Alcoholism is a disease. Alcoholism is a disorder. There are two camps of thought on this be regardless of which you chose, alcoholism is a problem that no one disputes, except the alcoholic of course. The NIH has 11 criteria for alcoholism only two of which need be present:
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
- Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
- Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
- Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?But I am speaking specifically to those of you in your teens and 20s. The common refrain is: “But I’m on 25, how can I be an alcoholic?” Because 2 of the examples above are present.
Still not convinced? Okay, years ago Johns Hopkins University came up with 20 questions for those who doubt or think they might have a problem with drinking:
Now remember, you need only identify with 2 of the above to be an alcoholic.
- Do you lose time from work due to your drinking?
- Is drinking making your home life unhappy?
- Do you drink because you are shy with other people?
- Is drinking affecting your reputation?
- Have you ever felt remorse after drinking?
- Have you gotten into financial difficulties as a result of your drinking?
- Do you turn to lower companions and an inferior environment when drinking?
- Does your drinking make you careless of your family’s welfare?
- Has your ambition decreased since drinking?
- Do you crave a drink at a definite time daily?
- Do you want a drink the next morning?
- Does drinking cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
- Has your efficiency decreased since drinking?
- Is drinking jeopardizing your job or business?
- Do you drink to escape from worries or troubles?
- Do you drink alone?
- Have you ever had a complete loss of memory as a result of your drinking?
- Has your physician ever treated you for drinking?
- Do you drink to build up your self-confidence?
- Have you ever been in a hospital or institution on account of drinking?
And here is what they say if you respond in the positive to any of these questions:
“If you have answered YES to any one of the questions, there is a definite warning that you may be an alcoholic.
If you have answered YES to any two, the chances are that you are an alcoholic.
If you have answered YES to three or more, you are definitely an alcoholic.”
I answered “yes” to 11 of them. But still I did not believe because I was never an everyday drinker. I seldom got drunk. I lost only one job because of drinking. I was never arrested for DUI, nor even stopped. And when I joined AA, I had held the same job for 10 years, always showed up on time and did my job. So how could I be an alcoholic?
Because I, in a moment of honesty, answered yes to 11 of the questions above. Because I was in desperate straits and thought I was on the cusp of total destruction. Because I had almost no friends, my family desired I say away from them and I was a wreck. Anyone who observed me could easily have made the comment “you’re a wreck! You need help!” without ever seeing me take a single drink.
Well, let’s go back to my 25-year-old. First of all, alcoholism does not care what age you are, what your financial standing is, how smart you are, what race you are, what religion you are, or anything else you can think of which would preclude you from being an alcoholic. It simply, like any disease, does not care. Physicians and health care providers are at a loss to predict when any one person will cross that line from being a non-alcoholic to being an alcoholic. But they do know, once you become one, you are always one.
I have been in Alcoholics Anonymous for over 17 years now. But when I had been in A.A. for fewer than 90 days I saw a teenage girl of 15 getting her one-year sober medallion. Age is irrelevant. Alcoholism is so prevalent among teens and 20-somethings in our society, that with A.A. there exist hundreds of meeting referred to as “young peoples meetings.” I went to one once, was invited, and there was a room of about 30 or so young people in attendance. Each had stopped fighting the idea that they had a problem with alcohol. Each had made an honest assessment of their life up to that point and saw that denial of the obvious was a hopeless battle.
Today, five days a week, I go to a meeting in Boston in which there are usually about 6 people under 30. One just turned 20.
It is extremely difficult for a young person to believe that they can possibly be an alcoholic, particularly when they see all their friends “partying” and drinking to their heart’s desire. But the question cannot be about what they are doing and why. It necessarily must be about you and why you are drinking. When I first started drinking I was 19. A late comer who did all he could do to make up for lost time. But more importantly, I wanted to be a person who could party, comfortably. I had no self-confidence that I, as a sober person, could possibly have fun at a party. I would be too shy, too withdrawn, too something to enjoy myself. And so, like when I got a headache and took some aspirin, when I was going to a party I made certain that I drank prior to arriving. Alcohol was medication to me, and it worked! Oh yes, it did indeed work. I had a good old time. But I failed to ask the question, at what expense? I failed to see people inching away from a drunk, me, who was making a fool of himself. I failed to see, even more importantly, that I was using alcohol as an anesthetic to cover over my underlying problems. My shyness was the result of something. My social awkwardness was the result of something, my inability to enjoy myself sober at a party was the result of something. The non-alcoholic addresses those issues and others straight on. The alcoholic decides that there is nothing quite like a good numbing agent.
There is a ton of bad logic in alcoholic thinking. Most importantly, the alcoholic convinces himself through drinking that he can do something he might otherwise think impossible. The bad logic there is simple: sober people who try something and fail either go right back at it again or seek out help in overcoming their problem.
