR wanted to get drunky drunk. There was no clutching sense of compulsion; there was enjoyment, sure, but not the kind of “ahhhhhh, take me away” feeling I get and strive to get more of with each drink. It was like, they could take it or leave it. BIZARRE.

    So, I get what you’re saying in that, you’re not a falling down drunk yet, but…you notice the compulsion. What an achievement! You got this, Sober Journalist! 🙂

  2. Carrie April 16, 2013 at 10:47 pm Reply

    Oh yeah, I spent years partying in the large grey area of the “almost alcoholic” I decided to get off the ride at that stop as like you I could see where I was headed and I didn’t like the look of it! There is no way back from there. It’s either get off or travel further down the line. Well done you for escaping!

    • soberjournalist April 16, 2013 at 11:14 pm Reply

      Well done you too. I’m only on Day 10 – feels like it should be Day 30 by now!!

  3. runningonsober April 17, 2013 at 8:26 pm Reply

    I debated what to call myself at the beginning too. I finally came to the realization that it didn’t matter what I called myself–it didn’t change what or who I was. I blogged about it last July, writing:

    “Am I an alcoholic? Probably. To me, it doesn’t really matter what I label myself as. I just know that today I choose not to drink. Because no matter what you want to call me, my world is a nicer, healthier and safer place when I don’t go all Crazy Shining Dude on it.”

    http://runningonsober.com/2012/07/09/bamf-or-you-can-call-me-al/

    Congrats on Day 11! The first seven were the hardest for me to string together… you’re doing great!

    • soberjournalist April 18, 2013 at 12:14 am Reply

      Thank you – I liked your post on this topic. I think I got obsessed about finding the right label for me because I was looking for someone to say “yes, you are such-and-such, this is not normal, and here is what you must do solve this problem”. Does that make sense?

      • runningonsober April 18, 2013 at 12:42 am

        Yes, very much so. I’m a fixer by nature, so my first instinct is to always try to figure out everything I can, research, study, make a plan and act/fix. I did the same thing when I decided to stop drinking. Then I think I rebelled against the label. And now I’m at the point where it just doesn’t matter much anymore… It’s just who I am.

        I guess that’s all part of the process, huh?

  4. Joe Nowinski April 19, 2013 at 10:23 pm Reply

    Thoughtful review and comments. Realizing you are an Almost Alcoholic can be a life saving insight.

  5. Sober Life April 25, 2013 at 5:12 am Reply

    I definitely reached my bottom, but the feelings and events you describe sound just like my life used to be when I drank. I am sure I was once an almost alcoholic, but I didn’t see it or question it, we’ll maybe I did, but I ignored it and chose to live in denial. You have a chance to stop before you get to the bottom and that is the awesome part! Love this post and your great blog. thanks for sharing!

  6. jenbeytcoffin July 23, 2013 at 6:22 pm Reply

    I just found this book at the library yesterday after having a blackout last weekend after vowing that I would stop drinking. I slipped & It scared me. I knew I had alcoholic tendencies, but like you, never considered myself a *true* alcoholic. I love the way they explain that some people metabolize alcohol differently. It’s helpful to think of this issue in real terms, but it’s also enlightening to know the grey area is one to be aware of. I’m determined to stop living in denial. I love the diagnosis of ‘Almost Alcoholic’. I feel like I can work with that. It’s long overdue for me, but hearing your story has given me hope & encouragement. Thank you!

  7. EM October 21, 2013 at 6:01 am Reply

    I’ve been struggling as an almost alcoholic for several years already. Wine became a huge comfort for me during the deterioration and ending of a very long term marriage. I too tried attending a couple of AA meetings but felt totally out of place and didn’t go back. I’ve been struggling on my and feel like I’m slipping closer and closer to the edge……

    • soberjournalist October 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm Reply

      Sorry to hear you’re struggling. The main thing I’ve realised over these past few months is that you can’t do this stuff on your own. If you’re the kind of person who settles into AA then that’s great – you’ll find support there. If, like you and I, you find that doesn’t quite work, you need to look elsewhere. I would highly recommend joining the Soberistas website as they have a great forum on there and lots of advice. Belle, who writes the Tired of Thinking about Drinking blog, does sober coaching and podcasts which are brilliant. Hope they help you too.

  8. sobernorman November 12, 2013 at 3:44 pm Reply

    I love this. I love that I wrote a post 2 days ago, I’ve just read this, & we’re saying exactly the same thing, months apart, with only a few exceptions in the vocabulary. I bet there’s hundreds of people up & down the country RIGHT NOW googling the above.

