If you’ve ever wondered about your drinking, you have probably taken a drinking quiz or two to figure out if you have a problem. I first did this a few years ago. Can’t remember the exact deal, but it would ask things like whether you blacked out, or missed work, or binged. In my case, quizzes would return something tepid like “you may have a problem with alcohol.”
In my head: “Okay this says I’m not an alcoholic per se but I may have a problem with alcohol? What does that mean? I’m not that bad right? I don’t black out. I don’t miss work. I feel bad about drinking sometimes but I like drinking. Do I have to quit? I don’t think I have to quit because I’m only a 7 out of 12. I’m okay. I’m mostly okay. I only may have a problem. That’s not the same as a problem, right? Now if I was a 10 out of 12…”
Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera. How. Exhausting.
Probably about six years ago, my doctor casually asked me about my drinking:
Her: Ever feel like you should cut down?
Me: Yeah. Sometimes…
Her: Do other people criticize you about your drinking or tell you to cut down?
Me: Not so much. Not really.
Her: Do you ever feel guilty about drinking?
Me: Yeah… yeah I guess I do. It does bother me a bit.
Her: Do you ever drink in the morning or anything? To calm down or nip a hangover?
Me: (I totally got this one). Nope.
Her: If you’ve answered yes to one of these questions, you have a problem, you know.
Damn. I was so busted. First I didn’t realize she had been administering a very short, and very effective drunky quiz. Usually I’m smart enough to know when I’m being cornered by a shrink or doctor. Not this time. The four questions she asked me are part of the CAGE diagnostic, which has been found to be highly accurate for identifying problem drinkers. Second, my vague “yes” responses didn’t deliver a comfortingly vague diagnosis with a middling score that might help me to keep downplaying my drinking.
I’ll say I responded with that typical mix of denial and recognition that messes with your head when you are asking yourself “Am I an alcoholic?” But this quiz caught me off guard because aside from the reference to morning drinking, it didn’t include any of those extreme behaviours (DUIs, criminal convictions, job losses) that many take to be the markers of “real” alcoholism. I kind of had no wiggle room on this one. Obviously it didn’t change my behaviour right away. But it sure as hell didn’t let me off the hook as “not a real drunk” like some of the other quizzes had.
I was thinking about this because I’m extra-reflecting on the occasion of my 100 Day Thingie yesterday. I was thinking about all the exhausting years of trying to decide if I was an alcoholic. If someone asked me if they were an alcoholic today, I would ask them these questions:
- Does drinking make you feel shitty about yourself?
- Do you expend a bunch of energy trying to manage your drinking?
- Do you expend a bunch of energy trying to figure out if you’re an alcoholic or not?
- Does the idea of living without alcohol completely freak you out?
For me, these have proven to be the core questions to answer. There are many variations on this of course. Nothing here will be a surprise to anyone who’s been in recovery for a while. But if you just happen to trip on this blog as one who is “sober curious,” maybe you can mull these questions in addition to others you might be asking yourself. I think if I’ve got a big point here it is this: whether you use the label “alcoholic” or not doesn’t matter. In fact it just interferes with the process of honestly answering questions like those in the CAGE, or the similar ones I just asked.
PS: I am no longer nearly as freaked out by the prospect of living alcohol-free. Still a little freaked out, but not terrified like I was when I started. There is hope.