Further Reading

Tell me if I have a drinking problem in five minutes or less

Dear Stanton:

I am beginning to wonder whether I have a drinking problem. How would you suggest I evaluate my situation?


Dear [...],

How much is alcohol hurting you? In what ways? Describe the negative consequences and the positive consequences of your drinking over the last month. Do you wish you were drinking less? Why?

Stanton


Dear Stanton:

Actually, now that I've thought about these things, it seems like I have a "getting drunk" problem rather than a drinking problem. Is there such a thing?

Alcohol is only hurting me because I drink too much when I get the opportunity to drink at all, particularly at social occasions (like going out for dinner and drinks with a friend, or going to a party). I'm a grad student, so I'm usually too busy and stressed out to go to these otherwise typical functions, and when I do, I really overdo it: I usually can't remember a few conversations or moments from the end of the night, occasionally I end up vomiting the next morning, and I'm usually hungover on the day after. Though many of my friends get drunk often, and I can't say I mind being drunk at the time, it just seems like I've lost control and end up getting TOO drunk all the time. I don't know when to stop before this point (certainly not the three drink limit the doctors have prescribed because then I just wouldn't be drunk enough, or so my attitude was til recently) but I think I used to have a good feel for what my limit was (back in college when I was going out or drinking more often, actually).

It's interesting that you asked about positive consequences, because those things are usually thought to be completely immature, like having more fun, or being more relaxed (both of which seem to be true).

Do I wish I were drinking less? Yes, because I don't want to end up being so COMPLETELY drunk every time I get to go out. Now that I've thought about these questions, I don't feel like such a lush, but after doing some self-evaluations on the AA website and another www page, I was in the "moderate" problem category. Maybe all I needed was to sit back and think about the negative consequences of my drinking, and how that can cut into the "positive consequences." Anyway, thank you very much for your reply, and if you have any more feedback for me, I would really appreciate it.

Sincerely,

[...]


Dear [...]:

Well, the good news is that drinking is not overall deteriorating your life, because you do it so seldom. The bad news seems to be that, almost whenever you drink, you do it excessively. You say you used to have better skill at moderation when you drank in college. This is an interesting view — that drinking more meant you drank better. Do you currently ever drink moderately? Under what circumstances? Obviously, the stress you are under (or are placing yourself under) in grad school is contributing to your drinking behavior. Are you planning to live a stressed life throughout grad school and afterwards?

Best,
Stanton


Dear Stanton:

Thanks again for posing these important questions.

My husband and I have talked about this, because I've shared my concern with him, and I *can* think of times when I drink moderately. I'm just not sure what the connection is between these situations. I can have just a couple of drinks with my husband or with an old friend—with any one or two people where we're going to be talking intimately and comfortably, and where we'd have a good time whether we were drinking or not. I have never had a drink all by myself, and I tend to drink the most at parties, or when I'm with a large group where other people are drinking heavily.

I've been a stressed-out, over-achieving student since kindergarten, and I always tolerated it fairly well until the past year. I accepted my college experience as typical for an honors student, and I spent the first year of grad school thinking, "Wow, this is really a lot of work!" Now that I've finished my second year of grad school, and just completed my MA exams, I know that I spent the last six months in sheer hell, with VERY little time for myself or time to relax (one day off per month, if I was lucky). (I think this is when my getting drunk got worse; though I don't know exactly why, it's definitely a correlation.)

This summer, I am really enjoying reading novels rather than early medieval manuscripts, and cooking, and sleeping as much as I need to, and spending time with my husband, and doing all the things I never had time for during the school year. This is the first extended break I've had since adolescence, and that is really kind of sick when you think about it. Probably not unusual in the academic world, but I've never thought academia to be a sane or healthy environment. So I am determined to take more time for myself once I start my Ph.D. program this fall, and to try to lead a more normal life. If I can't do it, I am starting to consider getting out, and teaching high school, which is what I always wanted to do before I decided to become a professor. So am I planning to lead a stressed life? Well, the answer would be yes if I continued blindly down this path, but I don't think I want my life to be like it's been the past two years. So if I can't make some changes once I'm in this new environment and given a fresh start, then I think the answer will be no—no more ridiculous stress for me.

Sincerely,

[...]


Dear [...]:

I think all the answers are pretty well there: you drink well when you're relaxed in easy-going intimate company, your drinking recently got worse when your stress became more overwhelming, your need to plan with you husband, consistent with your values, what level of stress will characterize your life (and I'm not necessarily advocating a stress-free life, but only recognizing and planning around the level of stress you choose), et al. Drinking is a reflection of other parts of your life, as well as the immediate settings in which you drink.

It's a pleasure working with you.

Best wishes,
Stanton