How to Tell if You Suffer from Alcoholism

By Jim Harvey

When I was a young boy, I came across an old book of nonsense rhymes on my father’s bookshelves, and on a random page, I read: “See the happy drinker, he doesn’t give a damn! I wish I were a drinker – my God, p’raps I am!”

I asked my father what this rhyme was about, and he explained the men in it were alcoholics, people who drank alcohol every day. Nobody was alcoholic in our household, so the idea that someone might roll out of bed and drink a glass of whisky first thing was a novel one to me.

Alcohol was not much of a topic at home, but I did have a great uncle who was an alcoholic – I knew he had a community of friends he would meet so as not to be the happy drinker who doesn’t give a damn, and he made us laugh by referring to them as “thirsty people”. Then one day, I heard somebody sing an Irish folk song: “I’ve been a wild rover for many’s a year, and I spent all me money on whisky and beer.” So there were indeed such people!

But alcohol-related matters were very vague in my mind, existing only on the periphery of my awareness.

Fast forward a few years, and my friends at university would often suggest we go for “a pint.” It was a running joke among us that “a pint” never happened – it was always two or three, or more perhaps on a Friday night. Then, one day, I was sitting alone in a pub in Brixton, nursing my “pint”, and I thought back to the happy drinker. Except that now I was one too – but not always a happy one. And yet, I still had no idea I could be in danger from this substance.

In 2022, the WHO estimated that roughly three million deaths every year result from harmful use of alcohol. Prevention is better than a cure, they say, and if you are concerned your drinking is getting out of control, it would be wise to assess the degree of the problem. Here, we’ll discuss various ways to find out whether you may suffer from alcoholism.

When a medical doctor makes a diagnosis, they will refer to the condition as an alcohol use disorder – the current preferred medical term. But we may as well call a spade a spade, and in common parlance, it’s just plain old alcoholism. Protocol for this diagnosis may vary somewhat from country to country, but the principle is the same: doctors look at a number of alcohol use habits, and if enough of these are present in the patient, they will conclude the person is very likely to have a dangerous relationship to alcohol.

But even without a medical appointment, you can make a pretty good self-assessment unaided. Ask yourself the following:

  • Have you ever tried to give up alcohol, even just for one day, and found you could not? Your good intentions upon waking evaporated during the day, and you found yourself drinking again in the evening?
  • Do you experience your alcohol consumption as a compulsion, bordering on an obsession?
  • Do you borrow money you know you cannot easily pay back, or, worse, steal, in order to purchase alcohol?
  • Is obtaining, and drinking, alcohol taking up a disproportionate amount of your time?
  • Is your drinking, or recovering from it, interfering with your work life, your family responsibilities, and so on?
  • Do you regularly lie about your drinking habits?
  • Do you ever try to justify your drinking to family or loved ones?
  • Have you had, or do you regularly have, run-ins with the law because of drunken behavior?
  • Have you ever caused an accident or bodily harm, (to yourself or others) because of dangerous behavior when intoxicated?
  • Have you ever wanted to quit drinking altogether, but found you were powerless to do so?

These are all fairly simple questions, with clear answers. However, it takes a good deal of introspection, self-awareness, and willingness to look at more difficult ones. And not everyone is ready to do this work. There is a joke, which I will tell the short version of, about an Irishman who walks alone into a Dublin pub and orders three pints of Guinness.

The barman serves him, but is surprised, and tells the man he would be perfectly happy to give him one pint at a time, not three at once. His customer looks taken aback, then something clicks and he explains: he has two brothers, one of whom emigrated to Australia, and one who lives in the US, and every time they drink a pint of Guinness, each brother has one for the other two as well. One day, the man walks into the pub, and orders only two pints. The barman is perplexed, but then it dawns upon him what must have happened. He mumbles a quiet, “I’m sorry for your loss,” to his customer as he puts his pints on the bar. Again, the Irishman seems surprised, but then he understands the barman’s assumption, and says, “Oh, no, no, my brothers are fine, it’s just that me, I’ve stopped drinking!”

I mention this story because of the degree of self-delusion that can be present in alcoholic drinkers. It can be very hard to be truly honest about the truth of the situation. Which is why there are certain things we need to ask ourselves.

Am I convinced I really want to stop drinking, or do I want continue, even knowing the negative, and potentially very serious consequences?

Am I willing to be open and honest with my family and friends, about what I am going through?

And, if I conclude that I do suffer from alcoholism, what am I willing to do about it?

In 12-step fellowships, they conclude that “half measures availed us nothing”. Adopting a half-hearted approach to dealing with our problem is unlikely to work. And an open mind is essential too.

There is a story about a man who goes to the doctor to consult him about a whole string of ailments he is suffering from, and ask for advice. But as he finishes explaining, just as the doctor is about to speak, the man says, “which is why I’d like six pink pills, three green ones and a bottle of that elixir.”

In short, if we ask for help, and to be shown how to stop drinking, but have already made up our mind what the solution is, we may as well stay at home.

Even if a person has become convinced alcoholism is the problem, the inner alcoholic may resist with all his might. Sensing that the end of drinking will mean his demise, he may cling on to his habit for dear life. Alcohol is a tricky, slippery customer, which is why some form of treatment, or at least support, is always recommended when a person is no longer able to control their drinking.

General awareness of the dangers of drinking is high these days, and to end on a simple note here, a good piece of advice is: if in doubt, err on the side of caution. Alcoholism won’t just go away, and an alcohol use disorder is not just a phase “that will pass.” But it can respond to treatment.

Kembali Recovery Center can help

If you think it may be time to take that step, please reach out to us to discuss possible options.

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