There’s a new way to think about how much you drink, and whether that amount is working for you or not.
“Some people think that everything’s OK as long as alcohol isn’t affecting relationships or finances, and that isn’t necessarily true,” says researcher Ashley Linden-Carmichael, Ph.D., in the department of Biobehaviorial Health at Penn State University.
New thinking is that problem drinking falls along a wide spectrum, from not being able to get out of bed without a drink to hitting up way too many happy hours. For this and other reasons, scientists and addiction experts would like to abolish the term “alcoholic” and use the clumsier but more accurate “alcohol use disorder” now.
That’s because you can have an alcohol use disorder even if you’re not getting hammered every day. People who don’t know that there’s more than one type of overuse don’t get diagnosed or do anything about their drinking until they hit “rock bottom.” Since the disorder is a progressive condition that easily escalates, an early ID can save you a lot of trouble.
Plus, the term “alcoholic” is not only far from being descriptive, it actually conveys the wrong description: it’s loaded with shame and stigma. “It implies that the problem is the person, and that’s not the way we view it anymore,” says Andrew J. Saxon, M.D., chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Council on Addiction Psychiatry. It’s like being “a diabetic” rather than a person with diabetes. The disorder isn’t who you are, it’s just a brain issue that’s happening to you…and to almost 10 million other men in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health.
How Do You Know If You Have Trouble with Alcohol?
To know if you’re on the alcohol use disorder spectrum, you can take an online quiz (like this one from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). Because even a combination of drinking more when you said you’d have just one and needing more alcohol than you used to just to catch a buzz could indicate trouble. You don’t have to wake up in bed with a stranger wondering how you got there for alcohol to have its grips on you.
If you’re not into quizzes (or are afraid to see the results), try this: Take a 30-day break from drinking. (Might as well do it in Dry January, when everyone else is doing it, too.) If you can’t do it, it’s a hint that you may want to rethink your relationship with alcohol.