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.