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Am I an alcoholic, or do I just like to drink – or at what point are the two no longer mutually exclusive? It’s a tricky question that many of us might have to face at some point in our lives. At what point does having a drink become having a drinking problem? Will I recognize it before it happens? Am I too late? These are the tricky questions that we try not to think about; but they’re also the questions we often need to ask the most.

Millions of Americans suffer from either alcoholism or problem drinking that will likely lead to dependence. For most, alcohol will never be a problem; but for many, it can be devastating. Identifying whether or not you have crossed that invisible line, to where you might need help, can be difficult, but there are warning signs you can use to help guide you to a better understanding of the problem.

Have you ever experienced any of the following?

  • Feeling guilty or ashamed about your drinking
  • Lied to others about, or tried to hide your drinking habits
  • Had a friend or family member express concern about your drinking
  • Felt like a drink was the only way to relax or feel better
  • Had a blackout, or couldn’t remember what you did while drinking
  • Regularly drink more than you had intended to
  • Neglected your responsibilities at work, home, or school because of your drinking

Every person is different and can be affected differently by alcohol – but it’s important to note that there are certain factors that can cause a person to be more susceptible to alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Having alcoholism or addiction in your family can put you at risk, as at least some portion of addiction is genetic; further, having a preexisting condition such as anxiety or depression can also increase your risk. Your social networks also play a role- if you primarily spend time with other heavy drinkers or users, you may very well have a problem.

It’s easy to deny we might have a problem or might be getting close to that point. We might try to rationalize things by underestimating how much we actually drink, or downplaying the consequences of our drinking. We might complain that our family and friends are exaggerating the problem, or we may even find ways to blame them for our drinking in the first place. We tell ourselves that we can stop drinking anytime we want to, or that we aren’t hurting anyone else but ourselves, or that it doesn’t affect our jobs so it must not really be a problem. But deep down we know that none of that is really true – and that can cause us to drink every more.

The truth is – a person with a drinking problem and a job is still a person with a drinking problem. And how we use alcohol doesn’t just affect us, it affects the people around us as well. The fact that you might not be an alcoholic today doesn’t mean it can’t happen to you ever. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism sneak up on people when they are least suspecting. Examine your drinking habits and be brutally honest with yourself. Am I at risk of possibly developing a drinking problem? If the answer is yes, then you owe it to yourself, and everyone you love, to address the issue earlier than later. Seek the advice of a professional and reach out for support. Don’t wait for things to get harder.