I get this question frequently. I think the information from the Mayo Clinic, one of the nation’s most highly regarded medical clinics, provides one of the clearest definitions of alcoholism:
“Alcoholism is a chronic and often progressive disease that includes problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect (physical dependence), or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking. If you have alcoholism, you can’t consistently predict how much you’ll drink, how long you’ll drink, or what consequences will occur from your drinking.” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcoholism/basics/definition.
The Mayo Clinic staff also list the symptoms of problem drinking and alcoholism.
“Alcoholism signs and symptoms include those below. You may:
- Be unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
- Feel a strong need or compulsion to drink
- Develop tolerance to alcohol so that you need more to feel its effects
- Drink alone or hide your drinking
- Experience physical withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating and shaking — when you don’t drink
- Not remember conversations or commitments, sometimes referred to as a “black out”
- Make a ritual of having drinks at certain times and become annoyed when this ritual is disturbed or questioned
- Be irritable when your usual drinking time nears, especially if alcohol isn’t available
- Keep alcohol in unlikely places at home, at work or in your car
- Gulp drinks, order doubles or become drunk intentionally to feel good, or drink to feel “normal”
- Have legal problems or problems with relationships, employment or finances due to drinking
- Lose interest in activities and hobbies that used to bring you pleasure
If you binge drink or have other problems with alcohol, you may have many of the signs and symptoms above, although you may not feel as much of a compulsion to drink compared with someone who has alcoholism. Also, you may not have physical withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink. But this pattern of drinking can still cause serious problems and lead to alcoholism. As with alcoholism, you may not be able to quit problem drinking without help.”
Your husband may or may not be a problem drinker but this information should help you (and your husband, if he is open to looking at his behavior) figure it out. Remember, you cannot force insight onto another person and your husband would be the one who needs to take the initiative to get help, if appropriate. If you feel you would benefit from support for yourself, Al-Anon is an excellent resource and offers free meetings for anyone who is concerned about the drinking of a family member or close friend. There are lots of meetings held in Northern Colorado and the contact information can easily be found online and in the phone book.