Am I an Alcoholic?
Self-Quiz

Check your drinking habits.

Alcoholic Self-Quiz

Do you often drink alcohol in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended?

Intended for Educational Use. This test is based on the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder established in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Though we have put in the effort to make this quiz as accurate as possible, it is no replacement for a diagnosis by a licensed doctor.

Alcoholism, also referred to as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is not a lifestyle choice that people make, it is a disease, just as serious and potentially deadly as diabetes or cancer 8.

There is a lot of stigma associated with alcoholism, in part because from the outside it appears that the alcoholic has the choice to simply quit drinking. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Once an alcoholic or someone with AUD has become addicted, the choice to quit drinking has slipped from their grasp.

Alcoholism is not a moral failing, a sign of weakness, or a lack of desire to quit drinking. Alcoholism is a disease that is controlling you; you cannot control it.

There is help though, and a lot of support out there. You don’t need to suffer any longer if you don’t wish to.

The Physiology of Alcoholism

No one starts drinking with the intention of becoming addicted. Alcoholism is insidious – it sneaks up on you; sometimes slowly and sometimes quite rapidly. The first time you pick up a drink and get buzzed or drunk is a choice, but for the alcoholic, that choice eventually turns into a necessity.

Your brain produces a neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Dopamine fires up the reward center of your brain. Those feelings of pleasure and reward you feel when you receive a compliment, finish a difficult task, or get through a tough but satisfying workout are produced by dopamine.

Alcohol also produces dopamine, but at a much faster and higher rate. Those feelings of reward and pleasure are almost instantaneous, and much more intense.

For many people, this isn’t a problem. They can have a few drinks to celebrate or wind down from a long day and think nothing of it. The brain of an alcoholic or addict, however, works a bit differently.

The cognitive area of your brain is also affected by dopamine, and for the alcoholic that cognitive area is going to convince you that drinking alcohol is the only way to get those feelings of pleasure and reward. And it’s going to start taking increasingly more alcohol to acquire those feelings. This is called tolerance.

Alcoholism is biological and chemical. It is not a disease of weakness or lack of self-control. There are other factors involved too, such as family history, psychological health, and the environment one lives in; but it’s important to understand that alcoholism is a disease that affects how your brain processes the feelings of reward and pleasure 7.

Alcoholism vs. Alcohol Abuse

There are plenty of people out there who drink to excess quite regularly who are not alcoholics. From the outside, it can be difficult to tell the difference.

The really tricky thing about alcoholism and addiction is, only the ones suffering can declare themselves to be an alcoholic or addict. You can tell someone they have a problem until you’re blue in the face, but they’re not going to acknowledge it until they’re ready. This can be incredibly frustrating for the families and friends whose loved ones are in active denial about their drinking being a problem.

The important distinction between alcohol abuse and alcoholism is the utter dependence on alcohol. The alcoholic needs that drink; it isn’t really a choice anymore.

Someone who abuses alcohol may drink in order to get drunk, but they can take it or leave it. They don’t obsess about it if they aren’t able to drink. An alcoholic on the other hand, may become very anxious and jittery if they can’t drink, and find themselves unable to stop thinking about it.

A person who abuses alcohol may drink quite regularly, even every day in some cases, but they can stop. They can have one or 2 glasses of wine and be done with it. The alcoholic will have one or 2 glasses of wine, and their brain is going to tell them “one more, one more, more, more…”. This is called “the phenomenon of craving”.

If you feel like your alcohol use is starting to control you, rather than the other way around, it may be time to ask for help.

Symptoms of Alcoholism

If you’re struggling with your drinking habits, and are beginning to suspect that you’re in need of assistance or support, here are some signs that you might need help.

Alcoholism falls on a spectrum and can look and feel differently for each individual, but if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms you may be dependent on alcohol.

Withdrawal is another more serious symptom of alcoholism. Suddenly ceasing your alcohol intake can lead to withdrawal symptoms

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

Sudden withdrawal from alcohol can be very dangerous; If you are experiencing withdrawals that feel scary and overwhelming, please seek out medical assistance right away.

Alcoholism takes up a lot of time and energy. Things that used to be important to you may start to matter less.

You may start canceling plans in order to drink or only make plans that involve alcohol.

You may start to feel defensive about your drinking, or angry when people try to talk to you about it. You might start obsessing over alcohol; constantly worrying about where and when you’re going to get your next drink.

You may start to take less care with your appearance and hygiene; stop eating healthy and nutritious food; or stop going to the gym and exercising.

Alcoholism has a way of taking over a person’s life, sometimes slowly over a period of years, and sometimes very quickly.

Medical experts are still learning about the causes of alcoholism and addiction. There are many factors involved in whether or not someone becomes addicted to something, and unfortunately, there isn’t a simple equation for determining it.

Risk Factors for Alcoholism

While there is no simple equation for becoming an alcoholic (or avoiding it), there are risk factors to keep in mind:

Risk factors for alcoholism include:

Denial

Alcoholics are brilliant at denial. Even when life becomes incredibly difficult to manage, alcoholics will find a way to rationalize their drinking. This doesn’t mean the alcoholic is by nature sneaky or manipulative, it just means that the disease of alcoholism is doing what it does; keeping the alcoholic drinking.

