Am I an Alcoholic or Drug Addict? 

If, like most of us did, you spent years avoiding, denying or otherwise evading the question, consider this: People who don’t have a problem with drugs, alcohol or any kind of mind- or mood-altering substances, typically never ask themselves, “Am I an alcoholic or drug addict?”.

It’s not even on their radar. Similar to the time when you sampled too many desserts during the holidays and then vowed to hit the gym in the New Year, but probably never Googled ‘food addiction’, many people do overindulge in alcohol and drugs at times, but it never seriously occurs to them that their consumption might be harmful.

While denial among ‘functional’ users does exist, it’s important to recognize that if questions like ‘Is this becoming a problem for me?’ are already in your mind, it’s a subject worth investigating, not dismissing. You probably wouldn’t be thinking it at all if substance use wasn’t causing any negative consequences in your life.

Since drinkers and drug users come in all shapes and sizes, from the novice experimenter to the unemployable chronic addict, there isn’t a single question that will definitively determine whether or not you are an alcoholic and/or an addict.

In fact, most literature on the subject shies away from making a diagnosis. The key is that you determine to your own satisfaction whether alcohol or drugs are manageable in your life, or whether things have gotten out of hand.

Here are some tools and information to help you do that just.

What is the Difference Between a Drug Addict and an Alcoholic?

Another question that could be asked is, “Are Alcoholics drug addicts?”

The answer is Yes.

At the end of the day, drinking is a real addiction because alcohol is a drug.

While biochemical differences in the action of various mind-altering substances on the brain do exist, and while behaviour patterns, chemical treatments and withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the substance, for the purposes of determining abuse, addiction is addiction.

Whether the substance is legal (alcohol, prescription drugs) or illegal (cocaine, crack, meth, heroin, etc.) the concern is really whether these substances are assuming too-large proportions in your life. When it comes to consequences, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re sticking to one main drug, mixing them or using different substances at different times.

In some 12-step meetings for drug addiction, the words “Alcohol is a drug – period” are chanted as a reminder to participants who wish to remain entirely abstinent that taking any mind-altering substance, ‘even’ alcohol, can precipitate a relapse into their drug of no choice.

Many alcoholics acknowledge their ‘addiction’ to alcohol, while many drug addicts identify as ‘alcoholic’ in AA meetings because they recognize that they essentially have the same disease.

The disease model of addiction indicates that whatever one’s drug or alcohol preferences, by the time addiction is established, the sufferer may experience a physical reaction to any mind-altering substance. Once introduced, the mind and body craves more. The nature of the substance, and whether it was a person’s favourite, may not matter.

Therefore, when reading about the subject, please substitute whichever terminology seems to fit, to better determine what might resonate with you.

Risk factors for Alcoholism and Addiction

While medical science can’t fully explain why some people develop issues with addiction and others don’t, we do know that alcohol and drug abuse are linked to several risk factors including:

  • Genetic background, which may predispose individuals to alcohol sensitivity
  • Family history of alcohol/drug abuse
  • Social environment
  • Trauma (particularly in childhood)
  • Mental health issues
  • Stressful life events or losses that exacerbate current levels of drinking/using

Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean you will become an alcoholic or an addict; the relationship is not cause and effect, but rather something to be aware of.

What Does Your Drinking or Using Look Like?

Some people still think of an alcoholic as a homeless person on a park bench or an addict as a back-alley user who injects street drugs, but those myths are fading.

So, what does an addict or alcoholic’s substance use look like?

What does yours look like?

Regardless of what ‘stuff’ is in your life (jobs, relationships, friends, possessions) right now, when drinking or using, do you find yourself…

  • Joking about how much you drink and use; calling yourself a ‘drunk’ in fun?
  • Missing work, school, appointments, or commitments you consider important?
  • Getting into physical fights?
  • Arguing with friends and family about your using?
  • Noticing friendships drift apart as friends can’t keep up with your partying?
  • Driving while ‘a little bit’ intoxicated?
  • Wondering whether alcohol will be present, or when it will be ‘socially safe’ to drink?
  • Needing a drink or a drug of some kind to relax or feel confident?
  • Drinking or using anyway even when plans with others have fallen through?
  • Getting drunk or high when you really didn’t mean to?
  • Forgetting what you did during your drinking or using?
  • Denying or minimizing how much you are actually drinking or using?
  • Getting angry that others are blaming your misfortunes on how much you drink or use?

Even if you are holding everything together that seems to be expected of you – job, school, family life – right now, if the questions above disturbed you, please read on.

You may be in the early stages of alcoholism or addiction.

At first, just like people who manage to work several jobs or do their medical rotations while raising children, some people can juggle heavy drinking and drug using with all their other responsibilities, and not let too much slip.

But eventually, it becomes impossible to maintain a full life with the added burden of an addiction.

Though things haven’t been lost yet, it may be time to look at moderation at this point.

5 Common Myths about Alcoholism and Addiction

No matter what you hear about or read, you will have your own beliefs about drinking and using. Even if alcohol or drugs have assumed large proportions in your life, you may still be influenced by what you grew up thinking, observing or being told about substance abuse. Or you may find other rationales.

Here are some commonly held myths about problem drinking and the actual truth behind these scenarios.

Alcoholism and Addiction Myth #1: These drugs were prescribed by my doctor, so no one has the right to tell me to stop taking them.

