It’s one of those phrases I hear frequently enough in the consulting room. Sometimes they’re right. But often, the person sitting across from me is denying a very unhealthy reality.
What is a drinking problem? Simply stated, a drinking problem can be defined as any drinking behavior that causes trouble in any one of the three following areas: social or intimate relationships, work or school, and/or the law. Here are some examples. Being late or calling off from work as a result of drinking is a possible sign that there is a problem. Having a friend or loved one complain about your drinking habits or your behavior while drinking may be a sign there is a problem. Having contact with any law enforcement officer while under the influence (e.g., domestic disturbance, DIP, DUI) may be an indication of a problem. Problems can range from sporadic to chronic and severe.
The range of severity is based upon the number of signs or symptoms exhibited or experienced over the past 12 months. Here are a few examples. There are negative changes in your work habits and performance. You are neglecting parental or household responsibilities as a result of consumption. You consume alcohol in dangerous situations (e.g., driving, hunting and target shooting). You continue to drink despite knowing that it frequently causes problems for you. (Search for “DSM-5 Alcohol Use Disorder” to find a list of these signs and symptoms).
A common behavior I hear about is called “binge drinking.” “Binge drinking” refers to the consumption of five or more average-size beverages (i.e., 12 oz. beer, 1 oz. liquor, 6 oz. wine) at one sitting for men or four or more for women (the difference being attributed to physiology). This pattern of consumption is frequently reported by individuals between the ages of 18 and 21. However, there are many work environments where this pattern of consumption is considered the norm, and so it continues well beyond this age range. Associated with this pattern of consumption are hangovers and increases in risk-taking behaviors that tend to lead to injury, destruction of property, unprotected sex or contact with law enforcement. There is also a relationship between this pattern and increased risk for sexual assault, as a victim or a perpetrator.
At its most severe, an alcohol problem is a chronic and very often progressive disease process. At this level of abuse, the problem might require medical intervention, and the individual will likely experience several other symptoms and signs. These may include: withdrawal or using the same or similar substance to avoid withdrawal (e.g., “hair of the dog”), drinking much more or over a longer period than was intended, unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control drinking, an ongoing desire to cut down or control drinking, giving up other important aspects of life because of drinking (e.g., relationships, hobbies), or continued drinking despite knowledge of physical or psychological problems sustained or made worse by alcohol (e.g., an ulcer, depression). Withdrawal can be dangerous and should not be undertaken unless under medical care. A sobering fact presented by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is that 1 in 13 adults in the United States has a problem with their use of alcohol.
Deciding whether or not you are that one is based in part on having the knowledge presented in the preceding paragraphs. Honest acknowledgment of your own behavior and its impact on you and those around you is another very critical part. We each know whether or not what we’re doing is healthy when we’re honest with ourselves. Acknowledgment that there may be a problem is the first step toward making a change. At times, it takes assistance to clarify our patterns. Asking for help is the second step toward changing. And help is available in many forms.
If you would like help with clarifying whether or not you have a problem with alcohol or would like to stop drinking, you may contact the Psychological Services Bureau (213) 738-3500 for a free and confidential consultation. You may also choose to contact Alcoholics Anonymous at (323) 936-4343 to find a meeting near you.