Let’s say that you have a drinking problem of some magnitude and you decide that you should cut down a little on the booze.
How exactly do you go about doing that?
In order to cut down you have to measure. You have to figure out how much you are drinking on a regular basis, then you have to play this mental game with yourself in which you deliberately try to drink less. That’s the bottom line. You have to make a mental effort to reduce how much alcohol you consume.
This works for some people and not for others. Certainly if you can cut down on your drinking without any problems or ill consequences then there is no problem. This may sound obvious, but if there is no problem then there is no problem! There are really only two possibilities: You have a drinking problem or you are an alcoholic. Those are the only two choices if you are seriously considering the idea of reducing the amount that you drink.
Of course in order to have a meaningful discussion we would have to define the difference between the two. How is alcoholism different than a drinking problem?
One of the biggest ways that the two conditions are different has to do with consequences. If you have a drinking problem and you suddenly become unlucky and you suffer from some consequence (say you get pulled over after some heavy drinking) then this will not happen again.
Think about this carefully because it is absolutely true. If a “problem drinker” suffers a consequence that they do not like then it will never happen again. Never. So if you are not a real alcoholic and you suddenly get “popped” for drunk driving then the problem drinker will change their behavior instantly. They will never allow that to happen ever again. They simply will not risk it because they find that consequence to be unacceptable.
The alcoholic may feel the same way at first but their disease has other plans. Even though their intention may be to never get another drunk driving violation, they have lost the power of control in their lives. The problem drinker retains full control over their life. The alcoholic has lost the power of choice in the matter; they have to drink.
A problem drinker is generally someone who drinks too much every once in a while and goes overboard. But they are not self medicating with alcohol and they do not depend on it to help get them through life. The alcoholic has a dependency in which they will eventually drink alcohol against their own will. The problem drinker never has to drink against their own will. If they don’t want to drink they simply ignore alcohol without any problems. The alcoholic cannot do this. Even when the alcoholic does not want to drink they end up drinking in some cases. They have lost the power of choice.
Consider the experiments found in the recovery literature
If you are thinking that you should stop drinking then it might serve you well to read the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous. There is an experiment outlined in that book that talks about going to the bar and doing some “controlled drinking.” They suggest that you try this a few times in order to determine if you are truly alcoholic or not. So their suggestion is that you drink but try to control it, and that you do this multiple times. The true alcoholic will not be able to control it each time.
It is a tricky condition because any alcoholic can force themselves to comply with just about anything in the short run in order to prove a point. In other words, let’s say that I am alcoholic and I normally drink every day (both true). Then let’s say that my friends and family confront me and express their concern and say that I should quit or cut down drastically. They urge me to go to rehab. Now let’s also say that I don’t really want to go to rehab because I am afraid of sobriety and I am afraid of changing. So I convince everyone that I will make an effort to cut down on my drinking.
So what happens? The next day I make a deliberate effort to cut down on my drinking. I still drink alcohol, but I am definitely going out of my way to drink much less of it. I try to control it and I succeed in doing so. But this is always in the short run. So for the first day or two I limit myself to just one or two drinks and I nurse those drinks as long as possible. I am not miserable while doing this but I am a little antsy. It is a definite chore to restrain myself and drink less than normal.
As I am doing this I realize that it is not so bad, and I am amazed at the control that I have. But remember, this is all in the short run. So for a few days I do a good job with my drinking. And I am patting myself on the back and feeling pretty smart. Maybe I can control it after all.
Well you know how this ends. For the real alcoholic, eventually there comes a point where they say “screw it” and go hog wild with their drinking. It may not be this day or this week, but eventually they will cut loose. And when they do the person will get completely drunk and they will suffer more consequences.
If the alcoholic lost complete control every single time that they touched alcohol then the disease would be much easier to self diagnose.
But this is not the case. The alcoholic does NOT lose complete control every time they drink. In fact, the alcoholic can maintain control a great deal of the time, which is why they then fool themselves into denial so thoroughly. They are hanging on to the idea that they did so well, they controlled their drinking for a few days, and they just need to return to that level of consumption again. This is denial. They remember the good parts but ignore the bad parts. They minimize the consequences and focus on the time when drinking was good.
