Ask Andi: Do I Have A Drinking Problem?

Andi,

People have been telling me I have a drinking problem.  I am not an alcoholic because I don’t drink every day and I don’t drink alone or in the mornings.  When I drink on the weekends, I end up getting very drunk and embarrassing myself, fighting with my friends and doing some things I regret. I black out a lot too and don’t know why people are mad at me.  I don’t need to drink, but when I go out I start drinking because that’s what people do.  Do I have a problem?

Sincerely,

Drinking it all in.

Dear Drinking it all in,


I’m glad you took time to write to me.  If you do have a problem, you just did the most important thing for fixing the problem.  Unfortunately, many people have misconstrued notions of alcoholism.  While I cannot say if you are suffering from alcoholism, or if you are just abusing/misusing alcohol, I can give you some information to help you assess yourself.

People think that in order to be considered an alcoholic; you must have symptoms along the lines of those you said you do not have.  This cannot be more wrong!  There are alcoholics who maybe only drink once a month, just as there are those who are constantly under the influence of alcohol.  It is not how often or how much someone drinks that makes her an alcoholic, but it is how she handles her drinking. The idea of alcoholism is that someone’s body and/or mind react differently to alcohol than another person’s would. Yes, it is true that in severe cases of alcoholism, a person may physically need a drink, but for many who have a drinking problem this might not occur.

Only you can assess yourself to know if you have a problem.  A good indicator of a problem is a lack of control.  Do you tell yourself you will just have a few drinks and wind up blacking out?  Do you tell yourself you won’t drink tonight but end up drinking?  Do you have trouble stopping to drink once you have started, are your friends telling you to slow down?  None of these can say for sure if you have a problem, but what they might show is a lack of control.  When you are not in control of your drinking, you have an issue- whether it is merely alcohol abuse or the disease of alcoholism.

The truth is, many college men and women have alcoholism or severely abuse alcohol.  It is overlooked and portrayed as a natural part of college.  While it is okay to drink and have fun, it is often taken out of context. Some people binge drink all throughout college and control their drinking later in life, while other may continue to abuse alcohol for the rest of their lives.  The problem is that we often condone or glamorize unhealthy and excessive drinking.  If you find that you do have a drinking problem, you are certainly not alone.  The key is to develop healthy habits and be in control of your drinking as soon as possible!

In my non-expert opinion, it sounds like you definitely abuse alcohol at the least.  Since you seem to show a lack of control, you might want to take early action to fix these issues and prevent a huge drinking problem. 

The first thing to do is be honest with yourself and others.  Do not write off your blacking-out as an isolated incident if it keeps occurring.  Don’t tell yourself you will only have three drinks when you know you will have more.  Be honest with yourself!  Also, the more open with your friends you are with your concerns, the more support you can get.  They seem to be good friends and are concerned about your welfare.  Talk to them and listen with an open mind.  Do not be defensive when they tell you their concerns; remember they are saying nothing against you- but are only showing their concern with your drinking.  Talk about what makes you want to drink, or continue to drink so much after you start and how they can help you avoid those triggers.

Next you need to consider if you want to moderate, reduce or stop your drinking.  Do you want to drink less each time you drink?  Do you want to reduce how often you drink? Do you want to take a break from drinking altogether?  The answer could be any combination of these options.  You obviously don’t set out to black out and drink so much.  It seems like the problem is, once you start to drink, you impair yourself and with your impaired judgment, you drink more than you would. That’s why it is important to know your limits, and know when you are drunk. You can keep track of how many drinks you have over how much time.  You could try not to drink during pre-games.  Pre-gaming can cause binge drinking and when you drink so much in such a short amount of time, you impair yourself and may drink more than you would at the party or bar.  You could make sure to eat when you drink, or at least eat a large meal before to avoid becoming drunker. 


There are plenty of resources available to help you which you should not be afraid to use!  Support is available for people on all spectrums, not just severe alcoholics.  Like I told you, you are one of many college students who abuse alcohol.  If you are embarrassed to admit if you have a problem, ask yourself what is more embarrassing: admitting and treating a problem, or continuing to black out and do things that you normally wouldn’t?  I think the first one is more courageous and can only better you.  Your friends can be the best support system, or the worst.  If your friends are pressuring you to drink so much, speak with them about it. If your friends know you have some problems when you drink, they can be very supportive.  There is also group meetings and counseling available.  Students are entitled to some free counseling session and enrollment in group programs at the campus Counseling Center.  You can call the number on the website or stop by the Glen Esk building (that white house across from Newell Dining Hall). I’m not suggesting you need psychotherapy or that psychological reasons underlie you’re drinking; it could all come from social reasons.  If you do need therapy, the Counseling Center can provide it.  However, even if your reasons for drinking the way you do are not psychological, a counselor can provide professional insight on your issue, give advice and encouragement, and provide practical solutions to the problem.  Other programs like Alcoholics Anonymous can be a great support too.  Whether you think you have a problem or not, try stopping by an open meeting.  AA meetings are completely anonymous and you can engage in the group or even observe the group to get all the information you need in deciding if you have a problem or not.  You can find a meeting near you online. 

None of these resources are limited to severe alcoholics and using any of them does not mean you have a problem.  You can simply let the Counseling Center or a group know that you are exploring your relationship with alcohol and want more information on drinking problems. The more informed you are, the better you can judge if you have an issue and the sooner you can address an issue if there is one. Once you know if there is a problem and to what extent it occurs, you can find the appropriate solutions.  Modifying your drinking necessarily doesn’t mean eliminating it.  You can try to adjust your drinking so that you can use alcohol, not abuse it.

Xoxo Andi