Am I an Alcoholic and/or Addict Self Assessment Test – Ask Yourself:

Have you taken the medication exactly as prescribed by your primary health care professional, including not mixing the medications with any other drugs or alcohol? Have you been completely honest with all health care providers about your symptoms and history? Are you aware of the addictive effects of some prescription medications, and how the need for such medications increases with regular use over time?

Alcoholism and Addiction Myth #2: I can stop anytime I want to, I just don’t want to.

Am I an Alcoholic and/or Addict Self Assessment Test – Ask Yourself:

Have you tried to stop, and stay stopped, for an extended period of time?

Was your attempt successful?

If you have never tried, or didn’t succeed in meeting your goals for abstinence/cutting back, how do you know you really can quit anytime you want to?

Alcoholism and Addiction Myth #3: I have a job, I’m doing fine. How can I be an addict?

Am I an Alcoholic and/or Addict Self Assessment Test – Ask Yourself:

You may have a job and be managing to function well at this time, but most people who later identify as addicts and alcoholics have also been able to hold jobs for a period of time; the question isn’t so much whether you still have a job, as how your job, or how you feel at your job, is being affected by your substance use?

Alcoholism and Addiction Myth #4: My wife nags me because she’s unhappy with her own life. My drinking is just an excuse for her.

Am I an Alcoholic and/or Addict Self Assessment Test – Ask Yourself:

We don’t exist in isolation; do you really believe one spouse’s behaviour doesn’t have any effect at all on the other?

If that’s the case, then why are you affected by, and defensive about, her nagging?

Perhaps drinking has worsened problems in the marriage or caused problems that weren’t there before.

Alcoholism and Addiction Myth #5: My kids have never seen me drunk or high. As long as I keep it away from them, I’m fine.

Am I an Alcoholic and/or Addict Self Assessment Test – Ask Yourself:

Do you remember when your child repeated something you had said, that you didn’t even realize they had heard?

Drinking and drugging puts an enormous strain on loved ones, particularly children, who are extremely sensitive to their environment. They don’t need to witness the behaviour to feel the effects of the tension in the home, the absence of a parent, the changed behaviour while you are recovering from the effects of a binge, or the fear and helplessness that things are not okay.

Five Signs that Drinking may be Getting Out of Control

According to Health Canada guidelines, heavy drinking is considered having 5 or more drinks on at least one occasion per month for males, and 4 or more drinks for females.

A statistic like that leaves a lot of gaps; some people drink on a daily basis, for example, but may not reach the 5-or-more threshold. Obviously, counting drinks isn’t the only way to determine whether drinking is becoming problematic.

Here’s a few other ways to tell whether drinking has crossed the line from moderate/social use to something potentially more serious:

  • You’re engaging in risk-taking behaviour, like having unsafe sex or extra-marital affairs, or mixing medications and drugs
  • You routinely choose drugs or alcohol, or activities that involve drugs or alcohol, over activities that don’t involve drinking or using. That might mean you’re missing your child’s summer concert in favour of going to the bar, even though the consequences will be negative
  • You’ve already been in a car or bike accident related to drinking and using
  • Your behaviour is changing, particularly at home and around the kids
  • If you told anyone the truth about how much you were consuming, they would probably be worried or angry about it, so you hide the behaviour.

These signs of alcohol/drug abuse are strong warnings that all is not well by outside standards, yet what really matters in terms of seeking help is whether you feel these problems are serious enough to take a real look at how the substance is affecting your life, and consider modifying your behaviour.

When Problem Drinking Becomes Alcoholism (Or, When Using Becomes Addiction)

It’s one thing to experience negative consequences because of drugs or alcohol; many people do, who are not addicts. Addiction can creep up until what once was a choice becomes a necessity.

What can this progression look like?

Of course the individual details are different for everyone, but here is one pattern to watch for:

At this point, it may seem like it would be difficult to deny or rationalize a person’s alcohol or drug consumption because the consequences are so obvious. Yet even so, often people drastically underestimate what they are doing and the effects it is having. Commonly, people blame circumstances and outside factors like financial insecurity or relationship trouble for their problems.

Still Not Sure if Alcohol or Drugs Are Taking Centre Stage in Your Life?

While you can take one of the many credible internet self-tests for alcoholism and addiction, even with evidence-based answers, it’s often hard for us to consider the possibility that we have a drinking problem.

After all, we take online personality tests all the time and that doesn’t mean we’re actually going to marry that celebrity or pursue a given career!

Most of us have been raised to believe in individual responsibility, self-control and strength. Admitting to a drug or alcohol problem can seem like weakness or even failure, so it’s no wonder that so many addicts and alcoholics would rather believe that they can still control their habit despite evidence to the contrary.

Would it help to know that substance use disorder is considered a chronic disorder by the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)?

That means that if you’re experiencing problems as a result of drug or alcohol use, it doesn’t make you bad, wrong, stupid, unlucky, self-destructive, selfish, crazy, or all the other labels you or others may have applied.

Addiction is a serious disorder for which effective help is available such as finding and attending an accredited and top addiction treatment & rehab centre.

It starts with admitting you have a problem, and seeking help.

It takes a lot of courage to admit that you need a hand, but the first step is often the hardest. When you reach out for support, know that help is there.

You can recover from addiction to drugs and/or alcohol with the right treatment and lots of support, encouragement and guidance from caring, highly trained professionals who’ve been there.

Whether you’re merely concerned or 100 percent ready to seek help, start with a conversation with one of our friendly addiction treatment counselors anytime, day or night.

We’re here for you.

About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.