By: Mitchell D. Newmark, MD
What is the difference between the person who likes to have a few drinks and the alcoholic? Patients who arrive in my office, either of their own volition, or at the insistence of family and friends, are usually on the defensive when I first ask them about their drinking habits and behaviors. I am an addiction psychiatrist, and after seeing thousands of men and women dependent on alcohol, the markers of alcoholism are quite clear to me. Yet, as with all diagnoses in psychiatry, it is more useful to consider an individual?s overall functioning from a variety of perspectives, than to rely on some rigid guidelines as to what defines alcoholism.
The simplest and most useful way to know if you are an alcoholic is to seriously and carefully ask yourself if it adversely affects the way you function.
Questions to Ask Yourself
First, think about your performance on the job. How often are you showing up for the day with a hangover? Do you note a significant difference in how you perform at your job after a night without drinking, as compared to when you "had a few drinks" the night before? Are you returning to your desk useless after lunch because you had a couple of drinks and are ready to coast through the rest of the day until you can get out? Are you known by your colleagues and superiors as the guy who?s always up for a good time, the woman who looks foolish at the office party, the one who?s late or absent more than a little too often? Have you been falling off your career track, taking work one day at a time until you get home to relax with a drink? It?s often difficult to answer honestly.
How is your relationship with your significant other? Is your sex life suffering because after a night of drinking you just want to go to sleep, or because you are too drunk for your partner to have any interest in you? Do you find yourself arguing more frequently, or saying the wrong thing after a few drinks? Do you run to get a drink after a fight? Do you find yourself saying "I?ll show him" by getting another drink? Or are you without a companion, and in order to avoid those feelings of loneliness, you look toward alcohol instead? Try asking your partner how he or she would answer these questions about you.