Oddly, it can be astonishingly difficult to diagnose oneself as an alcoholic or an addict. Our lives can be burnt to the ground, in smoldering flames all around us, and yet we still can’t see it. The spectacular levels of denial and delusion surrounding our addiction or abuse contribute mightily to our inability to get well. How can you recover from addiction if you don’t think you have it? If you’re unsure if you’ve got a problem or not, here we offer some things to consider.
Alcoholics and addicts sometimes say things to ourselves like “I’m not homeless, so how could I be an alcoholic?” or “I am young and just partying” or “I’m just going through a rough patch in life and will quit when things get easier.” This inability to see our problem clearly is actually characteristic thinking for alcoholics and addicts. Some people might point out that they are functioning; they are holding down a good job, showing up for family, never gotten a DUI. But functioning well in the world isn’t the sole indicator of alcoholism or addiction.
Craving and Obsession
Twelve-step literature identifies alcoholics or addicts as having a wide range of varying qualities but acknowledge that we share common characteristics: specifically—warped, obsessive thinking about alcohol or drugs (such as: “just one more” or “”I’ll quit tomorrow” or “I just went two weeks without drinking, so I clearly don’t have a problem”). In addition to the skewed perception, alcoholics and addicts discover that once they start drinking or using, they experience an overpowering physical craving for more, regardless of cost or consequence.
Well-regarding medical facilities offer these additional signs of alcoholism or drug addiction:
- You continue drinking or using in spite of clear negative consequences, such as problems in your life, or physical or psychological harm
- You pass up or avoid social situations where there won’t be a chance to drink or use
- You experience withdrawal symptoms when not using or drinking
- You hide your alcohol or drug use
- Your tolerance is increasing—you find that you need to consume increasing amounts for an effect
- You can’t seem to stop when you want to
- You take risks you normally wouldn’t (like stealing or driving drunk) or make sacrifices to continue using
- You make excuses or lie when other people show concern
- Feeling that you have to use or drink regularly — daily or even several times a day
- Having intense urges or cravings that block out any other thoughts
- Drinking or using larger amounts over a longer period of time than you intended
- Making certain that you maintain a supply
- Spending money on alcohol or drugs, even though you can’t afford it
If You Can Identify, Take Heart
Twelve-step literature sums it up nicely with this method for self-diagnosis: “if, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.”*
Believe it or not, if you can identify with some or all of these symptoms, that may be great news. Admitting our powerlessness over drugs or alcohol is the first step in getting free, and often the beginning of an entirely new life.
*page 44, Alcoholics Anonymous