Can't Stop Drinking?
Am I an alcoholic?
Those of us who have admitted that we are alcoholics look back at this question with a mixture of humor and horror.
Horror because the journey to self-identify as an alcoholic often takes longer than it really needs to.
Humor because as alcoholism progresses, the lies we tell ourselves get more and more ridiculous.
Here are a few:
Hilarious Excuses that Real Alcoholics Make About Their Drinking
"I didn't crash because I was drunk. I always run that stop-sign, even when I'm sober."
"My manager just had it out for me. Didn't like it that I was smarter and more talented than him. My 'performance issues' were just an excuse. I'm sure my next employer will appreciate my 11-1 pm work schedule."
"Honestly, I just want to be left alone. I'm happier when my friends don't call."
It's really OK. Alcoholism is truly baffling. You can see that in its definition.
Defining an Alcoholic: Doctors and Alcoholics Anonymous
Medical doctors and AA have always been in near-exact agreement on what an Alcoholic is. In fact the preface of our defining literature, “The Big Book” opens with a doctor’s opinion on alcoholism, and our two very different communities tend to agree on the subject to this day.
Side-by-side comparison of definitions
The American Psychiatric Association classifies Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) as
".... a chronic relapsing brain disorder characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences." (DSM-V)
In AA, however, no one will tell you you are an alcoholic. Our members self-diagnose themselves as alcoholics. Most of us say it like this:
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and our lives had become unmanageable.”
Po-ta-to po-ta-to. The biggest difference lies in who diagnoses. We don’t try to diagnose anyone in part because we do not have the formal education to do so. But we have also found that only one opinion matters: yours.
Many of us had plenty of people call us alcoholics before we admitted it ourselves. But those opinions did not stop us from drinking a single drink.
That is why it is really most important for you to try to be as honest with yourself as possible, as soon as possible.
Self-Diagnosing Alcoholism Questionnaire
There are plenty of people who can experience poor consequences from drinking and who can manage their use to avoid any further problems. But there are approximately 15 million people in the United States who cannot. Answer the following questions, and write down your answers.
Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted for a couple of days?
Most of us in A.A. made all kinds of promises to ourselves and to our families. We could not keep them. Then we came to A.A. A.A. said: "Just try not to drink today." (If you do not drink today, you cannot get drunk today.)
Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking-- stop telling you what to do?
In A.A. we do not tell anyone to do anything. We just talk about our own drinking, the trouble we got into, and how we stopped. We will be glad to help you, if you want us to.
Have you ever switched from one kind of drink to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk?
We tried all kinds of ways. We made our drinks weak. Or just drank beer. Or we did not drink cocktails. Or only drank on weekends. You name it, we tried it. But if we drank anything with alcohol in it, we usually got drunk eventually.
Have you had to have an eye-opener upon awakening during the past year?
Do you need a drink to get started, or to stop shaking? This is a pretty sure sign that you are not drinking "socially."
Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble?
At one time or another, most of us have wondered why we were not like most people, who really can take it or leave it.
Have you had problems connected with drinking during the past year?
Be honest! Doctors say that if you have a problem with alcohol and keep on drinking, it will get worse -- never better. Eventually, you will die, or end up in an institution for the rest of your life. The only hope is to stop drinking.
Has your drinking caused trouble at home?
Before we came into A.A., most of us said that it was the people or problems at home that made us drink. We could not see that our drinking just made everything worse. It never solved problems anywhere or anytime.
Do you ever try to get "extra" drinks at a party because you do not get enough?
Most of us used to have a "few" before we started out if we thought it was going to be that kind of party. And if drinks were not served fast enough, we would go some place else to get more.
Do you tell yourself you can stop drinking any time you want to, even though you keep getting drunk when you don't mean to?
Many of us kidded ourselves into thinking that we drank because we wanted to. After we came into A.A., we found out that once we started to drink, we couldn't stop.
Have you missed days of work or school because of drinking?
Many of us admit now that we "called in sick" lots of times when the truth was that we were hung-over or on a drunk.
Do you have "blackouts"?
A "blackout" is when we have been drinking hours or days which we cannot remember. When we came to A.A., we found out that this is a pretty sure sign of alcoholic drinking.
Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not drink?
Many of us started to drink because drinking made life seem better, at least for a while. By the time we got into A.A., we felt trapped. We were drinking to live and living to drink. We were sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Now look back at your answers. If you answered “Yes” four or more times then you are probably in trouble with alcohol. That is really important information because alcoholism is a progressive disease. Over any significant period of time, and often over even brief periods, the powerlessness and unmanageability get worse.
This is why our members have decided they want to stop drinking, one day at a time.
How an AA meeting can help
Bottom line: AA meetings help you get sober and stay sober.
There have been a bunch of studies over the years examining AA's effectiveness in helping alcoholics achieve sobriety. The evidence has led researchers to conclude: "Alcoholics Anonymous, the worldwide fellowship of sobriety seekers, is the most effective path to abstinence." (Kelly, J. F., Humphreys, K., Ferri, M.).
AA is free.
There is no charge for going to a meeting. As a worldwide organization AA does rely on the charitable contributions of its members; however, no one is expected to pay anything. The most common donation is $1 or $2 for attending a meeting, making AA a long-term option for anyone suffering from alcohol.
Open to anyone.
All are welcome. Most meetings are marked "open," meaning that anyone can join whether they self-identify as alcoholics or not. AA offers a variety of meetings, including meetings for people of color, women, LGBTQ and gender non-conforming folks, beginners, young people, atheists, and agnostics, many all-inclusive meetings for anyone with a desire to stop drinking, and new meetings are being added every day.
Doesn't Take Money from Non-AA Sources
A long time ago our members decided that we needed to focus exclusively on sobriety and stay neutral on all other affairs. So we do not take money from outside sources.
Many of us find it extremely helpful to hear what other alcoholics have been through. To know that we are not alone, that others understand what we have gone through, is a true gift.
More information... Talk to an alcoholic
Call anytime: (215) 923-7900
Dial in, wait for the prompt and press 1. Or if you'd prefer there are plenty of aa meetings in the area you could attend in-person, by web conference or phone.
You can also contact us by email here.
Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs for alcohol use disorder. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews Kelly, J. F., Humphreys, K., Ferri, M. 2020; 3: CD012880
"Alcohol Use Disorder | National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA)". Niaaa.Nih.Gov, 2021, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-use-disorder.
Alcoholics Anonymous : Is A.A. For You? Twelve questions only you can answer. (2021). Retrieved 8 June 2021, from https://www.aa.org/pages/en_us/is-aa-for-you-twelve-questions-only-you-can-answer