The High-Functioning Alcoholic

Understanding this Hidden Class of Alcoholics from a Professional and Personal View

Failed New Year’s Resolutions to Cut Back on Drinking: Time to "Think about Your Drinking"

New Year's resolution- trouble sticking to cutting back on drinking?

Was your New Year's resolution to cut back or to stop drinking? Have you been able to stick to it or are your struggling? If you have succeeded, how are you feeling?

If someone has an alcohol problem or is alcoholic then it may not be as simple as setting a "resolution" to solve the issue. In fact, when an alcoholic stops drinking on their own, they often feel worse than when they were drinking-not exactly positive reinforcement. However, this makes sense considering that alcohol masks underlying conditions and emotions, so when an alcoholic stops drinking those symptoms rise to the surface.

Alcoholics who are trying to either "cure" themselves or prove to themselves that they do not have a problem may attempt to give up alcohol for religious reasons such as Lent or for secular reasons such as a New Year's resolution. However, it is important that they ask themselves how they are feeling during the time that they stopped drinking and if they are still obsessing about alcohol, using another substance or engaging in addictive behavior as a substitution (ie, food, gambling, sex). Or are they counting down the days until they can drink again? In contrast, a normal drinker who takes a break from drinking is indifferent about their choice, will usually feel healthier not drinking and does not obsess about the fact that they are not drinking- they just don't drink. In fact, even a problem drinker who wants to cut back on drinking will be able to self-correct and return to low risk drinking limits (women: under 7 drinks per week, no more than 3 per sitting men: under 15 drinks per week and no more than 4 per sitting). However, a red flag is that alcoholics may attempt to cut back but will not be able to adhere to these low risk drinking limits.

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If you or someone you know is taking a break or cutting back on drinking as a New Year's resolution then maybe it is time to "Think about Your Drinking". Here are some questions to help you or a loved one to get honest:

Examining Your "Relationship" with Alcohol:
o Why do you drink? How often do you drink? Can you go more than a week without drinking?
o Have you tried to control your drinking and if so, how much time do you spend thinking about drinking   or about how not to drink too much?
o Can you imagine your life without alcohol?

Friendships:
o What activities do you and your friends like to do together?
o Do you have friends who do not drink?
o Can you socialize or go to parties without drinking?

Interests:
o What is your favorite thing to do?
o Do you have interests, activities and hobbies that do not involve drinking?
o Does drinking alcohol distract you from taking part in these things?

Work and Academics:
o Does drinking interfere with your work or academic performance?
o Do you excel professionally or academically and use your success as an excuse to drink?
o Is alcohol your reward for doing well?

Family:
o Do you hide your drinking from your family?
o Do you have different drinking habits when you know you will be around your family than when you are with your friends?
o Do you have a family history of alcohol problems?

The NIAAA "Rethinking Drinking" online program is a resource to help people to cut back and assess their drinking: www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/

Remember, if you have to control something then it is generally out of control.  There is help available for you or for your loved one. Please feel free to email me at sarah@highfunctioningalcoholic.com for referral help or for treatment resources check out my Website at: www.highfunctioningalcoholic.com

Sarah Allen Benton, M.S., L.M.H.C., LPC, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and author of Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic: Professional Views and Personal Insights.

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