I’m an ‘alcoholic’, now what?


If you have been diagnosed as alcoholic, or feel that you may have a problem, or if you are just wondering whether drinking is playing a role in the troubles in your life, you are probably wondering what you should do next.  Ok, your doctor says you’re an alcoholic, now what?  Or maybe your friends have suggested you get help.  Or maybe you’ve just gotten a frightened feeling because you promised yourself you wouldn’t, and you did.  Or maybe you’ve lost the ability to control how much you’re drinking, once you’ve begun.

Alcoholism can be very hard to diagnose.  It needs honest answers from the drinker regarding his patterns and thoughts, and this is often difficult to do.  Shame, embarrassment, and fear often cause us to leave parts of the story out, to minimize, or to simply not mention everything.  In addition, alcoholism itself is a deceptive and confusing disease.  It causes the drinker, and often the people around him, to create elaborate justifications, minimizations, and denials around the alcohol use.  Until sometime of sobriety is achieved and the person can look back on their behaviors and thoughts, this denial, confusion, rationalization and justification might be impossible for the drinker to see.  As a result, the drinking person probably is not able to see the whole picture, or to know how sick they are.

You don’t need to worry about the diagnosis right now.  If alcohol has been causing you trouble or pain in your life, it makes sense to abstain and to learn more.  Maybe you are an alcoholic, and maybe you are not.  For now, looking at how alcohol has affected your life can give you some direction to go in.  What you chose to do with the information will always be up to you.  And learning more about yourself, and about alcohol and drug use in general, can only provide you with more knowledge and more power.  Approach with an open mind, and you can’t help but to grow and learn new strength.

Since 1935, when Alcoholics Anonymous was founded, more and more women have entered recovery programs based on the Twelve Steps.  Yet we are finding that women’s recovery may differ in some ways from men’s recovery.  Even more, we are learning that each person’s recovery is unique, and there is no one right way to proceed in “working” the Steps or any other recovery program.  What is most helpful is developing and following a recovery plan that feels right and meaningful to you, while maintaining contact with a strong support network.

What is important in recovery is exploring what you think, feel, and believe.  Connecting that inner life to your actions and interactions with other people is a movement of growth that will come over time.  The experience of connecting your feelings and beliefs (your inner life) with your actions (your outer life) is often called wholeness or integrity.

Progressing in recovery is like climbing a spiral staircase: you cycle up and away from a life that revolved around the object of your addiction, which may have been food, alcohol, other drugs, whatever).  Addiction is a downward spiral into ever tighter circles around the object of your addiction, but in recovery you spiral upward into ever-wider circles of self-knowledge, freedom, and connection to others.  In addiction your inner and outer lives are constricted; in recovery your life expands. 

Think about your answers to these questions as you think about your next steps.

What does the word ‘alcoholic’ mean to you?

How do you feel about the diagnosis of alcoholism, as applied to you?  Does it make sense?  Does it help you?  Is it frightening?

How has your relationship to alcohol changed over time?

What do you think your relationship with alcohol is right now?

What consequences has your drinking had for you?  (Think of legal, emotional, relationship, physical, financial, career aspect of your life.  For example, has your drinking caused you to feel more depressed recently?  Have you been struggling with frequent hangovers?  Have you had arguments or difficulties with friends or family while you have been drinking?)

How do those consequences fit in with what you have learned about alcoholism?

Do you have questions about alcoholism, treatment, or recovery?  Who can you go to for answers to these questions?

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