Person pondering if they are an alcoholic

Am I an Alcoholic?

April 19, 20244 min read

That question alone kept me at the bottle way past quitting time. For years, I believed the false pretense that only “alcoholics” have drinking problems. Only alcoholics must quit drinking in order for their lives to become “more manageable.” You know, the ones who have hit rock bottom, spent their last dime chasing the next buzz, stacked up a few DUI’s, and possibly even a stint in rehab. The kind of drinkers that must live or die by abstinence and a lifelong admission that they can’t control their drinking.

8 Reasons

Nope. That wasn’t my story, not even close. I was a high-functioning professional, happily married working mom, successfully juggling life’s daily tasks. That premise, by comparison, was my permission slip to continue drinking, even though I was growing increasingly wary of my relationship with alcohol. It became more than just a beverage to me; it was a crutch that I unconsciously leaned on to keep all the balls up in the air that I was juggling.

I used alcohol as a buffer, a way to navigate the complexities of my relationships with my husband or kids. It was woven into the fabric of my day to day existence. Whether I was cooking dinner, celebrating a milestone, or simply winding down after a long day, alcohol was always there, ready to provide a temporary reprieve.

Yet, the shadow of dependency loomed as background noise. When I wasn't drinking, I found myself returning to thoughts of needing to cork the bottle for good or planning when I would be able to have my next drink. It was a relentless cycle of indulgence and guilt.

Why not just moderate my drinking?

After all, I could still enjoy a glass of wine with friends or celebrate special occasions with a couple of cocktails, while maintaining control over my life. In reality though, as time went on, it became increasingly clear that despite my ability to control all aspects of my life, I wasn’t really controlling my drinking. One glass or a couple celebratory cocktails had become a nightly several. I would take a break just to prove to myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic. Those periods of abstinence were never sustainable as my willpower always caved to FOMO, yet they offered me the occasional glimpse into how great I could feel sans alcohol. Despite my best efforts, moderation proved to be an illusion.

What happened next was life-changing.

Breaking through addiction

Through research and an honest look at the neuroscience behind addiction, I came to understand that the body’s reaction to alcohol is far more complex than I had initially thought. The NIAAA expounds on this by sharing that, “After drinking stops, during withdrawal, the amygdala circuits become hyperactive, leading to hyperkatifeia, or heightened negative emotional states, such as irritability, anxiety, dysphoria, and emotional pain. This discomfort can motivate some people to drink alcohol again and repeat the cycle of drinking and withdrawal.”

So it's not just about being labeled an "alcoholic" or not. It is about acknowledging the addictive nature of alcohol and recognizing that anyone, regardless of their background or lifestyle, can get caught in the pattern of daily craving and a subtle reliance on it. Even the mother of three, successfully multi-tasking, nonalcoholic me could get caught in that loop.

This mindset shift allowed me to question my own relationship with alcohol without the need for a label. I realized that it wasn't about fitting into a stereotype or specific category of drinker, but rather about being honest with myself and making choices that aligned with my well-being. It's been a journey of self-awareness, one that continues to evolve as I have now enjoyed nearly 5 years of alcohol-free living.

Removing labels allowed me to see what was right in front of me all the time. There is no stigma or shame around choosing to live alcohol free. I didn’t need to keep asking when will my life be bad enough to quit, or when will I be an alcoholic who needs to quit? Nope, I merely had to ask is my life good enough; am I worthy enough to get a good night's sleep every night, wake refreshed every day, and be in my best physical and mental health to be the highest-functioning, most happily married multi-tasking mom I can be?

Answer: Emphatically yes.

If you're feeling called to step away from alcohol or have had your fair share of the Wash-Rinse-Repeat Cycle, please know that you're not alone. This is a judgment-free zone, as we fully understand that we are not to blame for our body’s chemical response to an addictive substance. Click here to browse through some of my resources that have successfully helped dozens of clients find freedom with joy.

You are worthy of a better life, AFreeLife.

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Joy Stieglitz is a certified Sobriety and Wellness Coach who specializes in helping sandwich generation people change their relationship with alcohol to find true freedom and joy in their life. Alcohol Free since November 2019, Joy brings valuable insights into her practice. AFreeLife Coaching is a safe space where all are welcome to explore their desire for health, wellness, and personal growth regardless of where they are or want to go on their journey with alcohol, and regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or any other social construct.