How many drinks a week makes me an alcoholic?

The lines between social drinking, alcohol abuse and alcoholism are extremely thin. Crossing them warrants no special "aha" moment; generally, the drinker doesn't consciously digest that alcohol has become a problem until he or she is a few miles past the last line. If the drinker ever felt a slight inclination that the habit developed into full-force alcoholism, he or she probably shrugged it off in denial.

[See: 7 Health Risks of Binge Drinking You Can't Ignore.]

So, how do you know if you are an alcoholic? It would be nice if there was a logical or numerical response to the question – as in, "If I drink less than five drinks a night, that doesn't make me an alcoholic," "If I drink only on the weekends that should mean that I'm not an alcoholic, right?" or "If I am not drinking alone, I am fine."

Unfortunately, none of these questions or statements will lead to a conclusion as to whether or not you are an alcoholic. The most important question I ask my clients struggling with accepting their alcoholism is, "How often are you thinking about drinking?" We then delve deeper into a series of questions that aim to create a conscious awakening:

  • Do you frequently feel compelled to drink?
  • Does alcohol, the thought of alcohol or the planning of your next drink occupy most of your energy and focus?
  • Have you wanted to stop drinking, but find yourself with a drink in hand just a short time later?
  • Have you sacrificed other activities that you enjoy because you plan to drink or were drinking?
  • Do you find that you need to consume more alcohol to get the same effects you once had?

These questions kick-start our discussion about alcoholism, and the common behaviors associated with alcohol dependency. These questions address the mental, physical and emotional state of one's drinking. The general rule of thumb when it comes to labeling oneself as an alcoholic is: If alcohol causes or has caused mental, physical or emotional distress in your life, alcohol has ceased to be a luxury and has entered the realm of necessity.

[See: 14 Ways Alcohol Affects the Aging Process.]

Alcoholism tends to run in families. If one or more of your family members suffers from alcoholism or addiction, you are at a higher risk of alcoholism than the rest of the population. You are also at a higher risk of alcoholism if you suffer from anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder. These mental disorders often lead to self-medication with alcohol or other mind-altering substances.

If you are still unconvinced that you are an alcoholic, or you need more tangible data, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you often feel guilty about your drinking?
  2. Do you feel the need to lie to others about your drinking?
  3. Have one or more of your loved ones expressed concern about your drinking habits?
  4. Do you frequently drink more than you plan on drinking?
  5. Do you black out when drinking?
  6. Do you feel that you need to drink to relax or feel better?
  7. Do you find that you wake up from a night of drinking with severe anxiety, shaking or sweating that only a drink or medication can fix?
  8. Do you feel uncomfortable in environments where alcohol is unavailable?
  9. Have you ever tried to control your drinking?
  10. Have you had problems at home, school or work as a result of drinking?
  11. Have you ever thought that your life would be better if you didn't drink?
  12. Do you ever find yourself jealous of people who can drink without consequences?

If you answered "yes" to three questions or fewer, you may be mildly abusing alcohol. If you answered "yes" to four to seven questions, you exemplify traits of an alcoholic; you have entered into the danger zone and should seek help for alcohol dependence. If you answered "yes" to eight to 12 questions, you exemplify traits of a severe alcoholic and should seek treatment for alcoholism.

This test is not medically-approved, nor is it an official test for determining alcoholism, but it will give you an idea of the type of questions you need to ask yourself when observing your drinking.

[See: How to Find the Best Mental Health Professional for You.]

The only person who can determine whether you are an alcoholic, an alcohol abuser or a social drinker is yourself; no one can answer these questions for you. If you take an honest survey of yourself and your drinking habits, you can determine whether you have reached the point of alcoholism and only then can you get the help you need. Doing so will teach you how to move through life without the aid of alcohol, allowing you to reconnect with your loved ones and to rekindle your desire to live another day.

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