The rate of alcohol use disorder, more commonly known as alcoholism, shot up 49 percent in the first decade of the 2000s.
According to a study published last year, that means one in eight Americans, or 12.7 percent, now meets the diagnostic criteria for alcoholism.
How do you know if you're one of those Americans? Denial is a powerful thing, and that combined with other factors can make it hard to look at yourself and say, "I have a drinking problem."
Asking yourself, "Do I have a problem with alcohol?" is the first of several questions you should be posing.
Read out to find out more about how to know if you're an alcoholic.
The Role Alcohol Plays In Your Life
When a friend suggests you go out and get a drink, can you stop at one drink, or do you end up having 10 or 12 drinks? If you go to a party without any alcohol, do you feel OK about that, or do you have to run down the street to the nearest convenience store and pick up some beers?
One of the first things worth examining is your overall relationship with booze. That sounds easy enough in theory, but it can be difficult in practice.
For one thing, admitting we have a problem makes it real, and that's always scarier than a hypothetical situation.
From that vantage point, denial seems like the safe, comfortable, option, but it's not.
A Public Health Crisis
An alcohol problem doesn't just impact the person who is drinking. It affects their family, friends, and society at large.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates excessive alcohol use is responsible for 88,000 deaths a year in the United States. Among those who die from it, experts believe it shortens their lives by an average of 30 years.
Among adults between the ages of 20 and 64, a group known as "working age adults," alcohol is believed to be the cause of one in 10 deaths.
We often associate binge drinking with being an alcoholic, but that's another faulty assumption.
What Binge Drinking Is (and Isn't)
The CDC distinguishes between binge drinking and heavy drinking. Binge drinking is defined as follows: For women, it's four or more drinks during a single occasion. For men, it's five or more drinks, also during a single occasion.
Heavy drinking is defined as eight or more drinks a week for women, and 15 or more drinks a week for men.
While one in three Americans drinks excessively, 90 percent of those people are not considered alcoholics. What gives?
Binge drinking and heavy drinking can cause health problems, but again, alcoholism is more about your relationship with booze than the amount of it you're drinking.
There's some overlap, but it's not as simple as saying, "I'm a man who had 16 drinks this week. Therefore, I'm an alcoholic."
Questions Worth Asking
When there are consequences for your drinking, are you able to adjust your alcohol consumption? Consequences can range from a hangover that makes you sick to getting arrested for driving under the influence.
When are you an alcoholic? If you can't stop drinking even after getting into legal trouble, then that's definitely not a good sign. Ideally, an arrest for something like DUI or public intoxication is a wake-up call to re-evaluate the choices you're making.
Pay attention to how your friends treat you as well. Do they often say things like "I think you've had plenty," or "That's enough drinking for tonight?"
Do you promise loved ones that you'll cut back on drinking, only to renege when something stressful happens? It's one thing to have a drink or two after a bad day at work; it's another thing entirely to get plastered every night because you don't want to think about how much you hate your job.
When you drink, can you remember everything that happens, or are there gaps in your memory that you can't account for? Do you say things to other people that you have to apologize for the next day?
Asking yourself hard questions is uncomfortable and even scary. It's easier to not think about this stuff and just make excuses.
If someone asks you to cut back on your drinking, it's easier to tell yourself, "They just don't want me to have any fun" rather than admit that you might actually need to analyze your drinking patterns.
If you can't remember what happened last night when you were drinking, that's frightening. You may try to get around that feeling by insisting someone spiked your drink, even if you were with a group of close friends who have never shown any indication they would do something like that.
It's much easier to blame other people, or your job, or the fact that Mercury is in retrograde, rather than sit down admit that this is a serious issue that needs fixing.
How to Say, "I Have a Drinking Problem"
Before you can admit the truth to others, you have to be able to admit it to yourself.
You don't have to know the why of it just yet. It might be due to past trauma, family history, or something else. Understanding can and will come later.
First, you just have to be able to accept the situation for what it is, not what you want it to be.
You can close your eyes as you say it, as long as you form the words and let them leave your mouth.
You may be surprised by the immediate sense of relief that follows.
Finding the Right Kind of Help
We know there's no universal cause for alcoholism. That's why we also know there's no universal treatment for it.
The words "I have a drinking problem" mark the first step down a long road, and we're not here to guess what will work and cross our fingers. We do however know a thing or two about selecting the proper alcohol rehab center.