  9. […] month I was contacted out of the blue by a BBC journalist who had read my post ‘Almost Alcoholic‘. She was writing an article about the same thing and wondered if she could interview me. We […]

  10. Almost Alcoholic | We Agnostics January 9, 2014 at 10:35 pm Reply

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  11. newbeginings510 January 9, 2014 at 11:02 pm Reply

    Hello, I stumbled across your blog and really glad I did. I never wanted to consider myself an alcoholic but have ALWAYS had trouble with drinking. I am about to be 30 and after drinking non-stop for over 10 years (aside from when I was pregnant with my daughters) I am starting to admit that my drinking is just not worth it. I have crashed a car, ended up in the ER, had fights with friends and family, been made fun of, you name it. Thinking back I can’t really think of ONE good thing that came from alxohol. I have only been sober for about 2 weeks…. I’m really hoping I stick with it. Any words of advise would be great! I haven’t really “came out” to anyone do you think I should make some sort of annoucment or just play it out? Thank you for your blog I look foward to reading more 🙂

    • soberjournalist January 10, 2014 at 10:51 am Reply

      Well done on stopping drinking, you sound like you’re doing great. The first couple of weeks are the hardest! The best advice I was given was “you can’t do this alone”. So make sure you get some face to face or online support. Soberistas.com is a great website with lots of information and a forum for members to chat to each other and share advice. They’ve also got a good reading list and I would suggest ordering a couple of them and ploughing through them as soon as you can. It’s up to you what you say to friends and family. From what you’ve said it sounds like they might already be aware that alcohol is an issue for you, so it could be helpful to have their support. I came out slowly to people and looking back I wish I’d had a friend or relative checking in on me. Good luck x

  12. Yes, me. | Who me? January 10, 2014 at 2:47 pm Reply

    […] I came upon another article, Almost Alcoholic, by the Sober Journalist, and I knew.  I am an alcoholic.  I just figured it out sooner than […]

  13. Bridget January 24, 2014 at 4:43 pm Reply

    Hi, I’m Bridget and I’m almost alcoholic. I discovered the almost alcoholic book this week because I’m on the hunt for some comfort and understanding. Being almost alcoholic resonates with me. I’m in the middle of grey, but I feel this last year my ability to tolerate or control my behavior has decreased. There have been several moments where I’ve woken up with a feeling that I need to seriously consider sobriety. My friends would help me reconsider, accepting my apologies and urging me to not be so hard on myself.

    However, a week ago today, I had an extreme blackout. I lost hours and woke up shocked and scared. I feel at this rate, I could lose years and perhaps enter the black.

    Having lost my Dad to alcoholism, I know it could take years (10-20-30) to get to the extreme black area. My life circumstances are different then his were, but I have to wonder if it could happen to me too. Although, I’ve never had the rock bottom (crashing, ER episodes, family suffering) I have a strong urge to “quit while I’m ahead” approach and make an effort to be sober.

    I haven’t spoken to anyone about this yet. I’m wondering if almost alcoholics can ever go back to the white? Is that even possible? Or is there only one direction on this spectrum?
    I’m glad I found this blog (with your list of other blogs) because I can’t seem to think about anything else. Will this end as I get used to being on the wagon- if i can hang on?

    • soberjournalist January 24, 2014 at 9:59 pm Reply

      Hi Bridget,

      I can hear myself in nearly everything you’ve written here. The blackouts, the grey area, the well meaning friends who brush it all off.

      That’s the curse of the almost alcoholic. YOU know something has to change, yet the rest of the world is set on telling you that everything’s fine because they don’t see the bad times. Personally I don’t believe that almost alcoholics can go back to drinking normally. I think the book says that rarely happens. Most people who relapse seem to return to their old habits pretty quickly.

      The first couple of weeks of sobriety are a bit crazy. Hang on in there. Eat what you want, do you what you fancy, just don’t drink.

      It does get better – so much better, I promise. It’s worth it. All of a sudden you will realise you haven’t thought about drinking in ages. You develop other ways of dealing with tough times and having fun. Sure there are tricky points along the way but all in all sobriety has been life changing for me.

      Good luck and let me know how you get on.
      Kx

  14. Bridget January 24, 2014 at 11:11 pm Reply

    Ok. Thank you.