So here we are. If you are still reading this, you are probably struggling with the possibility that you might have a problem with alcohol. I will give you an easy way out. Find an A.A. meeting in your area. They’re everywhere and you can usually find a phone number in the phone book of an A.A. help line. If you cannot, contact me and I guarantee I will find you not one, but a dozen meetings so that you will have choices. And once you attend that first meeting, if you cannot say the words “I am an alcoholic” then simply say “Hi, my name is Joe, and I don’t want to drink today.” That phrase is accepted in AA everywhere around the world.
But go to the meeting with a purpose beyond just seeing what it is all about. Go there with the idea of finding someone who you identify with who you can talk with after the meeting to help you with your decisions.
Now, I have a challenge for you. Imagine that for Lent this year, it starts February 10, you gave up alcohol. Lent only last for 40 days so that should be an easy task. Now here’s the curve ball, you know for fact that on February 13, just 3 days into Lent, there is going to be this huge Valentine’s Day party at which you know there is going to be a ton of alcohol. How likely is it you can attend that even and limit yourself to drinks which contain no alcohol? Oh, and for the record, those drinks which call themselves “non-alcoholic beer” and others like it, contain alcohol. They can claim to be non-alcoholic because they contain 0.5% by volume of alcohol. Therefore, you would be not allowed to drink such drinks either. The non-alcoholic finds such a task laughable because they feel no need. When the non-alcoholic takes on the job of designated driver, she is quite content with drinking coke, juice or even just water. It does not have any impact upon how much fun she will have.
One of the great lies alcoholics tell themselves and anyone who will listen is, “I can stop anytime!” But the truth is they cannot. The police love hearing “I only had two bears” when they stop the obvious intoxicated driver. You see, the “I only had two beers” is an incomplete sentence. The full sentence goes, “I only had two beers when I stopped counting.”
There is no shame in deciding you are an alcoholic. They only shame is denying the obvious or at least the possible. There is no down side to never taking a drink again. If a sober person were told by his doctor that he has this rare genetic condition which will cause death if that person continues to drink. For an instant the sober person might think, “well that sucks,” but to the doctor he will say, “okay” and with the knowledge that his life is in the balance will forever restrict himself from the use of alcohol. For the person who already is an alcoholic, the same is true, his life lies in the balance if the use of alcohol is not discontinued.
Years ago there was this young woman, Melanie, who was trying to get sober because she knew she needed to. But her participation in A.A. was sketchy at best. One day I received a text from her which read “please help me!” But before I could get to her she was dead. Alcoholism. Four years ago there was another young lady I knew because of AA. She came from an upper middle class family who loved her. She was a graduate from an Ivy League college, a Navy veteran, an extremely popular person with everyone who knew her, she was quite athletic and beautiful to boot! She had it all, that is, until January 7 when she decided at age 31 she still hand another round of drinks in her. Turns out she did not. She is dead.
Medicine is a science within which there is a lot of guessing. It is not that the doctors are all incompetent or inept, but that where every person’s physical makeup is different, so too is their ability to tolerate disease. The only known treatment for alcoholism is total abstinence. That works every time. And once free of alcohol, the individual will sudden find he has time to deal with all the problems which caused him to drink. He will find out through the social interactions with AA that his worries, his shortcomings, his disabilities are very common and that the AA member is usually more than happy to talk about how they overcame those issues without having to use alcohol.
If alcohol is the answer, then it is a sure thing you do not know or understand the question because alcohol is never the answer to anything.
Oh, by the way, AA meetings are not overwhelming older men wearing trench coats or people who are homeless or living in shelters. To the contrary, such a person is the except in meetings. My daily meeting is full of professionals, doctors, lawyers, financial analysts, psychologists, teachers, professors, brick layers, iron workers, policemen, and just about any other profession you can think of. The average meeting is not filled with people over the age of 50. Most meetings have significant numbers of people in the 30s and 40s, not to mentions those in their teens and 20s.
The young person who comes to Alcoholics Anonymous and stays invariably tells the story of the many “miracles” he, or she, has experienced since becoming a sober person. Their wildest dreams have come true and then some. The “and then some” are those wonderful things they experience which had not crossed their mind when they were simply trying to get and stay sober.
The AA Promises
“1. If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed
before we are half way through.
- We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
- We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
- We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.
- No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience
can benefit others.
- That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
- We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
- Self-seeking will slip away.
- Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
- Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
- We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
- We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us –
sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”
Alcoholics Anonymous p83-84
Everyone who hangs around AA long enough and invests the time and energy needed to succeed, will tell you that not only do all those promise come true, but they come true to an even greater extent than initially imagined.
If you need help, the Alcoholics Anonymous World Service, located in New York has a web page at www.aa.org
If you want to ask me a question about anything feel free to contact me directly. My personal email account is: firstname.lastname@example.org