How do you overcome a drinking problem? What steps can you take to correct a drinking problem, or even to tell if it is something potentially worse than a mere “problem?”
Let’s take a look at what you can do, some specific advice that can help you to deal with a potential drinking problem.
Identify whether it is a drinking problem or alcoholism
First, you need to know the extent of your problem.
One way to find this out is to do a question based test online. There are several such tests but they are only going to be useful in so much that you have to be brutally honest when you take such quizzes. And even then an online question based quiz can only be so helpful. They are not going to be 100 percent accurate in determining if your problem is a full blown addiction or not.
Alcoholism can be tricky to diagnose because there is such a thing as a binge drinker.
The binge drinker can be a real alcoholic but they can easily go long periods of time without having anything to drink. But then suddenly they will get back into it and go on a very long and destructive bender that can last for days or weeks.
To be honest I cannot relate to this behavior. I was never a binge drinker in the sense that I could not just stop for weeks on end. I had to have alcohol every single day. After I was addicted to alcohol the level of dependence became physical, more urgent. I had to drink or I would get the shakes.
Binge drinkers do not have this problem. They don’t get withdrawal symptoms as severe as a chronic drinker, because if they did then they would likely just turn into a chronic alcoholic themselves. They would not take weeks off at a time because their withdrawal symptoms would not allow it. I had lost the power of choice in drinking on a physical level. My body demanded the alcohol.
It is pretty easy to diagnose chronic alcoholism. If you can’t stop on your own then you have a serious problem. But binge alcoholics are trickier to diagnose because they can stop easily on their own without major withdrawal symptoms. I have been told that every binge drinker, if they continue to progress in their disease, will eventually become chronic and have to drink every day at some point. But this can take years or even decades for some binge drinkers to reach this point. Or it may happen rather quickly.
Therefore I have always proposed two experiments that can help to identify alcoholism for both binge drinkers and chronic alcoholics alike.
The experiments are pretty simple, and one of them is basically described in the big book of AA. It is the “controlled drinking” experiment. So what you would so is to take one single drink every day for an entire year. One drink, no more, every single day, for a whole year. If you are an alcoholic binge drinker then this experiment is going to open your eyes to the fact that you have a problem. You might be able to stick to the one drink maximum for a few weeks at most. Eventually you will lose control and go on a binge. If you cannot avoid a binge for a full year then you are almost certainly alcoholic.
Think too about the social pressures involved with drinking. If you have the ability to consume one drink per day then there is virtually no social pressure on you. You can show up at the party, get your one drink, and then nurse it all night long, appearing to be “socially acceptable” because you are drinking. You have no excuses at all. One drink per day maximum. Screw this up and you have a serious problem.
That’s the first experiment, and it is designed to catch both chronic and binge alcoholics alike.
The second experiment is total abstinence for a year. This one would fail for a binge drinker who might pull it off easily and still be an alcoholic.
But the chronic drinker cannot go a full year without a drink, unless they are actively working on some sort of recovery program.
Taking a full year off of alcohol would result in dry drunk syndrome, and the person would be extremely unhappy. Most chronic alcoholics cannot make it through a whole year of misery without resorting to a drink.
So if you really want to know where you stand then you might consider doing one or both of these experiments. And of course you have to be honest with yourself. If you try to limit yourself to one drink maximum per day and you obviously screw it up, then you need to admit to that and face the truth. That’s the whole point of the experiment–to prove to yourself where you really stand when it comes to alcoholism.
A drinking problem is when someone drinks too much and they get into trouble. Alcoholism is where drinking ruins your life, and if you sober up without a program then you are a complete mess. See the difference?
Alcoholics need serious help. Someone with a drinking problem just needs to drink less.
Can you drink less? Can you drink not at all? Does either of those two things create problems in your life? Do the experiments themselves stress you out? Do you resent the experiments? Those are the kinds of questions that will get to the truth of your condition.
If it is a drinking problem, take a year off and enjoy your life
Let’s assume that you have decided that you have a drinking problem, but you are not a real alcoholic.
