All too often when people telephone to ask me about counseling, they tell me they’re calling because they are an “alcoholic” or an “addict.” When I ask them why they think so, they say things like; “I drink too much,” “All my friends say I am,” or “I love to party.”
I also work with servicemen who return to their hometown on leave post-deployment, make the mistake of celebrating too much, and end up losing their driving privileges. Usually they feel angry and ashamed at being unfairly labeled as an alcoholic or an addict when their only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You might be surprised to learn that none of these things defines the disease of alcoholism or addiction.
You certainly wouldn’t walk into a dangerous situation unprepared, would you? So before someone slaps a label on you – or you label yourself – you should know a thing or two about what makes an addict an addict. It’s important information, because being able to recognize when the good times are over may save your life.
The definition of an alcoholic or addict
Alcoholism was officially recognized as a disease by the medical community as far back as 1956. Just like other diseases, chemical dependency: Never goes away, will continue to get worse, has well defined symptoms, and is predictable and often fatal. According to the American Psychiatric Association, addiction is characterized by the following seven traits. As you read, check off those that apply to you:
Tolerance. Has your use of drugs or alcohol increased over time? Do you need more to get the same high?
Withdrawal. When you stop using, have you ever experienced physical or emotional withdrawal? Have you had any of the following symptoms: irritability, anxiety, shakes, sweats, nausea, or vomiting?
Difficulty controlling your use. Do you sometimes use more or for a longer time than you would like? Do you sometimes drink to get drunk? Do you stop after a few drinks or does one drink lead to more drinks?
Negative consequences. Have you continued to use even though there have been negative consequences to your mood, self-esteem, health, job, or family?
Neglecting or postponing activities.
Have you ever put off or reduced social, recreational, employment or household activities because of your use?
Spending significant time or emotional energy. Have you spent a significant amount of time obtaining, using, concealing, planning, or recovering from your use? Have you spent a lot of
time thinking about using? Have you ever concealed or minimized your use? Have you ever thought of schemes to avoid getting caught?
Desire to cut down. Have you sometimes thought about cutting down or controlling your use? Have you ever made unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control your use?
When it’s over, it’s over!
To meet the medical definition of an addict or alcoholic you need answer yes to only three (3) of these questions. If you did, I want you to stop for a moment and think about how that makes
you feel. Before today you may have gone quite a long time abusing drugs and alcohol. In fact you might not even remember just how long other than knowing they have always been there for you. All the while you suffered under the misconception that it was under control.
The truth is, if you’ve got a chemical dependency problem then you probably waved adios to the good times long ago. Guess what… They’re not coming back no matter how much you try. Take it from me. I tried so hard to keep the party going that I lost my job, career, house, marriage, health, friends and finances.
Don’t let fear or pride get in your way. Accept reality. Humble yourself and speak up now. See a counselor. Attend a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Read the books. I’m a recovering addict and alcoholic who found real fulfillment after drugs and alcohol. If I can do it, so can you.
Keith Angelin, MBA, CADC-II, CNDAI, is a Master’s level, board-certified alcohol & drug counselor, and nationally certified intervention specialist. Prior to entering the field of substance abuse counseling he spent two-decades as a leading marketing executive in the health and nutrition industry where he worked with numerous professional athletes and celebrities including Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood and the Dallas Cowboys. A 14-year battle with drugs and alcohol included dying three times from overdose. His recovery compelled him to re-evaluate his life and share the miracle with others. He can be reached at (949) 939-9222 or through www.InterventionRx.com