Why “Am I an Alcoholic?” Is the Wrong Question

A woman laying on a bed and feeling hungover due to alcohol use disorder.Image via Yuris Alhumaydy/Unsplash

You’re most likely here because you’ve googled “Am I an Alcoholic” or you’re worried that you might have a drinking problem. Maybe you wanted to take a quiz, or maybe you were just curious about what the internet has to say about alcoholism. Either way, you’re here, and that’s a good thing.

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The goal of this article is to help you to break down some of the misconceptions around alcohol use. Here’s what you’ll find below: 

Part 1: Why “Am I An Alcoholic” is not the right question.

Part 2: Other questions to ask instead.

Part 3: Why do people drink? How do they stop?

Part 4: What’s next?

It may feel a little uncomfortable to read this article, but we recommend you stick with it—you may even gain some new insights into what a “drinking problem” really is and what you can do about it.

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Part 1: Why “Am I An Alcoholic?” is not the right question.

Before we dive in here, let’s first define what an alcoholic is exactly. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a pattern of problematic drinking that runs on a spectrum of mild, moderate, to severe levels of alcohol dependence. People who experience AUD are commonly referred to as alcoholics, which is a term that originated over a hundred years ago and broadly defines any form of alcohol dependency. 

Historically, we’ve categorized people into two groups when it comes to drinking: you’ve got the “normal drinkers,” the folks who drink socially acceptable amounts of an addictive substance, and you’ve got alcoholics, who drink that same toxic substance, but who drink “too much of it.” 

This can get confusing because while there are countless Am I an alcoholic? quizzes out there, it’s ultimately up to the individual to decide if alcohol is getting in the way of their life. All too often the criteria for alcoholism is one-size-fits-all, and if someone doesn’t meet the definition of an alcoholic, they can delay doing anything about it until the consequences become too dire. 

People can have all sorts of drinking habits—from one glass a night to a few bottles throughout the day. They might hate alcohol, or feel like it’s interfering with their life. And yet they may not consider themselves an alcoholic for many reasons: they haven’t hit “rock bottom,” they know problem drinkers and they aren’t that bad, or they simply do not want to be labeled as an alcoholic. We say, fair enough. 

You don’t need a label to tell you that you don’t like how you act when you drink, that you’re terrified of how much you’re drinking, that you hate forgetting things you’ve said, that you don’t like hangovers, or that something just feels off. In other words, asking Am I an alcoholic? and letting that label solely determine whether or not we examine our relationship with alcohol keeps us stuck. 

To be clear: if it’s helpful to you to identify as an alcoholic, by all means, do it! Labels can be empowering for some, and harmful to others. However, if you don’t feel that you fall under the umbrella of “alcoholism,” you can try asking yourself some different questions. 

Part 2: Other questions to ask.

Instead of Am I an Alcoholic? try asking yourself this question instead. Is alcohol interfering with the way I want to live?

If you answered yes, then ask yourself, How much longer am I willing to settle for that?

When you ask questions like this, a few things happen.

  • You take your power back. Labels, like “addict,” and “alcoholic” can instill fear and keep us stuck in an old narrative. You are in charge of your own story, and you have the right to change it. 
  • You reject the idea that it’s normal to be able to tolerate an addictive substance.
  • You get honest with yourself. If there are behaviors or issues you’ve noticed around your drinking, you can address them openly.

That’s it. We’re not asking you to count your drinks, list your hangover symptoms, or anything else. If drinking makes you feel bad, or it’s headed in a direction you don’t like, or it’s simply not serving you, you have the right to do something about it.  

Part 3: Why do people drink? And how do they stop?

People drink for complex reasons. A few of the most common justifications are needing to relax or unwind, needing help handling social situations, wanting to numb difficult emotions (including those caused by depression, anxiety, trauma, and PTSD), having friends/family/coworkers who drink heavily, and about a thousand more. 

So, it’s easy to come up with tons of reasons why quitting alcohol would make life “impossible.” We believe without it we won’t have a social life or be fun. Dating would be terrifying. We won’t be able to sleep. Our way to cope with stress would be gone. We worry about what our friends might think. 

Drinking culture is highly prevalent in the U.S. and alcohol can be difficult to avoid in many social scenarios. However, as more people start to question their relationship with alcohol before they hit “rock bottom,” there is a growing sober-curious movement that is starting to normalize non-drinking culture. 

So how do people stop drinking? 

When a person stops drinking and they begin the process of healing themselves (this looks different for everyone) they are in recovery. For some people, 12-step programs like AA or other alternative programs are the way to go. Other people need rehab or medically assisted detox programs. Others just go “cold turkey.”  No matter which approach you choose, it’s important to remember you’re not alone and you have options.

At Tempest, we believe in putting people at the center of their own recovery, and that means giving you the agency to explore sobriety on your own terms. That’s why we created a program for anyone who wants to stop drinking, stay sober, or take a closer look at their relationship with alcohol—all at their own pace. 

  • We believe sobriety is a privilege, not a sad consequence of bad behavior. Our attitude is that sobriety isn’t something that you have to do. Sobriety is something that you get to do. You decide what you want.
  • We take a holistic approach, which means we address the root causes of our drinking. Trauma, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, as well as social and environmental barriers are what drove us to drink to escape from reality in the first place. We have to look at  all sides of our life: our minds, our bodies, our relationships, and our environment and find new, healthier ways to cope.
  • We make small changes that create a big transformation over time. You don’t have to change everything right now. The beauty about sobriety is that things happen naturally and slowly, and it’s done by taking small steps. Reading this article today is a small step in the right direction. 
  • We support one another. By connecting with other folks who are in recovery, we’re able to share our experience, learn from one another, and process what comes up for us, all in a way that’s free from shame, criticism, or judgment. 
  • We use scientifically backed recovery methods. We use modalities like Integral Recovery, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapies, and peer intervention to help us heal. 

Part 4: What’s Next?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, scared, or anxious right now after reading this, that’s ok. Like we said before, you don’t need to do anything right now, nor do we expect you to come to any conclusions. Just by reading this article, you’ve taken an important first step. Now, all there is to do is keep an open mind and be willing to try something new. At Tempest, we believe the only failure is to not try in the first place.

If you are interested in doing some further reading, we have a list of resources you may find helpful. 

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You’re the only one who knows what’s right for you, we just want to let you know that we’re here if you do decide to start exploring an alcohol-free lifestyle. 

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