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How Do I Know If I Suffer from Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a progressive and fatal disease that can completely destroy our lives. Many people struggle with determining whether or not their drinking is under control or if it is, in fact, alcoholism. There are two ways to examine whether one has the disease of addiction and alcoholism—the current medical understanding or the disease, and the descriptions of alcoholism in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The National Institutes of Health explain four major symptoms of alcoholism: craving, loss of control, physical dependence, and tolerance. Craving is the need to drink, loss of control is being unable to stop drinking, physical dependence is shown through withdrawal symptoms, and tolerance is the need to drink more and more alcohol to feel the same effects. The NIH also lists binge drinking as a common problem associated with alcoholism—five or more drinks in a two-hour period for men, and four or more drinks in a two-hour time period for women. There is a distinction, however, between the physical symptoms required to determine alcoholism from a medical standpoint and the descriptions of alcoholism provided by the cumulative experience of member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous explains that there are three different types of drinkers: moderate drinkers, hard drinkers, and the “real alcoholic.” Moderate drinkers are able to easily give up their drinking if they have a good reason, while hard drinkers begin to show the negative mental and physical effects of drinking or even physical dependence, but they are also able to stop drinking if they have a sufficient strong reason. The “real alcoholic”, however, is quite different: “He does absurd, incredible, tragic things while drinking. He is a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is seldom mildly intoxicated. He is always more or less insanely drunk,” and further, “He is often perfectly sensible and well-balanced concerning everything except liquor, but in that respect, he is incredible dishonest and selfish.” The Big Book explains that, when someone who suffers from alcoholism has a drink, “something happens, both in the bodily and mental sense, which makes it virtually impossible for him to stop. The experience of any alcoholic will abundantly confirm this.” Coming to the determination that one suffers from the disease of alcoholism requires a thorough examination of the nature of one’s drinking and how it has affected his or her life.

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