What is the difference between the person who likes to have a few drinks and the alcoholic? The simplest and most useful way to know if you are an alcoholic is to seriously and carefully ask yourself if it adversely affects the way you live and function.
First, think about your performance on the job.
Try asking your partner how he or she would answer these questions about you.
The frequency and amount you drink is an important part of the self-assessment process. Tolerance, an essential feature of heavy alcohol use, is defined by the need for more and more alcohol to elicit the same effect, and it is directly related to the frequency of drinking and the amount of alcohol consumed. Daily drinking is surely a danger sign.
Withdrawal is another key element of excessive alcohol use. Alcohol is metabolized within a few hours, and the body's reaction to a precipitous drop in alcohol level is characterized by the sometimes severe physical symptoms of withdrawal.
Often people insist they can handle their alcohol and it doesn't affect them adversely in any way. High-powered professionals, who drink heavily on a regular basis, often with clients, assure us their drinking is under control. A college student promises that a few beers a night, with an occasional weekend blow-out is just their way to let off steam and have fun. Or a mother says she always needs a few glasses of wine to unwind after she finally gets the kids to bed. Often people needing help with depression are really drinking significant amounts of alcohol that are causing rather than alleving their depressive symptoms. One of the sure signs of alcoholism is knowing you want to stop drinking, and despite your most sincere efforts, being unable to refrain from alcohol. If you find that drinking is seriously getting in the way of your job, your relationships, and your personal goals, then you may be an alcoholic.
It is essential to note that if you're drinking several drinks a day, everyday, it is dangerous to suddenly stop drinking all together. You may hear stories from friends that it's no problem, that you may just feel a little jittery or uncomfortable, or that you'll feel nothing at all. It's true that some heavy drinkers have no withdrawal symptoms. However, the consequences of lowering or stopping your alcohol use suddenly can be deadly serious, including shaking, sweating, racing heartbeat and elevated blood pressure, culminating in seizures and hallucinations after a few days. Any test of your sobriety should be done under a doctor's supervision. It can be a family doctor as well as a psychiatrist, and for most people it can be done outside of the hospital.
The first step in treating a problem is recognizing and naming it. Unfortunately, the term alcoholism has a terrible connotation. There is the implication that alcoholism is a moral weakness or a character flaw. None of this is true. Alcoholism is an illness, which stems from a genetically mediated biological predisposition, and for those who are hard wired with the potential for alcoholism, drinking can prove to be a chronic, debilitating enemy. Recognizing and admitting to the problem are the first steps in the treatment of alcoholism. If you feel that you are an alcoholic, don't get hung up on the label. Your situation is far from hopeless.
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