Many of us have preconceived notions about how much alcoholics drink. We think that you need to drink x amount per day to be considered an alcoholic. But do these assumptions hold any merit?
Hardly. The amounts and frequency that alcoholics consume aren’t uniform. Although they tend to increase as alcoholism progresses, the frequency shouldn’t be your guiding principle to determine if there’s a problem.
Of course, science has set amounts that cause health issues. The health effects of too much drinking are known, but is there an actual amount where we can say we’ve become alcoholic? AA offers self-tests rather than hard numbers.
In AA, the best guide is what happens when we start drinking and how we feel when we force ourselves to control our drinking. If, when we start drinking, we lose control over the amount we intended to stop at, or if we can’t enjoy ourselves when we try to control our drinking, we’re probably alcoholic.
We’ll look at tests below that the Big Book recommends to help us determine if we have a problem.
You Have the Power to Diagnose Yourself
It comes down to you. You have to decide whether or not you have a problem before recovery can begin.
Stories can include those who went a few days between drinks. Other people didn’t take high amounts because of their size and genetic makeup, but their life consequences looked as bad as someone who drank like a fish all day.
We’re all wired a bit differently.
Does this mean that all daily drinkers are alcoholic then? Of course not. Heavy drinkers or daily drinkers don’t automatically become alcoholics. They can take it or leave it alone. So we shouldn’t judge them either.
The Difference Between a Hard Drinker and an Alcoholic
The difference between a heavy drinker and a real alcoholic is that the heavy drinker can stop or cut back if there’s a strong enough reason too. For example, a spouse threatening divorce, the lose of a job, or poor health can make the hard drinker, or daily drinker, stop. Alcoholics tend to continue drinking despite tragic consequences.
Controlled Drinking Test
Page 31 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous has a decent test to determine your condition:
We do not like to pronounce any individual as alcoholic, but you can quickly diagnose yourself. Step over to the nearest barroom and try some controlled drinking. Try to drink and stop abruptly. Try it more than once. It will not take long for you to decide if you are honest with yourself about it. It may be worth a bad case of jitters if you get a full knowledge of your condition.
Many people misinterpret this test to mean, “If you aren’t sure that you’re an alcoholic, go get drunk.” However. the text describes clear conditions for the test, namely the part “Try to drink and stop abruptly.” The test doesn’t mean you should drink enough to get a strong buzz, but a few to get started and then suddenly make yourself stop for the rest of the night.
A good way to force your mind around a limited number of drinks is to set a strict, limited budget for how much you’re allowed to spend on alcoholic for the experiment.
If you can’t get the thought out of your mind to consume more after that, then that’s a good time to be honest with yourself about your drinking habit.
Or, if you succeed that night, do you wake up obsessing about the next drink? Can you leave it alone the rest of the week without dwelling on your next drink?
Leave Alcohol Alone for One Full Year
A second test mentioned in the book is to see if you can stay dry for a whole year; that is, a year’s worth of days in a row.
If anyone questions whether he has entered this dangerous area, let him try leaving liquor alone for one year. If he is a real alcoholic and very far advanced, there is scant chance of success […] We think few, to whom this book will appeal, can stay dry anything like a year. Some will be drunk the day after making their resolutions; most of them within a few weeks.Page 34
Although the year test isn’t perfect, and there are exceptions to the rule, it covers a majority of alcoholics. It also doesn’t mean that the year is for you a complete misery of “white-knuckling” sobriety day in and day out until you can drink again.
Also, if the test sounds extreme to being with, that’s a good indication as well.
Even if doctors, friends, and family have diagnosed you as a problem drinker, the pronouncement doesn’t have any benefit until you accept that you are.
Thankfully, the frequency of drinking doesn’t have to be the main factor. Frequency is a vague symptom that varies from person to person, so it’s not a solid method.
Instead, the Big Book provides two distinct tests for you. They are clear-cut directions that you can do privately, without anyone knowing, so you can get an honest picture of where you stand.