Mr. Marriage Counselor - "I'm Not Sure If I'm an Alcoholic"

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    There are many people out there struggling with addiction. Addiction to drugs, porn, or even food are all common. But probably the most common and one of the most difficult addictions to deal with is an addiction to alcohol. A lot of people have a drinking problem and don’t even realize it. In fact, it’s not unusual for someone to think, or say to themselves, “I’m not sure if I’m an alcoholic.”

    Alcoholism can be hard to detect. People are good at hiding their problem not only from others, but from themselves too. Below is a question we received where the partner of an alcoholic found himself confused about his own behavior and looking for help because, in his words, “I’m not sure if I’m an alcoholic.” My answer follows.

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    Reader Question:

    Where do I start? My girlfriend just ended our relationship. She's an alcoholic in AA for 90 days. I know I'm codependent and not sure if I'm an alcoholic. I haven't had a drink in over 40 days. I've gone to AA meetings and CoDA meetings. I like the message and the 12 steps but I feel out of place at AA. My ex feels I'm in denial and not completely devoting myself to AA and I feel I may be wasting my time in AA. I'm going crazy trying to figure this out and now she's dumped me but I know I have to get better. Help me Doc." -Jack T.

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    Many people are functional alcoholics, but ironically, because they’re actually functioning, they don’t see they have a drinking problem. And often people assume that if they quit drinking, even for a short time, they’re “cured” and no longer have a problem. This just isn’t true. Unfortunately, if you’re an alcoholic it isn’t that simple. Here is what I told Jack.

    My Answer:

    Recognizing that you have some alcohol addiction problems yourself, and need to get better, is a good start.

    Here are a couple of next steps:

    1. A lot of people feel uncomfortable at AA. Unfortunately, a lot of people also use that discomfort as a reason not to go to a place where they need to be. If you've been in a relationship with someone who's an alcoholic, and maybe one yourself, you need to be getting some kind of regular help -- AA, Al-Anon, CoDA, counseling. AA has a lot of different meetings, so going to several to find the best fit can be really helpful. Choose a resource and then stick with going regularly.
    2. Deal with your issues separately. You need to deal with getting dumped by your girlfriend and the loss of that relationship apart from dealing with your alcohol use and codependency issues. It would be easy to allow the pain and hurt of getting dumped to overwhelm you and to lose the priority of dealing with your addiction-related issues. Stay with your focus on dealing with the alcohol first.
    3. Congratulations on 40 days of not having a drink. That's an accomplishment! Stay with it. A lot of the things you're struggling with are going to get easier and better the longer you go without having a drink. That may not make sense to you, but trust me -- I know, I've helped a lot of men with alcohol abuse. Watch out for how you deal with the pain of losing your girlfriend. It would be natural to grab a drink right now to soothe that hurt -- you need to choose a different way to deal with it.

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    How Do You Know If You Are An Alcoholic?

    You don’t have to be sitting for hours in a bar, or drinking out of a brown-bag cloaked bottle to be an alcoholic. Most alcoholics lead what seem to be pretty regular lives. One of the ways their addiction to alcohol is masked by the social acceptability of drinking.

    If you think you have a drinking problem, you probably do. If you’re wondering if you might fall into the category of an alcoholic, ask yourself the following questions.

    1. Do you feel like you need a drink each day?
    2. Do you look forward to, or place importance on, being able to drink at some point each day?
    3. Do you find yourself buzzed or outright drunk on a regular basis?
    4. Have your friends or family ever complained about your drinking or told you that you’re drinking too much?
    5. Have you missed work, family events, or other obligations because of your drinking?

    Answering yes to any of these questions is an indication that you have a problem with alcohol. Answering yes to several of them means you’re likely an alcoholic and need to get help.

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    In today’s society “cocktailing” has become an acceptable pastime. Because of this alcoholism can go unnoticed for a long time. By the time you’re at the point of wondering if you might be an alcoholic, it’s almost certain that you have, at minimum, a problem if not full blown alcoholism. If you think that you, or someone you love, could be an alcoholic, get help. It isn’t a problem that typically gets better without assistance.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published March 12, 2010. It has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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