If you really want to cut down on your alcohol consumption and you are only a “problem drinker” then I have a great suggestion for you:
Don’t drink for one full year. No alcohol at all. After that, set a hard limit for yourself of only one drink per day, max.
Could you stick to that? Does that take all the fun out of drinking? Would it be a complete chore to go a full year without any booze at all? Would it be difficult to restrict yourself to one drink per day after that?
The truth is, you can learn a lot about yourself from an experiment like that.
Another truth: You can learn a lot about your willingness to even attempt an experiment like that.
It may sound silly to do these sort of “drinking experiments” in order to learn about yourself, but consider the alternative. Many alcoholics and problem drinkers never go to this length in order to diagnose themselves, and so they simply live with their problems and suffer from consequences. You don’t want to do that. You want to learn more about yourself so that you can avoid the pain and misery of these conditions and live a better life.
How to be rigorously honest with yourself when considering the fact that you might be alcoholic
In order to diagnose your own problems you have to be honest with yourself.
Seems obvious, right? But we alcoholics tend to be really bad at this. In fact, it is the root of our problem for a long time as we stay stuck in denial for years or even decades.
The idea of giving up alcohol can be a real fear. If the thought of staying sober forever makes you scared then obviously there is something to look at there. It is this fear of sobriety that kept me stuck in alcoholism for so long.
If you want to change your life at some point then you are going to have to get honest with yourself. What do you need to be honest about?
How happy are you with your life? How happy are you with your alcohol consumption?
Now obviously you have to be honest when you ask these questions of yourself.
I was not honest about this for years. I was in denial. I clung to the idea that alcohol was a magic potion that could instantly cure all of my problems. I had this belief that alcohol could “fix” me at any given moment. It was the one thing that could cure my unhappiness, or so I believed. So when people would try to point out that I might be happier if I were sober, I did not believe them. I did not even believe them for a second. I did not believe that what they were saying was even possible. Because I imagined myself not drinking and I was completely miserable. In my mind the idea of becoming sober was like worse than death. I thought that if I was forced to be living sober that I would not be free, and that I would be completely miserable.
So what changed? Eventually I became sober. The question is: How did I do it? How did I move past this denial? How was I able to make the leap into sobriety?
I did it after I became honest about my own happiness.
There was a moment when I was able to take a step back and see my overall disease. I could see my whole life, where I was headed, how happy I truly was, I could see all of it. I finally got some perspective. And I realized in that moment that I wasn’t really happy. And I admitted to myself that I had not been happy for a long time now. That at some point in the distant past, alcohol made me happy. It really did. And I was clinging to those memories of when alcohol worked well for me and made me happy.
But those times were long gone. And I finally realized it. I finally admitted it to myself.
Now in this same moment I got a glimpse of the future. I can remember this feeling of futility washing over me. Because I could see the future and I could see that if I kept trying to self medicate with alcohol that I was never going to be truly happy. Ever again. And for whatever reason I had let my mental blocks come down to the point where I was able to see this clearly. In that brief moment I realized that I was unhappy drinking every day and that if I continued to drink in the future that I would never be any happier in my life. This was as good as it would get for me.
And so that was a crushing realization. It was an acceptance of the pain and the misery that alcoholism was causing me. I could no longer pretend that alcohol was the cure and the fix that I needed in my life. Because I had glimpsed the truth for once, and I realized the futility of trying to self medicate with alcohol. The gig was up finally after many years of drinking. I had finally reached the conclusion that drinking was not making me happy.
I do not know why I reached this conclusion. Perhaps it was divine intervention that finally “woke me up” to my condition. But I can tell you in that moment that I finally got honest with myself.
This is about measuring. How happy are you with your drinking? In order to answer that you have to measure your happiness. And you have to be honest with yourself, otherwise it does not matter much what you are attempting to measure.