Great! That’s good news. My advice is to take a year off of booze altogether and just enjoy yourself.
If you have any social pressure in your life from people who want you to drink, just tell them that it is “doctor’s orders” when they ask why you aren’t drinking. Most people won’t pry any further into medical issues like that. If they do pry, you can just say “It’s kind of a private matter and I’m still discussing it with my doctor” or something like that. Sometimes you have to let people know how pushy they are being.
Take a year off from social drinking and see what you are really missing. If you are honest in this experiment and you alleviate the social pressure problem, then you will slowly realize that you really don’t need alcohol in order to have a good time.
Now here is where you have to get honest with yourself. If you try to take a year off and your life falls apart and you can’t manage it, then what does that tell you? If you cannot seem to function without alcohol then what is that telling you? There might be a more serious problem.
If you can’t take a year off easily, confront the reality that it might be a serious problem (alcoholism)
It can take a lot of guts to admit that you are alcoholic.
I got to this point when I realized that I did not want to live without alcohol. I was no longer choosing to drink just so that I could “party and have a good time.” Now I felt like I had to drink every day just to be able to function. I did not see how I could possibly have fun in life unless I was getting wasted every day.
So I admitted that I was alcoholic. I admitted this to myself and I would even admit it to other people.
And yet, I was still stuck in addiction. Why was that? Wasn’t the first step to admit that you had a problem? Doesn’t everything just magically fall into place once you do that?
There are at least two parts to classic alcoholic denial.
There is the first part of denial where you will not even admit that you have a problem. You deny the alcoholism outright. At most you have a “drinking problem,” but it is certainly not worth treating professionally or anything. Heaven forbid you go to rehab or AA meetings. Those are for alcoholics.
That is classic denial.
But there is another level of denial that goes beyond this, and it can be just as troublesome. I was stuck in this second stage of denial for a long time.
This second stage of denial is about the solution. My friends and family did a full scale intervention on me once and tried to convince me to go to rehab. I resisted it heavily at the time and I was arguing that it was pointless, that I should not go to rehab because I was not ready to embrace recovery. I was not willing to go to AA. I was not willing to go through treatment.
At that time I was willing to admit that I was alcoholic. I had already been to rehab once before and I knew that I had serious problems. I was already blacking out on a somehow regular basis. My drinking was completely out of control and I felt like it could possibly kill me at some point because of the ridiculous amounts I was consuming. So I was willing to admit to the problem.
But there is the key: I was not willing to accept a solution.
This was the second part of denial. I would not accept a solution.
The solution was to go to rehab. The solution was to embrace AA. The solution was to turn my life over to the care of others, to the care of a higher power, and to face my fear of the unknown. To face the fear of getting sober. To face the real me, to find out who and what exactly I had become during my decade of uncontrollable drinking and drug use.
I did not want to face that reality. I did not want to face the truth, to get honest with myself, to discover what I had become. I was too afraid to face that reality.
Fear kept me stuck in denial. I could admit that I was alcoholic, but I could not admit that I needed a recovery program in my life. I could not accept the solution of treatment and AA and then go do the work involved. I was too scared. I was sick and tired of living in fear, but I choose to try to medicate that fear some more with drugs and alcohol.
So after that intervention I stayed stuck in my disease for another year. I just wasn’t ready. I was too scared and I was not quite at my bottom yet. I was sick and tired, but not quite enough yet. I had more pain to endure. More chaos to create in my life. I wasn’t done drinking yet.
So I went back out, and I drank for another year. And things just got worse and worse. And so at some point, I became miserable enough that I broke through that second level of denial. I was finally so sick and tired that I realized that I needed a new solution in my life, even if I was terrified of it.
This was when I decided to ask for help. And it was going to be different this time. Because this time, I was ready to listen. I was going to follow through. I was serious about changing my life.
Get professional help at inpatient treatment as your best possible option
You want specific advice? Here it is right here:
Go to inpatient treatment.
