How can I be sure there’s a problem?

How Do We Tell the Difference Between Heavy Drinking and Addiction?

Dr. Ellis discusses how addiction excels at keeping people around it off balance and in doubt. He then describes 4 common signs of addiction that should help you decide if you need to take action.

You wouldn't be on this site if you didn't think there was a problem, but proof would be reassuring. One of the chief objections the alcoholic will raise is that everyone around them is overreacting, and that the problem is really no big deal.

So how can you tell if it is a big deal? How can you be more certain that intervention is necessary and appropriate?

Several tools help to quantify the problem relationship with alcohol. The first is from the book mental health professionals use to diagnose psychiatric and psychological disease, which is called:

DSM-IV-TR. The seven symptoms of substance abuse or addictions:

  • Inability to cut down drinking or drug use despite attempts.
  • More drug used or alcohol consumed that intended.
  • A lot of time spent getting the drug, using the drug, and then recovering from the effects.
  • Tolerance (the longer a drug is used over time the more it takes to achieve the desired effect).
  • Old activities, friends, and family members are given up in favor of the drug.
  • Withdrawal (physiologic and/or psychologic effects to stopping the drug)
  • Negative consequences have no effect on the pattern of use.
Any of these three indicate addiction.

Another tool is called UNCOPE. It consists of six yes or no questions for someone concerned about the possibility of their own addiction:

  • In the past year have you ever drank or used more drugs than you meant to?
  • Have you ever neglected responsibilities because of drugs or alcohol?
  • Have you wanted to or needed to cut down on your drinking and drug use in the past year?
  • Has anyone objected to your drinking and/or drug use?
  • Have you ever found yourself preoccupied with drinking and/or drug use?
  • Have you ever used alcohol and/or drugs to relieve emotional discomfort such as sadness, anger, or boredom?
Yes answers to 2 indicate a strong likelihood of a problem. Yes answers to 4 or more strongly indicate a alcohol and/or drug problem.

As the concerned person you can answer the questions in terms of "have you seen" the behavior described in the questions.

In their book Love First, Jeff and Debra Day have five other self-quizzes that deal with special circumstances such as teens and the elderly. (see pp. 289 ff)

Depending on the willingness of the suspected alcoholic/addict you can use these tools for discussion. A healthy discussion, however, is somewhat unlikely due to his or her irrational defenses.