A drinking problem is a minor problem. Alcoholism is a major problem. Be honest with yourself about which you have
As I mentioned before you may just have a drinking problem.
If this is the case then simply cut down on your drinking. Stop messing around and simply eliminate the problem. If you are really NOT an alcoholic then this is actually no problem at all and should be very simple to do. Eliminate alcohol entirely or cut down drastically. Problem solved.
Now the key here is that you must be very honest with yourself about the outcome of this exercise. If you cut down drastically then all of your problems will be solved permanently and you will have no need to really think about this stuff any more.
I have a hint for you:
If you have to keep thinking about alcohol and how much you drink, then you might have a serious problem.
In other words, at some point you may have to admit to yourself that you have a little bit more than a simple “drinking problem.”
Be honest. Look at your consequences. Look at your long term pattern. And above all, follow this simple advice: “If there is no problem, then there is no problem.”
If you are alcoholic, then the problems are going to keep coming back. The problems will continue to surface until you accept your disease and take appropriate action against it. If you simply have a drinking problem and your solution is to “just cut down” then the problem should go away instantly and never return.
If, on the other hand, your problems seems to keep resurfacing in the future then you probably have more than a drinking problem.
The only reasonable course of action at this point is to:
A) Be really honest with yourself about your true condition.
B) Become willing to address your problem and fix it.
C) Be willing to follow through and take real action in order to change your life.
You will notice that if you have a drinking problem then none of these steps are truly necessary. You just simply stop drinking so much and your life gets instantly better and there are no problems.
But with alcoholism you cannot just walk away from the problem so easily. Because when you try to do so you find that you cannot really handle your life. If an alcoholic just gives up alcohol without doing anything else then they will be completely miserable. Something more has to happen for recovery to occur.
You need to be honest with yourself about which type of person you are. If you can just walk away from alcohol with no problems then (surprise!) there is no problem. On the other hand you may find this impossible to do and therefore you just might be alcoholic. If that is the case then in order to self diagnose you must be truly honest with yourself.
Asking for help and taking action in order to change your life
Many people want to know how they can help a struggling family member in their life with alcoholism.
In some ways you can only offer the hand of help, but they must be willing to help themselves. In other words they need to take action in order to fix their problem.
Recovery is all about taking action.
We can sit around wishing that things were different. I can tell you from personal experience that just wishing that things were different does not change a darn thing. Because when I was stuck in alcoholism and drug addiction I used to wish that things were different. I wished that I had never been born. I wished that I had never tried drugs or booze. And I wished that my disease would somehow go away without any fear or pain involved.
None of that helps. Not even a little.
The only thing that helps is taking action. And in order to do that the alcoholic is going to have to face their fears.
The alcoholic is miserable because they are living in pain. They are suffering due to this disease. It is a disease of their own making, but at the same time they never asked for it. But obviously their own actions tend to perpetuate the disease.
The solution is to face their fears.
I reached this point when I was finally sick and tired of living in pain and misery. In order to change your life you have to ask for help. This takes guts.
You have to crush your own ego if you want to become clean and sober. This is simple in theory but it is very difficult for an individual to actually follow through with it.
How do you crush your ego?
Get out of your own way. Stop making decisions for yourself. Let other people make decisions for you instead. That is how to kill your ego.
Not fun, is it?
But I promise you, it’s not actually that bad. Just try it for a year. Heck, do it for a 90 days. Or just tell yourself that you will try it for a month.
Tell yourself: “I will not make any decisions on my own for the next month, and instead I will ONLY take the advice of other people.”
Then start doing it. Start living it. Get out of your own way and let other people tell you what to do and how to live.
This is a shortcut to sobriety. It is a secret entrance to a happier life.
At first, you may not believe that you will be happy if you are not living according to your own wants and desires. If you listen to other people instead, surely you will be miserable, right?
Not true. You will be amazed if you actually do this and kill your own ego. Your life will get better and better in recovery. Trust me, the transformation process is amazing.
What about you, did you believe that you just had a minor drinking problem? Did you later find out that your problems were bigger than that? How did you make this transition? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!