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“Almost Alcoholic”: Do You Fit the Profile?

Jennifer came to therapy expressing concern about the level of stress in her life. She had recently begun to have trouble sleeping, which led to her being tired and cranky during the day. Her normal sunny disposition seemed to have disappeared and she sometimes felt slightly depressed, which was unusual for her. During her initial interview, Jennifer mentioned that she had started drinking more than usual to cope with the added stress in her life, which had been exacerbated by a demanding new job and a move to a new town. She was not concerned about her drinking, however, even though she realized it was not the best way to try to cope with her stress.

What Jennifer did not realize was that her drinking was a problem, and it was likely a contributing factor in the symptoms she was reporting. Jennifer’s accelerated drinking pattern had landed her in a category of drinkers called “almost alcoholic.”

The “Almost Alcoholic”

Dr. Robert L. Doyle, professor of behavioral health at Harvard University and psychologist Dr. Joseph Nowinski, authors of Almost Alcoholic (Hazelden Books, 2012) say that he difference between an “almost alcoholic” and a “true” alcoholic is a matter of degree. Doyle and Nowinski estimate that more than 30 percent of people who drink alcohol will at some point have negative consequences result from their drinking. Yet most of these people are not alcoholics. They are, instead, “almost alcoholics”.

The “almost alcoholic’s” drinking has not yet caused the more serious types of problems that are accepted as signs of true alcoholism, or alcohol dependence.

The “True Alcoholic”

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), the signs of alcohol dependence include:

  • Strong cravings or urge for a drink
  • An inability to stop drinking at will
  • Physical symptoms upon withdrawal
  • An increased tolerance for the amount of alcohol consumed before signs of intoxication

Jennifer, like many other alcohol users, fell into a large grey area of drinkers, whose drinking habits ranges from barely past the ”social” drinking level to those whose drinking habits border on, but are not quite serious enough to be called, alcohol dependence.

Even so, when problems are linked to drinking, there is a need to address one’s consumption. Unfortunately if a person does not fall into the category of “alcoholic,” they are usually reluctant to see the connection between their drinking habits and their problems. By not acknowledging the negative consequences associated with their drinking, they hinder their ability to solve any problems that arise.

It is best to be radically honest with yourself, if you have any concerns whatsoever that your drinking may be problematic. Below are the signs that describe an” almost alcoholic.” Do you fit the profile?

…if a person does not fall into the category of “alcoholic,” they are usually reluctant to see the connection between their drinking habits and their problems.-Rita Milios

Almost Alcoholic Warning Signs

  • You drink to relieve stress
  • You drink alone
  • You drink to relieve boredom or loneliness
  • You look forward to drinking
  • You drink to overcome shyness
  • You have health issues which may be related to drinking
  • You drive after drinking
  • Your work performance has faltered
  • You prefer social situations where drinking is involved

Turning “Almost Alcoholic” Behaviors Around

What should you do if you find yourself saying “yes” to a number of the warning signs above? First, by admitting that there could be a connection between your drinking habits and any problems you are experiencing, you can avoid a possible progression from “almost alcoholic” to true alcoholic behavior. In addition, you will be able to reduce the negative consequences you experience and improve your overall health as at the same time.

In their book, Almost Alcoholic, Drs. Doyle and Nowinski suggest the following strategies to avoid going from “almost alcoholic” to true alcoholic.

  • Identify and assess your patterns of alcohol use
  • Evaluate the impact that alcohol use has on your relationships, work, and personal well-being
  • Develop strategies and goals for changing the amount and frequency of your alcohol use, and measure the results of applying these strategies
  • Make informed decisions about your next steps (for example, should you seek counseling, attend a support group, etc.)

In addition, the following guidelines from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) can provide insight into the “norms” for various drinking levels, from low-risk drinking to heavy drinking and risk for alcohol dependence.

  • Low Risk Drinking
  • Men: no more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week
  • Women: no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week
  • Binge Drinking
  • Approximately 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men within a 2-hour period (blood alcohol level 0.08)
  • Heavy Drinking
  • 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days

Lingering Dangers

The NIAAA warns that even within these limits, you can have problems if you drink too quickly or have other health issues. And there are certain people should avoid alcohol completely, including those who:

  • Plan to drive a vehicle or operate machinery
  • Take medications that interact with alcohol
  • Have a medical condition that alcohol can aggravate
  • Are pregnant or trying to become pregnant

If you follow the guidelines above and practice moderation, you should be able to consume alcoholic beverages without concerns. Since it is better to be proactive rather than reactive, by keeping track of your consumption, you can assure that your social drinking does not slip into “almost alcoholic” behavior, or beyond; and both your health and your lifestyle will benefit.

Image Courtesy of iStock

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