How can you tell if you’re an alcoholic? It requires you to be honest with yourself. Many who are now in recovery have been told that all they needed was willpower, cutting down or reducing stress to straighten out. These people finally reached out for help because, deep down inside, they knew alcohol had them beat and they were ready to try anything that would free them from the compulsion to drink. Many people have gone through terrifying experiences with alcohol before they were ready to admit that alcohol was not going to work for them.
Many people have turned to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or the Peace Officer’s Fellowship (POF). They have never been jailed or hospitalized. Their heavy drinking may not have been noticed by their closest relatives or friends. But they knew enough about alcoholism as a progressive illness to scare them. They joined AA before they paid too heavy a price. There is a saying in AA that there is no such thing as being a little bit alcoholic. Either you are or you are not, and the individual involved needs to say whether or not alcohol has become an unmanageable problem.
An alcoholic can never drink “normally” again. No one who has become an alcoholic has ever ceased to be an alcoholic. The mere fact of abstaining from alcohol for months or even years has never qualified an alcoholic to drink “normally” or socially. Once the individual has crossed the thin line from heavy drinking to irresponsible alcoholic drinking, there seems to be no retreat.
Few alcoholics deliberately try to drink themselves into trouble, but trouble seems to be the inevitable consequence of an alcoholic’s drinking. After quitting for a while, the alcoholic may feel safe to try a few beers or a few glasses of wine. This can mislead the person into drinking only with meals. But it is not too long before the alcoholic is back in the old pattern of excessive, uncontrolled drinking, in spite of all the efforts to set limits for only moderate, social drinking.
Based on the wisdom of AA, if you are an alcoholic, you will never be able to control your drinking for any length of time. That leaves two paths open: to let drinking become worse and worse, or to quit completely and develop a new pattern of sober, constructive living.
If you are not sure if you are an alcoholic or if you need help, call Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) at (213) 738-3500, and you can talk to one of the docs or to me. It’s confidential and it’s free.