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Diagnosing Alcoholism

"Diagnosing Alcoholism: More than 20 questions. "
copyright 2011, all rights reserved

by Toby Rice Drews
author of the "Getting Them Sober" books

For most people, the business of self-diagnosing about alcoholism/other-drug addiction involves much more, emotionally, than just answering the ''20 questions''. (The ''20 questions'' that are the industry-standard, so to speak, to see if one has alcoholism, are reprinted in the back of the book, "Getting Them Sober, Volume One"). Make no mistake: answering those questions is vitally important to an objective diagnosis. But: there's an inner, subjective PRE-DIAGNOSING that can pave the way (before you answer those questions) to make it much easier, emotionally, to see oneself truthfully. That pre-diagnosing can include:

a.) looking honestly at one's feelings about society's stigma about this disease and about how you feel you can handle it;

b.) it's about how family members really feel about you -- about alcoholism -- and about the marriage. (It's usually a mixed bag and can, most of the time, be immediately radically changed for the better if treatment is needed and courageously faced).

c.) it's about being open to the medical facts about alcoholism. And that includes the tricky position of being right smack in the middle of denial and some brain damage -- and at the same time, being able to be lucid enough to understand that the toxicity of alcoholism does that to people: it combines denial and toxicity throughout the whole body, including the central nervous system/brain, and tells you that you don't have this disease! So, there's a terrible unconscious "inner fighting" going on when you're honestly trying to self-diagnose and at the same time, your disease is combating the truth by battering you with lies that you don't have it. Many alcoholics will, at this point, say to me: "How do I know if I'm someone who is in denial or whether I really don't have it?" The answer is pretty simple: Don't drink; go to A.A. (the industry-standard for beginners is 90 meetings in 90 days); learn about the mechanisms of this disease; read about it; study it; talk, talk, talk to people you like and trust that you meet in A.A. who've been sober a long time. Be open-minded. In essence, don't drink and go to A.A.: IF YOU'RE NOT AN ALCOHOLIC, YOU WON'T MISS DRINKING AND YOU'LL GET QUITE AN EDUCATION AND WILL BE ABLE TO HELP ANOTHER PERSON SOMEDAY WHO DOES NEED HELP. IF YOU'RE AN ALCOHOLIC, YOU WON'T DIE.

Now, for the part most people don't talk about: what often is a stumbling block for many alcoholics to self-diagnose and get help, is their relationship with, their history with, their spouses. This is a tricky issue: a. the spouse is probably UNDERSTANDABLY angry about living with an alcoholic for so many years. Be honest: wouldn't you be?? Would you like to have lived with the way you acted?! There's another piece in here: since there has probably been animosity between the two of you, and if your spouse has been saying you've got a problem and if you've been saying loud and clear, NO -- then it can feel like it's 'eating crow' to admit "he or she's been right". You hate to anticipate seeing the smugness on the face -- the feelings of self-righteousness you know will be there. You feel that it'll be like, if you admit you were 'wrong' about this, then it'll be held over your head and assumed you're wrong about everything else, too. THESE FEELINGS ARE JUST HUMAN! AND YOU'RE RIGHT: OFTEN TIMES, PEOPLE DO REACT LIKE, 'AHA!' BUT JUST AS OFTEN, THEY ARE SO RELIEVED -- SO GLAD TO GET THE PERSON BACK WHO THEY MARRIED, WHO THEY WERE WORRIED ABOUT LOSING TO ALCOHOLISM -- THAT JUNK GETS RESOLVED RATHER SOON! Meanwhile, don't make the choice to die from this fatal disease rather than "have her be right". It is not worth doing that! First things first: honestly self-diagnose; if there's a problem, get help and don't die; work the marriage-stuff out, later.

If you're a woman alcoholic, inherently you already know there's a worse stigma out there about that. Same suggestion: don't choose to die over it. Better to get sober and face the shame-feelings than keep drinking and die from it. And good news: the shame feelings go way, way, way down after sobriety. (And people have their own lives: they are much more concerned about what happens to them than spend their lives talking about your treatment. Besides, it's not real exciting to gossip about someone who's going about their lives sober and sane; much more exciting to gossip about someone who's drunk).

Go to a library and spend the day looking up and reading about the disease process of alcoholism on the brain/central nervous system/body. It'll help when deciding to make an honest self-diagnosis.

Even though you may feel "put down" by people in your family or colleagues, now, when you're still in the drinking mode -- most of the time, you'll be admired if you decide to get help. People don't usually see recovering people as 'weak'...they see it as real strength when any of us face reality and DO something about it. (Then they start coming to us for help, themselves, when life happens and THEY need help.)

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