Am I an Alcoholic? That’s the Wrong Question
The image is as common as a traffic, and often just as frustrating. It’s 1am. You’re alone, staring at your phone, trying to summon the courage to ask a question. You could call a parent or a partner, but you don’t. Nor do you phone a friend. Oh, it’s not that they wouldn’t give you an answer; it’s that their answers would come laced with so much other stuff, including judgment. And that could be dangerous. Especially when your question is “Am I an alcoholic?”
So what do you do? You do what every curious person does in the 21st century – you turn to Google. After all, it’s the one place you can trust to provide a judgment-free answer your questions. Yes, even a question as inherently judgmental as “Am I an alcoholic?”
Let’s get Biblical. The Book of Matthew, in fact. The Sermon on the Mount. Not only is it one of Jesus’s most memorable moments, but it also provides some very sensible rules to live by. And not just for Bible-belters either. After all, you don’t need to be a Believer to believe it’s good to be good.
Or to not judge others. According to the Daily JSTOR, the King James translation goes like this:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” It then goes on to say “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.”
More moderne types will find it better said like this:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
That’s how the good folks at Bible Study Tools deliver the line, so that’s what we’ll use. We’ll also use the helpful BST crew’s keen way to sum up what it means to judge.
“To judge means: to separate, to pick out, select, choose. By implication, it means to condemn, punish—avenge, conclude.”
Heavy stuff, to be sure. And definitely not a weight you’d like placed upon your shoulders – let alone atop your own head.
So why do we? Why do we separate ourselves from others and condemn ourselves out of hand? Jesus didn’t counsel us to not judge solely so others wouldn’t condemn us; he counseled us to not judge so that we wouldn’t condemn ourselves!
And asking yourself “Am I an alcoholic?” is nothing but a direct route to self-condemnation.
Origin of the Argument
We gleaned on to this entire matter via a Psychology Today piece from a winningly-insightful therapist named Jeanette Hu. Hu’s PT page blurb says the San Francisco-based AMFT helps people in their relationship with substances. Yet since the page further contains a literal onslaught of drinking-related articles, it appears that help largely concerns alcohol.
Whatever the case (no pun), each of Hu’s pieces is staggeringly sobering, so we expected nothing less with the question “Am I an Alcoholic?”
We got it too. And then some. A solidly sobering look into one of the hardest questions anyone ever asks themselves. And one where the answer can unleash a lifetime of quiet torment.
It helps greatly that Hu’s an “ex-drinker” who’s “dealt with the question intimately, personally and professionally.” It also helps greatly that Hu freely admits to spending countless hours “in front of a computer screen, obsessively clicking on link after link, searching for answers that I didn’t want to know.”
This of course gives Hu the requisite firsthand experience necessary to cogently investigate the question, as well as the answer. At the same time it adds some serious veritas to the investigator. Drinkers are generally loathe to even listen to a non-drinker, let alone to accept their advice. Ex-drinker status better primes patients to accept whatever may come.
In other words, Hu’s one of us. And that’s a comforting thought.
The Commonality of “Am I an Alcoholic?”
As we said, asking “Am I an Alcoholic?” is as common as traffic. Heck, “almost all the individuals [Hu] worked with bring up this very question in one way or another.” It’s a cinch those patients first turned to Google too. Heck, as Hu pointed out, Google was even a go-to for sober wordslinger Catherine Gray.
“The most common thing to do in the year before quitting booze is to hunch over a laptop and miserably type ‘Am I an alcoholic?’ into Google at 1 am.”
That’s from Gray’s The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, proving once and for all that Google has become every asker-of-hard-questions’ safe space. Of course asking the question from the comfort of your own solitude can’t really provide an answer. No, not even with access to a platform that has the capacity to answer every question under the moon, the stars and the sun.
Then again, maybe we don’t need an answer to that question. In fact, maybe we don’t even need to ask the question at all.
Am I an Alcoholic? Is the Wrong Question
That’s Hu’s position, and we’re going with it. Chances are you will too. Especially once you get a glean of the reasoning. In fact, you’ll likely wonder how you could have ever done otherwise.
Why? Paragraphs like this:
One major cost of asking, “Am I an alcoholic?” is that the answer “yes” comes with such a high price. The seemingly simple question carries a crushing weight. The label “alcoholic” is extremely alienating. Not only does it carry an unspeakable amount of shame and stigma, but it is also seen by many as an incurable disease.
Boom! If that doesn’t bring down the gavel, nothing will. The question comes from the bench, and the answer is a judgment call. And that call is indelible.
Answering “yes” to the question is almost like taking on a life sentence… it means we’ll “never again live a life that the rest of the world gets to live.”
Moreover, it’s unfair.
None of us were born with an alcohol dependency. Yet, we continue to collectively fixate on a question that aims to single out the “problem drinkers” so the rest of the “normal drinkers” can continue to drink “responsibly.”
So, what then is the right question? According to Hu, it’s as simple and elegant as simplicity itself. Simply as yourself:
“Would my life be better with less alcohol?”
That’s it. No muss, no fuss and no judgment. If your life would be better with less alcohol, well, drink less alcohol. If it would be better with even less, then respond accordingly. You’ll find your happy place. And you won’t need an existential ride on Google to get there.
Healing Properties wholeheartedly Thanks Jeanette Hu and Psychology Today for delivering such a simple solution to a very complicated problem. The angst caused by the question “Am I an Alcoholic?” has been deep and widespread; unfortunately that angst has also seemed to be untreatable. Perhaps that’s because it was, and is, and always will be. Asking a completely different question is just the remedy we need.
If you’re wrangling over whether or not you’re an alcoholic, please read Hu’s piece in its entirety, then reach out for help. Whether it’s a therapist, treatment center, AA meeting and/or sober home matters less than the reaching out. Questions? Then give us a call. We’ll readily help find where you belong.