When Is Drinking A Problem?

By January 21, 2013 October 21st, 2019 Addiction, Alcohol, Alcoholism, Co-Occurring, Mental Illness

This photo demonstrates what it is like to live with alcoholismProbably the most long-standing debate in the field of addiction medicine is the question about how a person should determine whether or not they have a drinking problem.  As anyone in the field knows, this can be a lengthy argument, which at the end of the day, often results in more questions than answers, and frequently a good deal of frustration!  This needn’t be the case.  Over the years, I have reduced this issue down to a few key points which, if addressed, can make the answer a bit less cloudy. 

First, if there is any question about whether or not a person has a problem with alcohol (or any substance), they should seek professional advice, usually in the form of a formal evaluation with an addiction specialist.  This seems like a burdensome answer, but the truth is that a skilled professional, with years of experience is in the best position to weigh in on the answer.

At the end of the day, I believe that addiction, and/or substance abuse can be boiled down to three main components, and this is important because when people get bogged down in fancy textbook definitions, things get complicated.  The first two questions apply more to addiction and the third question applies more to substance abuse.  (If you drink only once per month but wind up in jail every time because of your behavior – you probably have a drinking problem even though you are not technically “addicted”.)

Ask yourself these three questions and see if they apply. 

  • Do I have a mental obsession about drinking?
    1. Do I think about alcohol all, or a lot of the day, most days?
    2. Do I think about drinking after work obsessively or do I look forward to that drink every night a little too much?
  • Is it difficult to stop?
    1. Can I imagine going a few days without alcohol? A week? A month? Three months?  A year?
  • Is alcohol causing problems in my life?
    1. DWIs, fighting with loved ones, problems at work, physical problems?

The truth is that a ‘yes’ answer to any of these questions warrants further investigation.  Think of it this way: most people do not obsess about drinking, they can stop easily for long periods of time and alcohol doesn’t interfere with their lives. If this isn’t the case, it’s probably a good idea to check into it!

Scott Bienenfeld, M.D

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