Addiction, Alcoholism, and a Challenge

I'm back from vacation! And ready to start piling on goals and challenges for the new year, as per usual. A more serious one for today... I've been thinking about what it means to be "addicted" to something.
Like most mental disorders, people often lightheartedly refer to in relation to normal, healthy behaviors. "I'm addicted to reading!" Or blogging, or running. Whatever. Now I suppose if someone were to take that behavior to such an extreme that it interfered with their health and personal life, then it truly could be considered an addiction.

After struggling a bit to define it to myself, I looked it up.
The American Association of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as having the following characteristics:

  1. 1.Inability to consistently Abstain
  2. 2.Impairment in Behavioral control
  3. 3.Craving; or increased “hunger” for drugs or rewarding experiences
  4. 4.Diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships
  5. 5.A dysfunctional Emotional response

A, B, C, D, and E, if you didn't notice. And this list helps a lot. Because as much as I might enjoy reading, I wouldn't have trouble not doing it, I don't believe the desire to do it would count as a "craving" and it doesn't affect me in any of the other ways at all.
Why am I so concerned about what addiction is? Because I know my family has a tendency towards addictive behaviors and, in general, addictive personalities. I've seen signs of it in myself. For example, drinking.

When I drink too much, it's rarely a complete accident. It's because after having a drink or 2, I deliberately decide to get "drunk" or "buzzed" and then once I've reached that level, I'm no longer capable of properly assessing my level or deciding it's time to quit.

A lot, I'll even go out on a limb and say most, people go through the experimental phase when they turn 21. Typically there are a few mistakes, a few drunken embarrassments, maybe even a period of excess, and then they figure it out and behave like reasonable adults.
Some take longer to "figure it out." And some never do. And there aredifferent levels that people find appropriate. My mom considers "buzzed" to be the same as "drunk"and thinks you should stop as soon as you feel the effect of alcohol. Other people would say there's no point to drinking if you don't want to feel the effect and as long as you didn't throw up or take your clothes off, then you're fine.

Having acquaintances on both sides of the spectrum, it's been difficult to decide what I think is acceptable, and even more difficult to stick to whatever my principle dictates the "correct" way to handle alcohol. Nothing bad has to happen for me to decide I went overboard and I don't have to embarrass myself, although I frequently have. There's just this feeling that you weren't in control of yourself and even if something bad didn't happen, it could have, because you wouldn't have known better. And basing your decisions on a vague, tenuous "feeling" just doesn't seem like a great policy.

A while back, Blake had written a few posts that I found inspiring with regards to her Sober 'Til October challenge. I admired her for undertaking it, but I couldn't imagine myself doing the same. Not because I need to be drunk, but because alcohol is a pervasive part of our culture. Wine and beer tastings, or even bar crawls, are a common activity for socializing. Parties are typically centered around alcohol. Wine is a popular indulgence, whether relaxing alone or having a fancy meal out. And every dessert is better with a little Baileys.

The fact that I was so unwilling to emulate her example has been nagging at me the past few months. Why? What value does alcohol add to my life? After some pondering, here's the list I came up with.

  1. 1.Makes socializing easier
  2. 2.Have more funin group outings and parties
  3. 3.Am less annoyed by other drunk people
  4. 4.Meal enhancement (drinks with dinner)
  5. 5.Shared interest with peers (referring to wine)
  6. 6.Feel classy (still wine)
  7. 7.Enjoy taste (specifically "dessert" liquors like Baileys or Amaretto)

I can tell you immediately that the first 3 are not a good or healthy way to be using alcohol (for me). When I use it to "have fun" or as a social crutch is when I'm most likely to overdo it and not using it is good practice for my social skills anyway. The others... eh. I feel less strongly on those points, but in the end, I don't know that they're really important enough to indulge in what could ultimately be a dangerous habit.

To clarify, I don't think I have a problem. But does anyone ever? Becoming dependent on something doesn't happen overnight. It's a sneaky process that occurs slowly while you're "just enjoying yourself" or "indulging occasionally." And I want to make sure it never happens to me. Kind of like a caffeine dependence. I never wanted to be one of those people who "needed" a cup of coffee in the morning. And I'm not there yet. But just the other afternoon I was craving another cup and wishing it was morning, because that's when I usually drink one. Not good! I've never actually "craved" coffee before, and I hate the idea that another substance has gotten a foothold in my psyche.

So, knowing that I have the kind of personality that latches onto things and becomes dependent, I'd like to start some preventative maintenance. I'm gonna try this thing out, this no drinking experiment. Starting today and running for 3 months, to give it a thorough test. We don't drink much at home, anyway, other than the occasional hard cider, or glass of wine so I don't anticipate that being the difficult part. The hardest part will be outings with groups of people and if the challenge only ran for 1 month there's no guarantee we'd actually go out anywhere, so I thought 3 months would be a more realistic look at what the lifestyle differences are.

At that point I'll decide if I want to continue or modify. What I'm hoping to get out of this is not a lifetime of total sobriety. What I'm hoping is to prove to myself that I don't NEED to drink, to eliminate all possibility ofalcohol addiction, and to begin a lifestyle completely devoid of binge drinking and hangovers. Whether Amaretto and Bailey's ever make an appearance in that lifestyle is up for debate.

My ultimate goal is to tackleall of the things that trigger my addictive tendencies. I've already swapped my daily cup of coffee for green tea and one day I'd like to discuss the real challenge: sugar. But for now, alcohol is enough of a challengeand we'll see how this goes.

Are you a social drinker? Do you set limits on your alcohol consumption? What's your favorite thing to drink?
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