There is a facetious answer to the question – what is a drink problem? Empty glass is the problem – another drink the solution. Or drink is the solution – now what was the problem again? In care cases, however, the usual joking between mates will not do.
I am talking about this because I seem to have had a run of cases involving alcohol misuse in which several essential questions have been debated.
* at what point does one person’s drinking become such a problem that the state is justified in interfering?
* what is the definition of an alcoholic?
* what is the definition of alcohol dependence?
* is the only solution to an alcohol issue abstinence?
* can controlled drinking ever work?
* how many chances / how long a timescale is it reasonable to allow someone with an alcohol issue to have before the court should make arrangements for a child to be placed outside the family?
I have found myself over the years giving clients the same advice – first on a general level:
* an alcoholic is not just defined by – someone who starts drinking first thing in the morning and cannot function during a normal day without a drink, that person who drinks more than you and at all hours of the day or who drinks spirits whereas you only drink wine or beer, or the person who drinks alone whereas you only drink in company, or someone who drinks out of a paper bag on a park bench or has lost their driving licence (you just don’t drive so you don’t drive over the limit) or lost their job.
* you could only drink a bit too much once a year but if every time you do so you kill someone you have a serious alcohol misuse issue. We rarely know what we are like for other people when we have been drinking. Binge drinking is not necessarily a separate issue from alcoholism. Very few of your friends are going to tell you just how awful you are when you have been drinking, particularly if your are that friend that they use as an excuse to hide behind ie I am not an alcoholic because X drinks more than me. Many people who are alcohlics or have drink problesm are highly successful in certain areas of their lives.
* if you don’t have a problem and could give up any time then when care proceedings are issued that is a good time to give up – you may not be someone who can never drink again but abstinence is the best way of avoiding all doubt on the issue – if you can take it or leave it then leave it
* don’t kid yourself that the kids don’t know you drink just because you think you only get drunk once they have gone to bed
* don’t kid yourself that just because you aren’t falling down drunk when you meet people or pick the children up from school no-one will notice. Alcohol smells. People can tell from you slurring your words or your level of excitability or the way that you cannot be contacted whenever you are off having a little drink.
* Just because the alcohol advisory service / Psychiatrist you are seeing does not think your physical dependence on alcohol means that the only solution is lifelong abstinence does not mean that you should not just stop. The job of the alcohol support service is to support you no matter what and they will not want to put you off by insisting on abstinence. But your children may need you to stop, your partner may need you to, the professionals may need you to, in order to rebuild confidence. And if it has taken you to a certain low level in life maybe abstinence is something which will be good for you too.
* once drink is raised as an issue you should know that if you say you drink 2 bottles of wine a week or a day everyone will assume that means at least 4 & add one for good measure
* Denial is not a river in Egypt
Here is one test that is applied by Psychiatrists and other substance misuse specialists to decide if you have a problem at the alcoholic level:
Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
Have people ever annoyed you by criticising your level of drinking?
Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
If you answer yes to any two of these questions it is considered to be clinically significant & you have a drink problem. I am sure many people who have ever had a drink will be tempted to answer yes to some of the above questions but if you know that these are regular issues for you and you have lost your driving licence or been convicted of failing to provide a specimen or lost a job or a relationshp or friends or care proceedings have started my main advice is don’r bury your head in the sand. There are a huge range of sources of support – see other posts on this blog with the tag ‘alcohol’ or ‘addiction’.