Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m writing to you because I’m hoping you can give me an answer about whether or not I have a problem with alcohol. My wife says I do. I never thought I did until recently, when I started having blackouts. I certainly don’t have a problem the way my dad did when I was growing up. I hold down a steady job (in public service). I’m good at what I do. I rarely miss a day of work, hung-over or not. I work evenings and often go out with the guys for a nightcap. It helps me to relax so I can go to sleep. My wife is asleep when I get home (she works days). She says I don’t know when to stop drinking.
It has caused some embarrassing social situations in the past year. I think a lot of people have probably had that experience. Several times in the past month, however, I don’t remember how I got home. That scares me. I don’t remember what I did those nights. I do notice that I’m drinking more than I did last year, or the year before that. I can’t remember when I went a day without drinking. But – still I’m always at work on time and I’m not the heaviest drinker among my friends. When is it clear that a person has a problem with alcohol?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Drinking is an insidious habit. It weaves its way into the drinker’s lifestyle, subtly taking over and hijacking the drinker’s life. Meanwhile, the drinker’s mind does one of the things it does best, it starts rationalizing and discounting the influence of alcohol over the drinker’s life. It would be an eye opening experience for you to envision what your life would look and feel like if you extricated alcohol from your daily life. How would your daily activities change? How would your relationships change – especially with your wife, family and work friends? What would you do with the time you currently spend drinking, or under the influence? What effect would it have on your sleep, your overall health, your goals and accomplishments, the quality of your marriage and other important relationships (including your relationship with yourself)? How would you feel about yourself if drinking was no longer a part of your life? (Do you notice your mind continuing its rationalizations, even as you envision a life without drinking?)
The content of your letter, as well as the fact that you are concerned enough to write a letter to me shows me that you have a problem with alcohol abuse. It bothers you enough to write. You also have several of the symptoms of substance dependency. Alcohol is a dominant part of your life. I’d suggest that you discover for yourself just how important it is to you by making a commitment to not drink at all for one month. You will need to know just how much of a hold alcohol has over you to motivate yourself to take back your life. Give it a try and let me know what you discover.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at email@example.com, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2016 Chaitanya Counseling Services