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Addiction & Substance Overuse

Are You or a Loved One “Almost Alcoholic?”

One of the pitfalls of aging is self-medicating with alcohol: using it to mask physical and emotional pain, drinking out of boredom with more time on one’s hands, or taking it as a sleep aid (even though it tends to interfere with sleep). Joseph Nowinsky and Robert Doyle, co-authors of a recent book called Almost Alcoholic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Drinking a Problem? believe a great number of social drinkers who progress to alcohol abuse in their middle and senior years could avoid becoming alcoholics with the proper guidance.

The book is part of Harvard Medical School’s series, The Almost Effect, which suggests that a number of physical and behavioral conditions exist on a spectrum rather than as medical conditions one either does or does not have. The purpose of Almost Alcoholic is to help individuals figure out if their drinking is a problem, propose strategies for dealing with the problem, and provide tools for measuring progress of stepping back from the edge into a healthier approach to drinking alcohol.

Alcoholism, like drug addiction, is considered a chronic and progressive disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. A clinical diagnosis of alcoholism may include a need for increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication, physical symptoms of withdrawal when alcohol is withheld, and problems with relationships, work, and living (paying bills, for instance) due to a preoccupation with drinking.

Just as some people are pre-diabetic, can some drinkers be “almost alcoholic?” If so, can catching them at an earlier stage of alcohol use keep them from abusing alcohol? And, to suggest a fairly radical idea, could almost alcoholics qualify for treatment for alcohol dependency before they are fully dependent alcoholics?

The authors suggest these signs indicate one is moving away from social drinking and into alcoholic territory.

  • You drink to relieve stress.
  • You often drink alone.
  • You look forward to drinking.
  • Your drinking may be related to one or more health problems.
  • You drink to relieve boredom or loneliness.
  • You sometimes drive after drinking.
  • You drink to maintain a “buzz.”
  • Your performance at work is not what it used to be.
  • You aren’t comfortable in social situations without drinking.
  • You find that drinking helps you overcome your shyness.

The action they propose is to identify and assess your patterns of alcohol use; evaluate its impact on your relationships, work, and personal well-being; develop strategies and goals for changing the amount and frequency of alcohol use; measure the results of applying these strategies; and make informed decisions about your next steps.

One criteria of alcoholism they don’t mention, however, is “You are in denial about why, when, where, and how often you drink, and about the consequences to yourself and others of your drinking.”

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