Well, that depends what you read and whose questionnaire you do.
This post started as a bit of a joke. A friend of mine who lives in the States was telling me about a questionnaire her students have to do about alcohol use which would have classified most Brits as alcoholics. Ha ha, we all said. And I thought it might be fun to post a crazy puritanical questionnaire compared with a “more sensible” one.
However, as I started going through various questionnaires I found online I found out that there was no particular difference between American and international questionnaires, and also that I drink too much according to most websites, and may be an alcoholic according to others.
In fact, the one questionnaire that puts me in the clear is American website Alcoholscreening.org. Although it thinks that I drink more than the average (American) woman, I’m below the levels typically associated with alcoholism. Other questionnaires are not so kind, and I’ve been told I’m causing myself health problems and should see a specialist immediately.
So should I worry? Part of the problem with these questionaires is that they’re often designed so that any negative answer indicates that you may have a problem. The Alcoholics Anonymous one is a good example. Basically, if you score yes to any of them, you MAY be an alcoholic. Apparently, I’m definitely an alcoholic, because I’ve ticked three; yes, I have (once) lost my memory, I have drunk alone once or twice, and I have felt remorse after drinking. Not because I’ve done (or failed to do) anything significant after drinking, but because I get awful hangovers and I’m the kind of puritan that regrets wasting time being ill.
In fact, guilt and remorse are a recurring theme in these questionaires. Admitting to feeling guilty about drinking and wanting to cut down occasionally are seen as indicators of potential alcoholism, which I find a bit weird. It’s as if just by doing the questionnaire you’re admitting you have a problem. That combined with the fact that “denial” is a key indicator is enough to condemn anybody!
You may say that Alcoholics Anonymous has a vested interest in making people believe they are alcoholics. So I looked for some neutral authorities. The World Health Organisation has several diagnostic tools, which appear in various forms on various websites. Here’s the version I did. I actually thought it was pretty good, as it goes through the amount you drink, but then seeks to analyse whether this is a problem or not. My result? I don’t have any alcohol related problems at the moment, but;
“Alcohol is probably slightly too important in your life and you may have the earliest signs of a developing alcohol dependency.”
Well, brewing is my hobby and I have a beer-blog, so yes, alcohol is important in my life. Or rather, beer is. That leads me onto another point. One of my personal indicators has always been that if there isn’t any nice beer, I tend not to drink at all. No shite lager, no vodka and tonic – I stick to the softies and spare the liver. If someone told me I could never drink beer again, I’d be gutted. If they told me I could never drink beer, but could drink other alcohol, this would not be a consolation. Oh, there goes the denial again.
Shouldn’t there be some recognition of these types of factors, rather than straight number crunching? Well, yes. If you look up technical definitions of alcoholism, they focus very much on your behaviour, not how much you drink. The Journal of the American Medical Association defines alcoholism as;
“a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations…It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial”
To finish with, I want to heartily recommend a brilliant article in the Observer, via Guardian Online (by Euan Ferguson) from earlier this month. As well as saying extremely sensible things about the current panic in the UK about binge-drinking, it has some “from the heart” guidance from an alcoholic as to how you really know. The difference between drink as a treat, and drink as a necessity. The importance of “the first drink of the day” to the alcoholic. The need to listen to the mornings, not government guidelines. There are just so many quotes that I want to reproduce here, as I feel it is bang-on about so many things.
“The great danger, surely, is that by telling everyone they drink too much (when, as we have seen, we have been following spurious guidelines for decades) we are left bereft of proper guidance. The tactics leave us more confused than ever. When are we drinking too much? Should I feel guilty? What’s wrong with a couple of glasses? Am I an alcoholic? Is there a difference? Oh yes. Yes, there is still a difference, between those who enjoy a drink and those who tip into hell. Our studies today show the difference, and it is, I would argue, supremely irresponsible for a government minister to attempt to blur the scare-lines.”
I can’t speak for how accurately he describes the life of the alcoholic (fortunately) but I can say that this article is also the best analysis of British drinking culture I’ve ever read.Â Do go and read it.