If you're worried about your drinking, it's time to act
DEAR DOCTOR K:
I've always enjoyed an occasional drink, but often lately I've been reaching for a glass of wine to help me relax. Could I have a problem?
Just the fact that you're worried raises a red flag for me. If your drinking creates difficulty for you personally, socially or at work, then your drinking may be a problem.
Several screening tests can help determine if you have a drinking problem. For example, answer the following questions:
-- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
-- Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
-- Have you ever felt guilty or bad about your drinking?
-- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves, get rid of a hangover or as an eye-opener?
If you responded "yes" to any one of these questions, you may have a drinking problem. If you responded "yes" to more than one question, it's highly likely that you have a problem.
If you can see that your drinking is not only causing you concern but causing you problems, you may be abusing alcohol. What kind of problems do I mean? For example:
-- You've been failing to fulfill major work, school or home responsibilities.
-- You've been drinking in situations where it's physically dangerous to do so (like while driving a car).
-- You've been drinking despite relationship problems caused or worsened by drinking.
We've all seen people who get moderately drunk: They become loud and argumentative and say inappropriate things. We've seen people who get very drunk: Their speech is slurred, they stagger when they walk, they drink themselves into a stupor. They have withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, shaking or nausea if they don't have a drink.
It's tempting to tell yourself, "Well, I'm not like that, so I don't have a drinking problem." But if you responded "yes" to any of the first four questions, or if you have any of the problems mentioned above, you probably do have a drinking problem, or are well on the way to one.
So what you should be telling yourself when you see someone who clearly is drunk is that you're lucky you don't have a serious problem -- yet. You also should understand that you could be on the road to a serious problem, and that the sooner you deal with it, the more you will be able to turn it around.
We have a lot more information on problem drinking and what to do about it in our Special Health Report, "Alcohol Use and Abuse." You can find out more about it at my website.
Talk to your doctor about your concerns. If there's a chance you have a problem, work with your doctor to determine the best treatment options for you.
(Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. Go to his website to send questions and get additional information: www.AskDoctorK.com.)
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