10 Ways To Tell Problem Drinking From Alcoholism


 It's New Year's Eve and many people are making resolutions. For a lot of us our resolutions are all about becoming healthier: exercising more, eating better and once and for all giving up smoking or drinking too much.

Yesterday's post defined what tips a social drinker over into the realm of problem drinking.

…the line between social drinking and problem drinking can be very thin.

The line between problem drinking and alcoholism is thinner still.

As you've probably heard before, no one starts out drinking or smoking to become addicted. We all have this incredible ability to deny the reality: That it can happen to us.

Alcohol abuse, or problem drinking, is basically unhealthy or dangerous drinking, such as drinking every day or drinking too much at a time. Problem drinking can destroy your relationships, cause you to miss work, risk getting fired and lead to legal
problems like getting pulled over by the cops for a DUI. When you abuse alcohol, you continue to
drink even though you know it's causing problems.

you continue to abuse alcohol, it can, and very likely will, lead to alcohol
dependence. Alcohol dependence is
You are physically and/or mentally
addicted to the alcohol. Your body needs it to function. You experience this by having a strong need to drink. You feel like you must drink just to get by.

According to the experts, you are dependent on alcohol if you have three or more of the
following problems:


20 Ways to Tell Problem Drinking From Social Drinking

3200122472_bdd48962b3 Wine and spirits are among the finest gifts God gave to humankind. When we can enjoy them in moderation it’s a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, the line between social drinking and problem drinking can be very thin. The line between problem drinking and alcoholism is thinner still. People who abuse alcohol know this, so they deny, deny, deny there is a problem with their drinking.

Here’s a hint to anyone who secretly thinks they might have a problem with alcohol: If you’re thinking it, it’s a problem. If someone, anyone has shown you concern about your drinking, IT’S A PROBLEM!

We have a serious social issue in this country which is: if you want to be social, drinking is usually involved and too often it gets out of hand. I hear this from college students, young professionals, seasoned businessmen, even stay at home moms! If everyone around you has a drinking problem does that mean you have less of one? This is not to pronounce judgment. It’s just a reality check.

There was a time when I was in college, I couldn’t go to sleep without a drink. I had a stash of cheap wine in my one room walk-up. One night the bottle was empty, I’d forgotten to get more, and I freaked out. First I freaked out that I didn’t have any wine and it was too late to get any. Then I freaked out that I was freaking out. It was the first time (not the last) that I realized I had it in me to become an addict.

The Mayo Clinic says:

People who abuse alcohol may experience many of the same signs and symptoms as people who are dependent on alcohol. However, alcohol abusers don’t feel the same compulsion to drink and usually don’t experience physical withdrawal symptoms when they don’t drink.

Your drinking is a problem if…


The Risk of Living Life With Passion

The New York Times Sunday edition has a column, Modern Love, where people write about all the different forms Love takes and how it has effected them personally.

Last Sunday's piece was "When My Mother Called Out the Posse."  I saw the image with the horse portraits and thought, "Goodie! Something about love of horses," grabbed a cup of tea and settled on the sofa for a pleasant read. 

Brandon Lawniczak is a lawyer in Chicago. While raised on horses, he's not a horse person himself. He wrote:

The previous year my parents had moved from rural Michigan to Ocala, Fla., rolling land dotted with thoroughbred farms and strip malls…

Their 12-stall barn was attached to a one bedroom living quarters. On the property in Michigan where I'd grown up, the horse barn had been 600 feet away. Now the barn and house were under one roof – my mother's utopia.

Haven't we all dreamed of such a set up? Whether it's practical or not, anyone with a passion wants to live above the shop. I know quite a few therapists who have their offices in their homes. It works for them and I can understand the attraction. Because I'm way too distractable I couldn't do it. Every noise or scent would set off a chain reaction of thought neutrons, "Did the kid's come home from school? Did anyone feed the dog? What's he barking at anyway? Does my patient smell what we had for dinner last night?" Forget it. My husband, on the other hand, always imagined having an apartment over his lab, and I hope some day that's possible. I don't see him living over a barn, though.

Mr. Lawniczak goes on telling the story of his mother's love for horses and how she reacted when two of them were stolen from her barn. Eventually they were found and all was well. A happy ending, I thought, until the next paragraph:


A Boxing Day Video Gift

Even though it’s not a tradition I grew up with, I love Boxing Day. Living at Canada’s doorstep has made me aware of this post-Christmas holiday of British origin. Like most good ideas, I have adopted it in my own way.

A reader, Ty, from PsychCentral provided the link to this video. Thank you, Ty! Here’s what she wrote:

Here’s an 8 Minute Holiday Treat! One of my new favorite Christmas movies, “The Gift Wrapper”, I saw
in a film festival this year and it was just posted on youtube for the

Apparently they are only screening it for the holidays and then it goes back into the vaults till next year.


Holiday Loneliness: One Man’s Story

I just read this piece by Walter Kirn, (who wrote the novel "Up in the Air," now a George Clooney movie) on his pre-Christmas "balsam scented loneliness"  and had to pass it on. Last year Mr. Kirn was divorced, his kids were with their mother and his brothers and sisters were far away.

