I have been working with addicts for several years and I have learned that as unique the disease of addiction is, it is also startlingly similar to other diseases. As with other diseases and public health concerns, prevention is always easier and cheaper than treatment to eliminate the disease.
So if you are asking yourself if alcohol has become an issue for you, it probably a really good time for you to take a really hard look at what role alcohol plays in your life.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) IV-TR looks at several different factors when deciphering between dependence and abuse. Factors like increased tolerance, withdrawals, drinking to avoid with drawls, inability to cutback/stop on your own, social consequences (including trouble at work and legal issues), etc.
*Important note. If you are addicted to alcohol, withdrawals can be dangerous and may require medical attention to avoid/minimize symptoms like seizures and delirium tremens. If you have been drinking daily for a long period of time, it is necessary to consult a physician before trying to just go “cold turkey.” http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/alcohol-withdrawal-symptoms-treatments *
So how do you know if you are abusing alcohol or dependent? Well, that is a simple question with a complicated answer. Most people avoid looking at this question b/c they are worried about the stigma attached to addiction and I have lost count of how many times someone has said either in jest or seriously that they can’t imagine never drinking ever again. So, maybe there is a midway point.
Most 12 step advocates (which I would include myself in) don’t know about or don’t talk about moderation programs. And frankly, if you’re an addict, you will not be able to stick to a moderation plan for very long. But if you fall into the ‘abuse’ category, you may find some relief and success with moderating your drinking instead of absolute abstinence.
Most moderation programs, like Moderation Management (http://www.moderation.org) begin with a period of abstinence (usually 30-60 days), and then help you create a plan for moderating yourself. They typically offer a community of support online and/or locally and help you track your success around moderation.
If you are unable to moderate your drinking, it may be time to consider the possibility that you have a problem with alcohol. The good news is there are countless communities and resources to help you work through your addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous is probably the most well known and has the most empirical data supporting it but there are other options as well, CBT counseling, SMART Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery, Rational Recovery, etc. Like with most other things in life, I encourage your to try not only AA but at least one or two other programs to ensure the best fit.