Alcoholism: Six Steps to Self Diagnosis
Am I an Alcoholic?
Step One: Do You Want to Get Sober?
Do you want to get sober? Your first gut reaction is a pretty good indicator of whether or not the question was properly directed to you. You see, I don’t know who has a drinking problem. Doctors, therapists and psychologists can assess a person's drinking habits, but the bottom line is that it is up to each individual to discern whether or not they are an alcoholic. At least that is the only way any progress is going to be made. Alcoholism is only treatable when it is self diagnosed.
If you are an alcoholic, then as you read these words there is a lot going on in your head. Here are the kinds of thoughts an alcoholic would be having right now. “I don’t have a drinking problem.” “I can stop drinking anytime I want to stop.” I am an adult and nobody can tell me what I can or can’t do.” “I really don’t drink that much.” “An alcoholic is a bum that lives under a bridge.” “Get off my back.” “I need a drink.”
Consequences of Drinking
The first thing I or any other recovering alcoholic had to do was to admit that we had a serious drinking problem. I had to say to myself, I am an alcoholic. There is no other way out. There is no pill, no counselor, no program, no god who can do anything for you until you say those words. Until then, you will continue to pay consequences for your drinking. As we proceed through the next five steps of understanding the consequences of drinking, it may become more clear to you whether or not you are an alcoholic.
Step Two: How Much Do You Spend On Alcohol?
Consequences are the prices we are willing to pay to continue drinking. It isn’t only the hundreds of dollars a month, but lets start there. Just before I got sober, my average cost per day was $19 for alcohol. That’s $570 per month, $6840 per year. If I had continued to drink at that level for twenty more years, I would have spent $136,800 on alcohol. My house could have been paid off with that money.
Step Three: Are You Willing to Lose Your Family Because of Your Drinking?
It’s not just money though is it. The consequences also involve our families. What were my wife and sons thinking when they looked at me while I was drunk? The loss of respect is a consequence. I hid my drinking for several years. There is a consequence in that too, isn’t there? The loss of integrity is a price we pay for our drinking. Alcoholism and divorce are old friends. Maybe your marriage already ended in divorce. Was alcohol a factor? If your answer is no, is it an honest answer. Maybe your spouse cheated on you. Did your drinking have anything to do with them seeking a relationship outside your marriage?
Step Four: Are You Willing to Sacrifice Your Job for a Drink?
My drinking affected my productivity at work. How about you? I always told myself that I was doing just fine at work. But how could I be productive when my head was pounding and my hands were shaking? How could I be productive when every other minute I was looking at the clock, anticipating getting out of work so I could begin drinking? How is your drinking affecting you at work?
I already mentioned my shaking hands in the mornings. Alcohol affects us physically. Our livers are tough, but they are not indestructible. We put on weight, our cholesterol is sky high, we are headed for serious health issues, if we aren’t already having them. Will it somehow get better even as we continue to drink? Have you stopped caring? Is there a consequence to be found in an attitude that says we don’t care if we live or die?
Quick Facts: Drinking and Driving
One third of all auto accident fatalities are alcohol related-One person dies this way every 48 minutes. That is 30 people each day and more than 10,000 people each year.
70% of water recreation deaths are alcohol related.
40% of residential fire deaths are alcohol related.
Step Five: Are you Willing to Sacrifice Your Own Health/Life for a Drink?
Physical death is the ultimate consequence for the alcoholic. Untreated alcoholism always leads to death unless something unrelated happens to beat it to the punch. We alcoholics die as a result of falls, drowning, fire, liver failure, heart attack or some other alcohol related circumstance or condition.
Consequences, if we have the courage to look for them, will be found in our finances, relationships, jobs, mental health, physical health and spiritual health.
Health Consequences People pay Due to Prolonged Alcohol Use:
Neurological problems: dementia, stroke and neuropathy.
Cardiovascular problems: myocardial infarction, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation and hypertension.
Psychiatric problems: depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Social problems: unemployment, lost productivity, and family problems.
Cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast. In general, the risk of cancer increases with increasing amounts of alcohol.
Alcohol Abuse and Your Health (Taken from CDC Fact Sheet)
Here are some health consequences that people pay for prolonged alcohol use:
- Neurological problems: dementia, stroke and neuropathy.
- Cardiovascular problems: myocardial infarction, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation and hypertension.
- Psychiatric problems: depression, anxiety, and suicide.
- Social problems: unemployment, lost productivity, and family problems.
- Cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast. In general, the risk of cancer increases with increasing amounts of alcohol.
- Liver diseases:
- Alcoholic hepatitis.
- Cirrhosis, which is among the 15 leading causes of all deaths in the United States.
- Among persons with Hepatitis C virus, worsening of liver function and interference with medications used to treat this condition.
- Other gastrointestinal problems: pancreatitis and gas
Step Six: Try Some Controlled Drinking
Has this thought entered your mind yet? I don’t need to stop drinking completely, I just need to slow down a little. Give it a try. If you’re right, and you are not an alcoholic, then you will find it easy to just not drink so much. I tried that, and the time I spent not drinking was filled with thinking about drinking. Listen, normal drinkers don’t live like that. When they aren’t drinking, they‘re not thinking about drinking. Normal drinkers are never preoccupied with either the act or the thought of drinking.
Lets get back to the original question. Do you want to get sober? Are you willing to admit that your drinking is out of control and you can’t stop it? Are you an alcoholic? Admitting that to be a fact is the only door to freedom and recovery. Once we admit that, then the rest becomes much easier.
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The Next Step
And what is the rest? What do we do once we admit we are alcoholic and that our lives have become unmanageable? I can only tell you what I and thousands of others have done. We went to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
A person might think that before they go to their first AA meeting that they need to stop drinking. That isn’t necessarily true. In fact, waiting for that to happen can be very destructive as the consequences continue to pile up. One of the readings at every meeting of AA includes this very important statement. “The only requirement for (AA) membership is a desire to stop drinking.” Alcoholics Anonymous is in your phone book. Simply call and ask for meeting information. You can also find meetings by visiting the AA website.
Getting Through the First AA Meeting
Once you have made it to your first meeting, you will find people excited to help you discover what the next steps are to freedom and recovery. The question will be asked at the beginning of the meeting whether this is anyone's first meeting. You have the freedom to acknowledge that or not. If you do, the rest of the meeting will consist of various members telling how they got to AA and what life has been like since. At the end of the meeting, you will be given the opportunity to speak if you wish. There is no pressure to do so.
Here is an action plan if you care to follow it. Either way there is no such thing as the status quo. Alcoholism isn’t like that. It is a progressive disease. We either accept the treatment and find life or we refuse treatment and find certain, literal death.