Am I an Alcoholic or Binge Drinker?

This is a pretty long, but it includes as much information about my drinking history as I could conjure up so as to give you the complete picture.

Reading your site has been very interesting. However, I feel even more confused about what my problem is or is not: Am I a binge drinker with a possibility of reforming myself to moderation or am I an “alcoholic?” Am I somewhere in between? Does it matter how I “label” my drinking problem? Should I go to A.A?

Here’s my story:

I have been drinking since I was about 16 years old. I have drank socially in a very rock and roll scene with the intent to get drunk by the time I was probably 17. For many years, my intention when drinking socially was to get tipsy or drunk.

I would say in my mid twenties, I started having more consequences with my drinking–Terrible hangovers bordering on alcohol poisoning, black outs, I hit a car on my bike coming home from a party and woke up the next morning with a busted up shoulder. I was bruised, had a swollen face and hands. I didn’t remember how it happened.

Later in my 20’s, I got a D.U.I, and that was definitely not the only time I’d ever driven under the influence…yes, I’m very grateful that was the the only thing that ever happened.

However, I should note that this “binge-drinking” was then, and still is regulated to one night only–in the past in my 20’s and early 30’s–sometimes several times a week, or several times a month–but not usually consecutive nights of “binging.”

When I met my husband, I had had a really rough couple of years, and was drinking more heavily than I had in the past. He and I liked to kill several bottles of wine every few nights together for a while after we met. However, a handful of times I went out with out him socially after we met, and I’d come home wasted or even blacked out– I soon chose to go to A.A.

Shortly after that, I found out I was pregnant. I quit drinking entirely for my pregnancy. I dropped out of A.A due to personal difficulties with the program.

At this point, 6 years later, though I drink less often that I used to, I am still unable to control my drinking socially with any regularity AT ALL. While in my 20’s I used to drink with the intention of getting “wasted,” for the past decade, I’ve gotten wasted WITHOUT INTENDING to AT ALL.

I also suffer from really debilitating hangovers, and lately I’ve been experiencing severe anxiety with them.

What seems odd to me, is that during the week when my husband comes home with a 6 pack, I am perfectly capable of having a couple of beers with him at home without needing more.

I really run into trouble when I drink socially, and over the holiday’s I’ve blacked out coming home from 2 dinner parties, and 3 days ago I went to the bar for “a drink or two” after a fight with my husband, and don’t remember coming home.

I also woke up with the kind of hangover that death would be preferable to. I had to pick up my son from school in this pathetic condition. I spent the afternoon on the couch while my kid watched cartoons and played with lego–and no, I’m not proud of it.

The question I’m having is–where do I fit in here in terms of my alcohol problem? I don’t appear to be “dependent” on alcohol. After a night of drinking excessively and recovering from a stinking hangover, I don’t even want to smell alcohol, let alone drink it. I go for days with out drinking a drop, and as I said, the next time my husband comes home with a beer or two, I might have a glass or two, and that will be it. Beer or wine can be in the house with out me “having” to drink it. I don’t drink in the morning or afternoon, or every day. This pattern has remained relatively unchanged over the years.

I am pretty darn sure I should quit drinking, but it I really enjoy it on the occasions that I don’t over drink–my husband and I especially enjoy drinking a beer or two together at home or at the beach.

I’ve decided to go back to A.A. for the support, but after hearing peoples stories of hospitalization, homelessness, rehab, losing everything, etc, I wonder if I belong there? Also, when I explained my drinking problem/ pattern to people in A.A, I got a lot of disbelief or skepticism that I was telling the truth about being able to moderate when I don’t drink socially. I got a lot of “Oh, you’re one of those ‘situational’ alcoholics.”

I really want the in-person support, and there aren’t any alternatives in my area. I want the support and fellowship–but not the head trips!

So, any analysis of my situation and what to do next would be great. I don’t want my boy to see me like that again. That’s just crap on my part.

Sincerely, GG


Thanks for putting yourself out there and sharing the not-so-pretty parts of yourself. That isn’t easy!

I think you are well aware that you have a problem with alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse is defined as recurrent use of alcohol resulting in failure to fulfill major role obligations such as being a good mom, recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous such as driving a car, recurrent alcohol-related legal problems, or continured alcohol use despite persistent social or interpersonal problems caused by it. Notice the word “or”. You only need to have one of these criteria to label it alcohol abuse. From what you’ve said, you have at least 3 of the 4.

Now, alcohol dependence is different. Some signs of alcohol dependence include building a tolerance (needing more alcohol to achieve the same effect that you could get before with less alcohol), having physical withdrawal symptoms (which can include anxiety-like reactions, vomiting, general ill-feeling), drinking in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended, unsuccessful attempts at controlling drinking, giving up important activities in order to drink, spending a great deal of time around drinking behaviors, and continuing to drink despite having physical or psycholgoical problems as a result. Only three of these signs are necessary for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence. From what you’ve said, I think it’s quite possible you are dependent. Dependence doesn’t always involve daily drinking.

I’m not sure the label is the important element. If drinking is affecting your life in a negative way, only you can change that. I recommend AA, regular counseling, and a commitment to yourself and your child to better your life. If you wait until you want to quit, you may never quit. Don’t think about going a week or a month or a year without alcohol. Just think about going today without it and then tomorrow think about going tomorrow without it and so on. This is why they say, “One day at a time.” It’s too overwhelming to project further down the road.

I believe you can do this now, you have to believe it! Take that first step to recovery.

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