That is my best suggestion to someone who is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction.
Sure, there are alternatives to this. Sure, it doesn’t work for everyone. And it can be difficult to set it up at times, it can be tough to secure funding, there may be some hoops you need to jump through in order to get to rehab.
But the advice still stands. What are your alternatives? Going to inpatient treatment is still your best course of action in almost any case.
You could avoid treatment and just cut down on your own. We all know how well that works. Basically, if that works for you, then you can look back and say “I had a drinking problem, but I moved on.” And if that fails, then you know that your problem is more serious, and that you need professional help.
You could avoid treatment and just go straight to AA meetings. This can work for some but there are some serious risks with this path. For one thing, there can be a huge risk in terms of detox and withdrawal from alcohol. It is wise to be medically supervised when you are coming off of heavy drugs or alcohol. There can be serious danger and the detox process can even be fatal in more extreme cases if you are not careful.
The best option for most people is inpatient treatment. Regardless of what happens at treatment, you will probably be introduced to many different forms of support. For example, you will probably meet peers in recovery who are on the same journey that you are on. You will probably meet a therapist or a counselor who can help you directly. They will probably introduce you to AA or NA meetings or some sort of religious based program. You will likely have some sort of aftercare treatment for after you leave rehab.
In other words, going to inpatient rehab is like the total recovery package. You could skip it and go straight to meetings, but you would miss out on a lot of other positive strategies and recovery techniques by doing so. You could avoid inpatient treatment and you might still remain sober, but your chances are far greater if you seek out professional help instead.
Inpatient treatment sets you up for success. Of course that is no guarantee that anyone is going to stay sober simply by attending treatment. But it is still the most powerful tool in the box. If you really want to get sober and turn your life around, you should consider going to rehab.
Support + action = personal growth
You need two things in your early recovery journey:
1) Support systems.
2) Positive action.
If you have one without the other then you are probably going to relapse. You have to have both.
The support systems are important for at least two reasons.
First of all, you need support in early recovery so that you can identify with them. This is the main benefit from going to AA meetings and telling our stories to each other. When you participate in that process then you get this huge benefit from listening to other people’s stories. Because you realize that you are not crazy, that there are other alcoholics who struggle like you do, and that there is hope because these people are just like you and yet they are sober today. This identification process is important and without it you will have a tough time of making it in early recovery.
Second of all you need support systems in early recovery so that you can learn directly from them. You need new information in order to remain clean and sober. You don’t just put down the bottle and then wander off and be happy for the rest of your life. No, it takes work. Serious work! And that means that you are going need some guidance and direction in terms of doing this work.
What does this work consist of? Personal growth. Eliminating all of the negative stuff in your life that either was a result of your addiction or it may have even preceded it.
For example, I noticed when I got clean and sober that I was spending way too much time feeling sorry for myself. And I realized that this was a character defect of mine, this was part of how I fueled my disease. I felt sorry for myself all the time as a way to excuse my drinking. It was an excuse. A justification.
So now I was sober and I was trying to remain sober, but this character defect was still there, lurking in the background. And it took me a few months to realize “hey wait a minute….this self pity thing is not really helping me to remain sober. All it is good for is to justify drinking!”
And so I had to ask for help. How do I overcome self pity? My sponsor helped me with this. He told me to make out gratitude lists every day, and to meditate and increase my awareness. I had to be able to notice the self pity before I could do anything to shut it down.
So I had to ask for help, come up with a plan, and take action. And this was just in terms of dealing with a single character defect. But it was also a defect that could lead directly to relapse if I was not careful.
So this is the path to personal growth in recovery.
First you find support systems that you can relate to. You find people who you can identify with, who can help you on your journey.
Second of all you try to learn from those people. You take suggestions from them and you start putting new ideas into action. You can’t beat alcoholism using your old ideas. Those didn’t work.
Then you follow through on these new actions and slowly watch your life transform. This is how to beat alcoholism, drinking problems, and anything in between.
What about you, have you been able to overcome your drinking problem? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!