The pathways of the brain get scrambled by drinking to excess for long periods of time, and as the mind and body become dependent on alcohol, drinking feels like a matter of survival, despite increasing evidence to the contrary.

Symptoms of Denial include:
An alcoholic may get pulled over for a broken taillight, smell like alcohol, and get a DUI, then go on to blame the cop for pulling them over for something “trivial” like a taillight. They may get fired from a job, and blame their boss because “he never liked me anyway”. They might blame the “failing economy” for their financial woes, or “kids these days” for their struggling relationship with their families. Again, these are symptoms of alcoholism, not a morally reprehensible person. This is part of what makes alcoholism so frustrating and heartbreaking for those whose loved ones are struggling. Slowly but surely, the person they love is being replaced by someone they don’t recognize. The alcoholic, on the other hand, is merely trying to survive. And at this point, alcohol feels like the solution to life’s problems – never the cause. That’s what denial looks like 10.

Asking for Help

One of the hardest things, if not the hardest thing, for an alcoholic to do, is asking for help. There is so much shame in feeling out of control, or powerless over alcohol. Part of this is the societal stigma placed on those suffering. We live in a culture that celebrates individualism. We’re taught from a young age to “Do your best!” and “Don’t give up!”.

Alcoholism is an illness though, and like most serious illnesses it requires treatment. It is a powerful and confusing affliction, and it’s not something you can think your way out of.

Most people report feeling a huge sense of relief upon asking for help, and the good news is, asking for help is often the hardest part. Once you’ve admitted to yourself and another person that you have a problem, you’re that much closer to recovering.

Treatment

Some alcoholics will require medical supervision when they quit drinking. Withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe, requiring medication in order to avoid seizures or hallucinations. Rehabilitation centers can be an option, so can hospitalization, or close supervision by your doctor.

It is important to seek out treatment and support if you have been drinking for a long time and cannot seem to stop on your own. Even if you do manage to quit drinking on your own, the likelihood of relapsing (starting to drink again) is very high unless you have some sort of support system in place.

Detoxification is just the first step towards recovery. Once the alcohol is out of your system the real work begins. Most alcoholics drink in order to change the way they feel inside – recovery is the process of finding healthy ways to cope with the feelings that led to excessive drinking in the first place.

Recovery

“Recovery” is the term used to refer to a person who has quit drinking, and is actively working on remaining sober.

Quitting drinking is a process. Ceasing to drink is just one of the first steps towards a life free of alcohol. For the alcoholic though, it’s not just as simple as that.

The craving for alcohol will return eventually, and a recovering alcoholic will have systems in place in order to deal with those cravings – otherwise, there is a very good chance that at some point the desire to drink will be impossible to resist.

Happily, there is an increasing number of resources and support systems for the alcoholic.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been around for almost a hundred years. It is a spiritual program, where you connect with a “sponsor” or mentor who walks you through the 12 steps; a new way of approaching the day-to-day life challenges 11.

Smart Recovery is another program that helps recovering alcoholics to build and maintain motivation (to stay sober), cope with their urges to drink, manage their thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, and live a balanced life 22. You can find meetings online or in person.

Therapy is another method people use to obtain and retain sobriety and can be an especially useful tool for those who have suffered trauma in their pasts that they have not yet come to terms with.

People do recover from alcoholism. Some of the happiest most successful people on the planet are recovering alcoholics. Don’t give up hope, don’t give up on yourself. There are people waiting and eager to help you begin your journey on the road towards meeting your best self.

Resources

  1. Newman, T. (2018, May 29). What is an alcoholic? How to treat alcoholism (T. J. Legg Ph.D., CRNP, Ed.). Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/157163
  2. Burke, D. (2018, September 29). Alcoholism (T. J. Legg Ph.D., CRNP, Ed.). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/alcoholism/basics
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Retrieved April 2, 2021, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/
  4. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018, July 11). Alcohol use disorder. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20369250
  5. Campos, M., MD. (2018, December 07). Alcohol use disorder: When is drinking a problem? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/alcohol-use-disorder-when-is-drinking-a-problem-2018122015585
  6. American Psychological Association. (2012, March 1). Understanding alcohol use disorders and their treatment. http://www.apa.org/topics/alcohol-disorders
  7. Bialik, M., PhD. (2021, February 9). Understanding alcohol use disorders and their treatment. Retrieved from https://www.bialikbreakdown.com/watch-podcast/angry-young-man-finds-sobriety
  8. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-use-disorder-comparison-between-dsm
  9. Harris, K. M., & Edlund, M. J. (2005). Self-medication of mental health problems: new evidence from a national survey. Health services research, 40(1), 117–134. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6773.2005.00345.x
  10. Robinson, L., Smith, M., M.A., & Segal, J., Ph.D. (2021, March). Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/alcoholism-and-alcohol-abuse.htm
  11. AA Meeting Search. (n.d.). AA Meeting Search. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from https://meetingsearch.org/
  12. Smart Recovery. (n.d.). Alcohol Abuse. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from https://www.smartrecovery.org/alcohol-abuse/