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Different Tests, Different Results. Am I an Alcoholic?

I am 26 years old, and recently I realized that I’ve been drinking more than I used to. I then looked at AA’s 20 questions test to see if I was an alcoholic. I answered ‘yes’ to 6 questions and got a 30% score, rendering me an alcoholic. This was so outlandish to me that I starting wondering whether a) I was an alcoholic in denial, or whether b) the AA 20 questions will render anyone an alcoholic.

I then stumbled over your website and took The Michigan Alcohol Screening Test. Here I only scored a single point by answering ‘no’ to the first question, and I really felt I was being honest with myself. So I am a little confused. The fact that I even asked myself the question ‘am I an alcoholic?’ is alarming to me, but I am also questioning whether that might be because I’ve recently gotten to know some recovering and non-recovering alcoholics, and their presence in my life simply make me overreact to my own situation?

In all honesty, I never felt that drinking has been a problem for me, or that is has ever negatively influenced my life. Still, I would like your opinion on my drinking habits. Therefore I’ve commented below on the 6 out of the 20 AA questions to which I answered ‘yes’, and I have critically assessed myself according to your ‘signs of alcoholism’ list.

6 of AA’s 20 questions:

Do I lose time from work due to drinking? Yes, in the evening after a day, which really hasn’t been as productive as it should have been (not due to drinking, but due to the general procrastinating habits of student life), I am telling myself that I ought to do some work, but instead I end up having a couple of drinks either with friends or by myself.

Do I crave a drink at a definite time daily? Yes, definitely. Usually around or after 8 PM I want a drink or two.

Has my efficiency decreased since drinking? Yes, sometimes I go out for a drink or have a few drinks by myself instead of studying.

Do I drink to escape worries or trouble? Yes, but not on a regular basis. It has happened a couple of times in my life that I went on a binge to drown my sorrows, but it never became a habit.

Do I drink alone? Yes. See above.

Do I drink to build up my self-confidence. Yes, but never for that purpose alone. Sometimes, when I am in a social setting where alcohol is being consumed, I always enjoy the feeling of increased confidence that comes with a little buzz.

The 'Signs of alcoholism' list:

When it comes to craving; If I am busy working, if I am hanging out with my girlfriend, if I’m at the university, etc, I don’t worry about ‘my next drink’. But in some situations I think it would be more cosy to have a drink than not having one. Today I met a guy at a café, with whom I was supposed to do an interview, and as we went to the bar and he ordered a coffee, I almost asked him if he would care for a drink. This was at 4 in the afternoon.

Regarding tolerance, I am definitely at a point when I need to drink more (by more I mean 4-5 drinks to get tipsy) to get the same effect. Should I perhaps try to set a 2-to-3-drinks-per-night rule or something, and see if I can do that comfortably?

As regards continued use; if I start feeling bad when drinking, I immediately stop, go home, drink two pints of water, and go to bed. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve puked during a night out. I’ve never had blackouts or any loss of memory. Nights when I drink a lot (i.e. 8-10 drinks in one night) are very few and very far between (every 2-3 months or so). I rarely party on weekends. When I am drinking alone I never drink to the point when I feel bad.

When I sit home alone at night, having spent the day working, I really do crave a drink or two (or four), as to reward myself. However, it is not something I do secretively to avoid getting caught or to avoid suspicion. If I was with a friend or at my girlfriend’s place, I’d probably still pop open the Johnny Walker -- even though I'd probably not have as many. I never drink during the daytime, simply because that would just feel plain wrong.

I never hide my supply of alcohol. I proudly have my whisky blends, Scottish single malts and port wine on display, and the boxed red wine is in the middle of the living room. I never have alcohol on me ‘just in case’. When I can afford it I do have a lot of alcohol around the house, though.

Yes, I do occasionally find an excuse to drink. If I am hanging out with friends after dinner time or if I am home alone after a day’s work, my excuse is simply: “I deserve it”. Is that an excuse? On two occasions during my life -- respectively a break-up and a custody case gone bad -- I have had a lot to drink because I wanted to numb the pain in that period. I didn’t keep drinking heavily after that, though, and I’ve gotten my life back together and handled my fatherly responsibilities extremely well.

I’ve never made false promises about my drinking. However, at the moment of writing this, I’ve promised myself to never have more than 3 drinks per night from now on. We’ll see how that works out!

I NEVER avoid family or friends. I am an extremely social person, and if anything, having a few drinks makes me even more social. Should I be worried about that?

So to sum my questions: Am I already and alcoholic in denial? Am I maybe in the first stage of alcoholism and need to watch out? Or am I simply overreacting to something that isn’t a problem?

Many thanks in advance,
John Answer

Thanks for your question John, and you're right, sometimes these diagnostic tests practically render anyone who likes a drink an alcoholic ... so you have to apply a bit of common sense, coupled with honesty and awareness about your drinking and how it's effecting you.

The big test is probably whether alcohol is starting to have any real negative consequences on your life, or how you feel about yourself. Having the odd hangover that leaves you feeling lethargic and not up to working doesn't really count.

But are you genuinely starting to struggle with your day-day responsibilities ... whether it be work or taking care of your kids? Are any of your relationships being effected by your drinking? Is it effecting how you feel about yourself, e.g. feeling more depressed or withdrawn?

When any of these things start happening is when you start to develop a genuine drinking problem which is likely to develop into full-blown alcoholism, which is ultimately defined by dependence (physical and/or emotional) and loss of control (once you start drinking, you can't stop).

So if you're quite capable and comfortable having a drink or two, and then being able to stop without effort, chances are you aren't an alcoholic. But if after you have that first drink it's then a case of all or nothing, there's a problem.

And sure sometimes you'll drink more than others, depending on the situation, but having one or two too many doesn't necessarily make you an alcoholic (even if it can be highly irresponsible depending on the circumstances like drinking/driving).

Yes alcoholism is progressive so early stage alcoholism can look like anyone who likes to have a drink more regularly than most. But the difference in the alcoholic to be, is that he/she inevitably drinks to the limit ... and moderation or having a couple just isn't possible once he/she gets started.

So hope that helps. Sounds like you've given it a lot of thought and have enough self-awareness to recognise if you have a genuine problem, which on the face of what you've said doesn't seem to be the case.

Take Care

Comments for Different Tests, Different Results. Am I an Alcoholic?

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Nah, you're alright
by: Anonymous

Common sense says you're not an alcoholic. So I wouldn't worry about it. Looks like you're over-analyzing things. There's a difference between enjoying a drink and having 'one too many' on occasion, and alcohol causing you real problems in your life. Once alcohol becomes a problem for you in any area of your life, and you find you struggle to control your drinking, then you should be concerned and maybe look to do something. But for now it doesn't seem like it's a problem for you. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be careful, but as things stand it looks like you've got enough sense to realise if you actually were an alcoholic.

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