Can you help me understand whether I have a serious problem with alcohol? Here's my situation. I'm a hassled and harried mother of three young children. After school, I pick up my kids and go to the market, where I have to rush to grab a few things and get out of the store before the kids have a meltdown. Then we hurry home and I try to start dinner while helping with homework. Meanwhile, the laundry is piling up and the house is a mess. When my husband comes home, I get a glass of wine and sit down to dinner to unwind. But instead of enjoying a relaxing meal I find myself cutting up the kids' food, pouring drinks, serving my husband, and trying to talk to him about his day. Then the kids need a bath, homework has to be checked, and lunches have to be packed. By bedtime I need another glass of wine to calm down. Some nights I just lie in bed with the television on and have another drink or two to get sleepy, but this doesn't happen very often. Do you think I'm an alcoholic?
It's commonly believed that to be an alcoholic you have to drink excessively and consume alcohol almost every day. But this isn't necessarily true. In fact, it's possible to be an alcoholic without even knowing it. There are many people who consume alcohol the way you do. They don't appear to be drinking to excess and have never had a DUI. From their perspective, they use alcohol simply to relax or to get themselves through a trying day. But the fact of the matter is that they have a problem that needs serious attention.
As of October 1, 2015, the criteria for diagnosing alcoholism have changed. So has the relevant nomenclature. Clinicians now refer to alcoholism as Alcohol Use Disorder or AUD. If you can respond positively to at least two of the questions below, you meet the criteria for having Alcohol Use Disorder.
Have you within the past year:
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
- More than once desired or tried to stop drinking but couldn't?
- Spent a lot of time drinking, getting over the after-effects of drinking, or being sick as a result of alcohol consumption?
- Wanted a drink so badly that you couldn't think of anything else?
- Found that drinking – or being sick from drinking – often interfered with your work, your studies, or your responsibilities to your family?
- Continued to drink even though your habit was causing trouble with family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important, interesting, or pleasurable to you in order to drink?
- More than once become involved in situations during or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, of having unsafe sex)?
- Had memory blackouts?
- Continued to drink even though it caused blackouts, made you feel depressed or anxious, or aggravated some other health problem?
- Found that you had to drink much more than you once did in order to get the effect you wanted, or that the usual number of drinks had much less effect than in the past?
- Sensed things that were not there or experienced withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol were wearing off (for example, trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, heart racing, or seizure)?
As you consider your own situation and responses to each of these questions, it's important to bear in mind that self-assessment is not always the most reliable means of diagnosing Alcohol Use Disorder – in part because denial is a hallmark of addiction, including alcoholism. Furthermore, problematic drinking may not always rise to the level of a physical dependency but can still reflect an inappropriate and maladaptive means to medicate and manage one's emotional pain. In view of this, and because the struggle is not always a clear-cut, black-and-white issue, we would strongly encourage you to seek a professional evaluation.
If you do come to the conclusion that you have Alcohol Use Disorder, we urge you to seek help right away. One helpful resource is the Lighthouse Network, a clearing house for substance abuse referrals. They can help you locate a facility in your area that will help you take some positive steps in the direction of recovery. They can also provide information about insurance companies who are prepared to work with these facilities.
You should also think about enlisting the help of a qualified Christian counselor. Weekly one-on-one counseling is not sufficient to deal with a serious addiction, but it can be important to your long-term recovery after you've been through an intensive treatment program. We'd also suggest that you identify a trusted friend or group of individuals who will provide you with the support and accountability you need as you work through this period in your life.
Even if you are not found to be chemically dependent upon alcohol, you should still give careful consideration to the impact your habit may be having on your marriage. Drinking in the manner you described can have a negative effect upon personal relationships, and as a result should be regarded as a family issue. For this reason we strongly recommend that you and your spouse seek out the assistance of a professional marriage-and-family therapist.
Call our Counseling department to discuss your situation and get a list of Christian counselors in your area.
Substance Abuse (resource list)
Battling Drug and Alcohol Abuse