My wife and I are family law attorneys. Lately, she has been expressing concern about my drinking. I don’t think I have a problem, but I don’t want to be “in denial” either. I only drink two to three days a week, mostly on weekends. I admit that sometimes I drink enough to get silly or maybe become a bit sarcastic, but I hold my liquor well, never drive after drinking, and have never missed work. I just enjoy drinking. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone but my wife. I do think I should probably cut down, but am I missing something?
It may not be possible to tell at this point, but the crucial issue is whether you fall into the category of “social drinker,” “alcoholic abuser,” or “early stage” alcoholic (alcohol dependence is the diagnostic term). The terms social or moderate drinking apply to most drinkers and imply a capacity to limit drinking to usually one or two drinks almost automatically with minimal effort. There are no recurrent negative consequences of drinking
Alcohol abuse generally involves heavier drinking with some potential danger (such as driving under the influence), recurrent negative consequences, or interference with one’s ability to handle responsibilities, for example as a worker or parent. Some clinicians believe that alcohol abusers can learn to prevent further problems by moderating their drinking.
Many who abuse alcohol will turn out to have been “early stage” alcoholics and will develop more severe problems. Some of the key features of alcoholism are:
· Inability to consistently limit or regular how much you drink once your start;
· Finding that drinking becomes central in your thoughts, plans, and behavior;
· “Needing” a drink, rather than merely wanting one;
· Returning to drinking despite repeated clear and predictable negative consequences.
Alcoholism is a “progressive” disorder, meaning that it usually becomes more severe over time. Ironically, the high tolerance you describe (“holding your liquor”) is not a boon as much as it is a risk factor, paving the way for potential alcoholism. If you have alcoholic biological relatives, repeatedly drinking more than you intended, or behave in ways you later regret, you may well be alcoholic. If others are bothered or concerned, that sign should also be taken seriously.
Unfortunately, there is no way to drink safely if one is alcoholic. Most people faced with such concerns will try to limit their drinking to non-problem proportions. Those who are essentially alcoholic will be unable to do so consistently. It is not actually necessary to “hit bottom” (lose career, family, health, etc.) in order to halt the disorder in its tracks by learning how to live alcohol-free.
Occasionally, LCL and various clinics offer a “self-assessment” or “contemplation” group for those trying to clarify the type of alcohol or drug problem they have and whether abstinence is necessary. If you are interested in such a group, call LCL.