I Don’t Have a Problem…Do I?
When I was a teenager I was told that I ran a high risk for addiction because of my family history and early experimentation with drugs and alcohol. But I quickly dismissed these warnings because I had just begun to dabble – so there was no way I could be an addict. Right?
From that moment forward I constantly questioned and doubted the existence of my disease. I continued to make justifications and excuses for my drinking and drug use, convincing myself of why it was not a problem in my life. I told myself I was only having a little fun, that everyone else was doing the same thing. But now I know that I was just in denial.
My drinking and use of other substances really took off when I went to college. I began experiencing blackouts which worried me slightly but I quickly shrugged it off. After all it was college. This was the beginning of my attempts to control my drinking. I’d try to count how many drinks I was had, telling myself I wouldn’t go past 6. I even went as far as keeping my beer tabs in my pocket to keep track. But after reaching the set limit I always seemed to convince myself that a few more couldn’t hurt.The mornings after blackouts or spotty nights I would attempt to pinpoint the culprit. It must have been that specific liquor or the combination of beer and liquor. But drinking itself was never the problem! It was so much of my identity. I knew what day it was by the bar I was in. I took pride in the fact I could “drink like the boys”. I would tell myself it was fine, that it was college and everyone drank this way. I figured I was just learning through trial and error.
But in time, my use started resulting in more consequences. Friendships were lost due to arguments or my behavior, some of which I had little or no memory. My grades began to fall because when I woke I was still so intoxicated from the night before I was unable to drag myself out of bed. Nursing my hangovers, drowning in physical pain and emotional regret I began to question -is my drinking normal or is this a problem? Below are some of the questions and rationalizations I used to justify my addiction and behavior.
Do I drink too much? Doesn’t everyone binge drink in college?
I attempted to convince myself that I was drinking and using just like everyone else. I had convinced myself that everyone drank and used, but the fact was that I only hung out with people who behaved the same way I did.
Aren’t blackouts are a normal part of drinking?
I thought everyone blacked out. My friend’s and I had shared stories about the night and almost always there were pieces that people didn’t remember. I failed to realize the severity of this issue until I was jokingly explaining the massive bruises on my legs as my UDI’s, or unidentified drunken injuries, and saying “Well, everyone has black outs!” My sister locked eyes on me and said “No Abby, they don’t.”
Why can’t just have a few and call it a night?
I saw other people drinking with impunity or making decisions not to drink because they had important tests or assignments the following day. For some reason, I always felt compelled to go out and drink “a few” but the few more often then not turned into many. Now, I believe that was the mental obsession and compulsion that drives an alcoholic to continue to drink.
Why am I not moving on and advancing like other are?
My friends were all moving on and graduating. They were finding jobs and beginning their adult lives. I felt suck, like I was trapped in this cycle unable to advance in my own life. I never considered my drinking or using was contributing to my failure to launch. I was convinced that I had bad luck, that I was a basically a victim of circumstances. I’d tell myself I caught a bad break, that teacher just doesn’t like me, that job was too demanding anything that would relieve me of responsibility or blame.
Because I don’t drink every day that means I cannot be an alcoholic?
This one I held onto for many years. I had a preconceived notion that being an alcoholic meant you drink every day, start first thing in the morning putting liquor in your coffee, hiding booze all over your house. Although some of these characteristics can be true they are not requirements. What I failed to recognize and admit to myself was, when I did drink I did so until there was nothing left almost every time unless I fell asleep first. When I drank, I did not always get into trouble but every time I got into trouble, alcohol was involved. Holding onto a stigmatizing definition of what a person with substance use disorder “looks like” kept me in denial and from seeking help for many years.
If you find yourself questioning your drinking or use habits I encourage you to seek the counsel of a professional or a trusted friend, preferably not someone you drink with socially. Ask yourself, how does your drinking make you feel? Does it add to your life? Does it bring out the best in you? If it is not impacting your life in a positive way perhaps it may be time for a change?