In the old days, a man in his 20s or 30s could show up at the office each morning with zingy 80-proof breath and who cared?
Everybody knew your 40s were when you finally pulled it together. I used to hold my breath on the elevator, fearing I might make others drunk just from inhaling my fumes.
Then a couple of 25-year-olds invented Google and ruined it for everybody. They basically shut down the bar, but also raised it. Suddenly people expected more from you, sooner. Now that I’m many years sober and have even written a book on the subject (Dry: A memoir), I regularly meet 15- and 16-year-olds who have already been through treatment for alcoholism.
Now, if such fetuses can admit to lushery and then seize responsibility for their lives by getting sober before they even reach legal drinking age, you lose any delusional excuse you thought you had. How do you know if you’re an actual, certifiable alcoholic, or heading in that direction but still a few credits short, or just a normal drinker who assumes he must be an alcoholic in the same way he assumes every headache is terminal brain cancer? It’s murky territory. So let me de-murkify it and present you with seven reasonably significant signs that you may have just passed the last exit to sobriety.
1. You read magazine articles with titles like “Seven Warning Signs you’ve had enough”
This is a little like hanging around a gay bar to study the guys, just to double-check that you’re not one of them before you go ahead and propose to Lerato. People who treat alcoholism consider such self-questioning behaviour to be a big, fat warning sign.
2. You’re really sorry about that
If your morning routine involves coffee, a quick scan of the headlines, and then a careful review of the previous night’s activities so you can do a little damage control and text out any necessary
apologies, you’re either an alcoholic or just an asshole.
3. You have only one drink a night, but you think about it all day
It’s possible to be an alcoholic yet not drink all that much. Alcoholism is a soul Electrolux; it inhales everything until all that remains is the booze. Even if you’re not drinking it. When your life and thoughts revolve around drinking, that’s a problem.
4. Bad shit is always happening to you, and it’s never your fault
When your credit cards are maxed out and you’re living paycheck to paycheck and you can’t ever get ahead, it’s the crappy economy, right? And when all your relationships tank, it’s because there are so many screwed-up people out there, huh? The more tangled your life is, the more likely I
would be to find 20 empty gin bottles under your sink.
5. You were 12 when you had your first drink
Sure, there’s a genetic component to alcoholism; your risk is higher if alcoholism runs in your family. But a 2009 University of Miami study revealed that having your first drink before the age of 13 could be what flips the switch and engages the gene. This happens to be about the age I was when I had my first drink. I was a lab monkey; oblivion was my smarties reward. I pressed the bar and sweets fell.
6. You drink alone
I was astonished when I first became aware that normal, occasional drinkers are mortified by the idea of drinking alone at home. In general, non–problem drinkers view alcohol as a minor component of a larger social activity. For them, a glass of champagne at a wedding is a celebration. For the alcoholic, it’s free booze that could be improved only by the instant subtraction of every guest in the room.
7. You’ve blacked out
Waking up in bed beside somebody you don’t recognise. Having no idea how you got home last night. Listening to your friend tell you what you said and not being able to recall any of it. These are all blackouts, and a blackout is itself an alcoholic activity. That’s right: non-alcoholics do not have blackouts.
It’s not like these are the only warning signs. Some people will have experienced all seven and then some (“He didn’t mention bed-wetting or sexting your mom, so those must be fine”). Others might find only a few fit them yet still have a problem. If one or more signs apply to you, seek help today, not the day after tomorrow. The sooner you seek treatment – therapy, AA, a support group, rehab – the better the odds are that you won’t be sent to the glue factory.