If you occasionally have too much to drink, you’re probably not at great risk for becoming an alcoholic. But you might wonder if you’re at risk of becoming an “almost-alcoholic” — if you even know what that means.
Perhaps you’re secretly worried that your social drinking behavior might be veering into dangerous territory. Here’s how to identify if you’re an almost-alcoholic.
The term comes from a book by the same name written by Dr. Robert L. Doyle, a professor of behavioral health at Harvard University, and Dr. Joseph Nowinski, a psychologist. Their work pinpointed the fine line where casual drinking can cross over to being well on the way to full-fledged alcoholism.
According to Drs. Doyle and Nowinski, the following signs may be indicative of a problem:
- Drinking to relieve stress.
- Often drinking alone.
- Looking forward to drinking.
- One or more health problems may be related to your drinking.
- Drinking to relieve boredom or loneliness.
- Sometimes driving after drinking.
- Drinking to maintain a buzz.
- Work performance after drinking is not what it used to be.
- Social situations aren’t as comfortable without drinking.
- Drinking to overcome shyness.
Don’t be alarmed if you answered yes to one or two of the signs. That won’t automatically make you an almost-alcoholic, especially if you engage in the behavior only rarely or occasionally. Perhaps the grouping of indicators is better used in looking at situations you put yourself in, your typical reaction to stressors, and how often, long, and much you drink. This may help you gain a better picture of whether you could be an almost-alcoholic.
Below are further explanations of the above signs of almost-alcoholism.
- Drinking as a stress reliever doesn’t work.
Most people experience stress during the course of any given day. Over time, they develop ways to deal with the stress that don’t involve binge drinking or other extreme behavior. An occasional drink may help calm things, but repeatedly reaching for alcohol will put you into murky territory. Always moderate your alcohol intake and pay careful attention to other contributing factors that might intensify alcohol’s effects.
- Avoid drinking alone.
You probably don’t set out to drink alone. It could be that you have a desire for a cold beer and no one else is around. The occasional beer consumed by yourself is in no way a warning sign, but when drinking alone becomes a pattern, that is cause for concern.
It might be that you’re hiding your drinks from others, afraid of disapproval, criticism, nagging or comments about your drinking behavior. Monitor how often you drink when you are alone and why you feel the need to do so. If you find this is becoming a habit, consider tapering off your drinking. Do something else to occupy your time. This will be healthier and help forestall what could become a dangerous pattern.
- Stop the tendency to anticipate drinking.
If all the beer commercials on TV aren’t enough to subtly convince you that alcohol brings good times, the sound of ice in the glass or the belief that a drink will help you unwind after a stressful day might.
Giving in and picking up a drink may make you feel better temporarily, but if this becomes a daily habit, you’re on the wrong path. Instead, substitute something else for this automatic reflex. Spend time with loved ones, go outside, work on a hobby or involve yourself in a recreational or sports pursuit.
- Don’t drink if you have health problems.
Alcohol can worsen existing health problems and lead to new ones. People who have cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or cancer could make matters worse by consuming alcohol. Any medications you take for your health problem may not work as well or may interact negatively with alcohol. Best to steer clear.
- Bored or lonely? Don’t pick up a drink.
Having a few drinks might seem appealing if you’ve had a rough day and come home to no one and nothing to look forward to. If you’re a single parent, widowed, never married, housebound or ill, the hours might seem endless and the prospect of alleviating boredom or loneliness with a drink can be enticing.
Don’t fall for it. The more you engage in this practice, the more automatic the behavior will become. Being mindful of the danger is the first step toward warding off the behavior. Instead, join a group or get involved in an activity you find enjoyable. You’ll meet new people, have a chance to socialize, and be less likely to turn to drink to cope.
- Never drive after drinking.
Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving. Numerous studies have found that many people are intoxicated despite having blood alcohol content below their state’s legal limit. Even one drink is enough to impair some drivers.
Too many drivers mistakenly believe they’re perfectly capable behind the wheel after a few drinks. It isn’t until they’re pulled over, arrested and convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) that they realize they weren’t. Sometimes, they still don’t realize it. If you’ve gotten behind the wheel after drinking, maybe curtailing drinking is the best option.
- Any buzz you feel isn’t worth the risk.
If you sip your drinks in the belief that this will help you maintain the feel-good buzz, you’re deluding yourself. Alcohol is still in your system, and it won’t dissipate by anything except complete discontinuation of drinking and the passage of time. If you keep nursing your drinks to sustain the warm, fuzzy feeling, you’re likely headed too close to the cliff and may ultimately fall off. That buzz is definitely not worth the risk.
- Drinking may negatively affect your work performance.
Have you gotten passed over for a promotion, missed out on plum assignments, or received a not-so-stellar performance review? Maybe your drinking is part of the reason. If regular lunchtime or after-work drinking is part of your routine, while you’re not a stone alcoholic, there’s no question this behavior is taking its toll on your work performance.
The way out of this dead end involves taking a hiatus from drinking. At the very least, seriously cut down on your alcoholic consumption and don’t drink during the workday or during the week.
- Avoid using alcohol to deal with shyness or social situations.
If you’re shy, downing a few drinks to help overcome it might seem like a good idea. And if you avoid going to get-togethers where there’s no alcohol because you only feel comfortable when others are drinking, that’s another near-certain prelude to becoming an almost-alcoholic.
Break the pattern. Find healthier ways to cope with shyness. Learn to be yourself and be comfortable with who you are. When you surround yourself with those you trust, people who know and care about you, you won’t need the crutch of alcohol to sustain you.