  15. Bridget February 4, 2014 at 8:40 pm Reply

    Hi, it’s me again. I wanted to follow up and let you know I’m on Day 15. The sobbing has ceased (for the most part), and the obsessing is beginning to lift. It HAS been a crazy couple of weeks, and it was helpful to know it would be- thanks to you. I DID eat whatever I wanted, and was so happy to have the permission to do so. Of course, I’m still wavering on “am I or not”, but it’s not too hard to find the place in my heart that knows this is best right now. I’m humbled by one day at a time. I joined the 100 day challenge as “Be” and am loving the sober blogs. Maybe I’ll start one as well. I have one for my business, but my Mom reads that one. 🙂

    • soberjournalist February 4, 2014 at 11:11 pm Reply

      Hi Bridget, thanks for letting me know how you’re getting on. HUGE congratulations on getting 15 days!! They truly are the hardest and you sound like you’re doing so well. I hope you’re rewarding yourself with lots of treats? Now is the time to eat cake and buy presents for yourself because you deserve it.
      I think the am-I-aren’t-I question will go away as you naturally come to a conclusion. I think you need distance between you and your last drink to make that decision. Personally I have found a blog to be very helpful in a) getting support and b) helping me work out what I really feel about certain things, which helps when the same unhelpful thoughts are swirling round and round. Why not give it a go? Maybe don’t tell your mum though – not straightaway anyway!

  16. I Want Egg Salad with Meatball Sauce and Taco Man February 17, 2014 at 6:40 pm Reply

    Hello- just discovered your site and I’m glad I did. I seem to be a lot like you…except American :). Childless young-adult Americans in large cities have their social circles forever tied to drinking- in bars, pubs, festivals, even sports leagues. I started off drinking in college- honestly, I was more into dipping than drinking but did my fair share at parties. I woke up hungover infrequently and never craved drinking. Then, the new boss from hell entered into my already-stressful career at a critical point. I was settling in and then BAM! She tormented me mercilessly- for no reason except I was well-liked and she felt threatened. I’m ultra-sensitive and was tormented at every turn for two years.

    My wife and I started drinking wine. One bottle turned to 4 a night (and earlier) on weekends for me only. I don’t drink during the week because I can control it then but weekends are awfully tempting for a tasty binge of the red. Now, my wife is no saint but certainly can stop when she wants to. Me, I can’t right now. Probably forever- it has hit that point of grey when I’m seeing the black. I’ve tried quitting over and over but keep coming back when friends say that I’m not bad. I think they are scared of me quitting or feel that I’m going to judge. I’ve lost a few friends over the past year because alcohol-fueled arguments that were probably going to happen anyway. However, I just want to stop. On day 3 but feel better with every minute and prayer. Good luck to you!

    • soberjournalist February 17, 2014 at 10:58 pm Reply

      This is the curse of the almost alcoholic – because you aren’t yet ‘that bad’ (at least not on the outside) well meaning friends will try and tell you that you have nothing to worry about!

      I think it’s great that you want to stop. It took me several attempts to stop for good, but now I have it seems much easier than trying to control my drinking by moderating.

      Good luck!

  17. Jean March 13, 2014 at 6:16 pm Reply

    I loved and related to your Almost Alcoholic post I googled the book and just breathed a sigh of relief. I am sober for 4 1/2 months now and am feeling great without drinking. I know I am better without it. I never fell into the spectrum of full alcoholic, I didn’t drink everyday, I always went to work, I have a good marriage and good kids. I just knew in my heart I was drinking too much and that i was starting to damage my digestive system and was beginning to have high blood pressure. I also knew that I was not a normal drinker, I would go out with friends and watch them sip one drink for the evening and go along so there pace and then go home and drink 2 or 3 more.
    More importantly I knew that I do not want to go to AA. It is not that it is not a good organization, I just feel great with the blogs and reading and journaling. So I am going to stick with it and call myself an almost alcoholic.

    • soberjournalist March 14, 2014 at 3:29 pm Reply

      Hurray for the almost alcoholic! I like that term too. Congratulations on your 4 1/2 months – that’s brilliant stuff. Once you realise that you can have a great life without alcohol, you’ve discovered the key to sobreity I reckon. Nice to hear from you.

  18. mysoberlife April 21, 2015 at 3:11 pm Reply

    It’s so hard to quit these days, you are made to feel like a social outcast. The drink culture is out of control, at least here in the UK anyways. Glad I’m giving it up.

  19. problemdrinker30 January 12, 2016 at 1:01 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on problemdrinker30 and commented:
    So true!

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