​Do I have an alcohol or drug problem?

We cover this off in detail at the beginning of our programme, yet this blog is a useful guide to see whether there might be some improvements you can make to your life, based on your current alcohol or drug use.

If we think there is an issue and we are going to establish ourselves with a new way of living, we are going to have to fully accept the truth and that may be that we can no longer do what we've been doing – that our particular behaviours or self-destructive habits don't work, whether that is substance (drugs, alcohol, food); process (relationships) or activity (sex, gambling, work) oriented. One simple way of approaching the question of whether you need to quit or not is to ask, "Is this behaviour helping me and might things be better in my life if I quit?".

Additionally, I find a lot of people can get stuck on the idea of, "am l an alcoholic?" or, "am l an addict?" and I don't think that's the important question. What I've come to see is, whether I could be clinically diagnosed as an addict or not, as long as I was using drink and/or drugs I couldn't deal with the problems in my life. Perhaps addiction wasn't my biggest problem, but as long as it was there it was keeping me from dealing with my normal life problems (notice I don't say solving those problems?). Today, I still have problems, but I can deal with them. Life is full of problems and drinking and using just makes it harder to deal with them and often creates other, greater problems.

Another way of identifying if we have a problem is to try and truly and honestly ask ourselves the question, "What is my life actually like?", compared to what I think it might be like.

This exercise is best done as a writing process but can also be done as a sharing process or a contemplative process. The main thing is to be honest. Totally honest.

When motivational recovery speakers tell their stories, the classic format is to describe what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now. This exercise covers just the first part of that formula.

Go through in detail, some of the times where you acted on your addiction or destructive behaviour and the results weren't good. Start with your earliest memories – maybe getting caught drinking, getting sick, blacking out, perhaps you missed work, crashed a car, got arrested. What about violence and emotional outbursts?

Did you waste money? Damage relationships? Waste professional opportunities?

How many times did you act like an idiot? Take foolish risks? Sleep with someone you didn't know or care about?

How did your actions affect your emotional states? Did they cause depression, anger, apathy, mania, irritability or any other moods?

You get the idea – and I'm sure you can come up with your own consequences. The important thing isn't to remember every single event, but to establish in your conscious mind the persistent nature of the destructive effects of your actions or cycles of binge drinking. This is fundamental to destroying any vestige of denial, so that you never again can tell yourself, "It wasn't that bad". Sure, it might not have been "that bad" every time or all the time, but if you look at the whole scope of your actions and their consequences, the years it dragged on and all the ways it hurt you and others, it's bound to make an impression and that's the result we want from this exercise.

Writing all this down and sharing it with another trusted person is a great way to embed a basic truth in your mind: That your current way of living isn't working!

In the Making Changes programme, we look into this further – but hopefully this exercise should give you an idea of whether you really do have a problem and if Making Changes could be beneficial to you.

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