Addictions and Alcohol Abuse
Addiction is a loaded term. We all have associations with the word “addict,” many of which are negative. The first question people usually ask in counseling is “How can I tell if my spouse is addicted?” Or “How can I tell if I’m addicted?” Usually, behind this question is an entirely different question: “Is my substance use or compulsive behaviour a problem?” We equate addictions with problems–making anything less than an addiction not a problem.
I am very quick to abandon the question of whether someone is addicted because it yields very little fruitful discussion, as substances are not more or less harmful based on your ability to stop yourself from using them. If your spouse smokes in the house, does that mean you have a cigarette addiction? No. Then logically, that must mean it’s not a problem for you, right? Wrong, because we all know that secondhand smoke is still a problem.
The same reasoning holds true with drinking. If you can stop drinking anytime you want, and you only drink at parties once a week where you have 5-7 drinks, is this a problem? Compare this to someone who feels the need for a drink every night. They might say they just can’t relax until they’ve had their drink with dinner and might perhaps describe themselves as addicted to wine. Which would you say is the bigger problem?
Doctors tell us a single glass of wine a day is much easier on our liver and bodies than 5 -7 drinks in one night. Strictly from a health perspective, binge drinking on weekends is much harder on our bodies and would be considered the larger problem.
However we still do not have enough information on these two scenarios because we have yet to ask ourselves the most important questions: How is this substance use impacting my life? How does it impact my relationships? Work life? Physical health? Psychological and emotional health? Brain functioning? Financial health? Spiritual health? Forrest Gump says, “Stupid is as stupid does” and with any substance use, “problem is as problem does.”
Instead of asking “Am I addicted?” we should be asking “Is it causing problems in my life, and are those problems worth the benefits?”
Many of us would readily admit to a coffee addiction and identify strongly with the need to have it every morning – we may even experience withdrawal symptoms without our daily dose of caffeine. Negative health consequences may result in the coffee and sugar and added costs that are required to feed that coffee addiction. That being said, most people are willing to live with the consequences of having one coffee a day, seven days a week, because the negative consequences do not outweigh the positive for them.
So if you’re wondering whether or not you want to make changes to your substance use or compulsive behaviour, it is not as simple as asking, “Am I addicted?” You owe it to yourself to consider all the pros and cons of using the substance and how it is impacting your life.
If you’re questioning your substance use at this point in your life, doesn’t it warrant a conversation with a professional? Professional counselors can ask the right questions and provide you with relevant information so you can make informed decisions. They can equip with you with the tools and strategies to implement changes should you decide that you would like to reduce your usage and some of the negative consequences of your substance use.
“How we view the problem largely determines how we view the solution.”
David Knapp, MC. CCC.