This is what he wrote:

…before I reveal what happened next, I’d like to touch on a study
that came out recently concerning the contagiousness of loneliness. An
article in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology presented
the argument that feelings of sadness and isolation can spread from the
folks who are feeling them not only to their friends but also to their
friends’ friends. And while these findings seem odd at first (aren’t
the lonesome lonely because they lack friends?), the University of Chicago psychologist who is behind them says that they make sense.

say for whatever reason — the loss of a spouse, a divorce — you get
lonely,” the study’s principal author, John T. Cacioppo, told The
Washington Post. “You then interact with people in a more negative
fashion. That puts them in a negative mood and makes them more likely
to interact with other people in a negative fashion, and they minimize
their social ties and become lonely.”

Call this, if you will, the Viral Bummer Theory.

Which is why starting before Thanksgiving I talk with my patients
about what their plans are for the holidays and how they are coping. For many it's a no brainer. They
are looking forward to the usual family gathering and it's all good.


Gina Carroll: What to Do When Someone Threatens Suicide Online

Gina Carroll introduced herself to me last fall when she asked if she could quote from my article on parents being their kids' 'friends' on Facebook. A contributing writer for BlogHer, author of two parenting blogs, Tortured by Teenagers and Think Act: Proactive Black Parenting, an attorney and facilitator, mother of five…honestly I don't know how she does it! I admire her very much, not least because she focused her considerable intelligence and compassion on a very difficult subject: Online suicide threats.

I was honored when she asked to interview me for the article. Here is an excerpt:

Many of us who encounter someone's words of desperation or harmful
intent in a blog or forum are extremely disturbed and alarmed. We want
to help or intervene, but we don't know if we should act; if the
expression is real; and if so, what to do. Suicidal expressions online
are unique in that the person in pain is likely a stranger. We might
not know an identity or where he or she lives. We don't know if they
are sincere, just blowing off steam, or pulling off a carefully
orchestrated art experiment.

Dr. Elvira Aletta, practicing clinical psychologist, mother of two teens and blogger at ExploreWhatsNext.com,
says that fundamentally these details don't matter. We should assume
the person expressing suicidal intentions is serious. We should act
swiftly and with the goal of connecting him or her with professional
help. The following is an excerpt from my interview with Dr. Aletta
about online crisis and what to do when you encounter it…

Read the entire article: Encountering Crisis Online: What to Do When Someone Threatens Suicide

The Simple Joy of A Kids’ Holiday Concert

Around the world millions of parents are engaged in the same activity – attending their children's holiday school event. Last week we attended the South High School Winter Spectacular! My son plays the guitar in the jazz band and my daughter the viola in the orchestra.

Every year we go to these events expecting to be a little bored, a little inconvenienced, hoping not to fall asleep. Coming at the end of a work day as they tend to do, we rush through dinner to make it on time and get a decent parking space.

Then the auditorium darkens, the stage lights go up and the music begins. Any lingering annoyance suddenly vanishes. In its place is pride, happiness, and a nostalgic kind of joy.  Our eyes sting a little, our hearts ache a little. Remember when she was five and played a cow in the nativity play? Or when he was an elf in Santa's Chorus? When was that the second grade?

Now they're in high school. All these children, now young adults, and still they have no idea how beautiful they all are. 

This year's show was exceptional. Do we say that every year? I am grateful to the work put in by the teachers, too. They seemed to enjoy the performance as much as the kids, conducting and directing with all the gusto of Broadway impresarios.

Movies like The Bells of St. Mary's, as well as that old tearjerker, Penny Serenade, and a personal favorite, Love Actually, all captured some of this bittersweet, universal experience. I hope you enjoy your school holiday pageant as much as we did ours.

Mom Did Not Teach Me How to Brag

My editor wanted to know why I haven't been posting as frequently as I usually do.

"The practice has been really busy. It's a good thing!"

"Fine. Then write about it."

Editors. Can't live with them, can't throw them under a bus.

The truth is:

1) I was trained from infancy not to brag.

2) Any positive talk about myself was bragging.

You see the problem? Even five years of therapy has not made tooting my own horn comfortable. It took a crow bar to get me to stand still for a compliment! Now I'm told I need to get over the next hurdle to be honest with people about my life. ARG! I feel like the bungee jumper looking down at the water far below.

Here goes!

To explain how my private practice has evolved I have to go into how my husband and I made some major life decisions, what we decided to do and how we did it.

About three years ago my husband, a brilliant neuroscientist, had a twinkle in his eye. He wanted to create an innovative biotech company built on intellectual property he invented. His plan made sense but it would require sacrifices. He dove full-time into the development of the company and I took on the major responsibility for keeping the household accounts from freezing.

To do this I had a choice. Stay on insurance panels, say goodbye to my kids and work more hours to make ends meet OR get off the panels, go totally fee-for-service and add a few more hours, but not nearly as many. My husband and I decided that getting off the panels made the most sense for our family. Basically, I liked the idea of working smarter instead of harder.

It was a huge gamble. This was before the recession, so it didn't feel as huge a gamble as it turned out to be later. Ignorance truly is bliss.


When My Inner Child Behaves Like a Brat

Lately I've been asking myself why the therapist isn't following her own advise. It's so easy to tell people to exercise a little every day, to stay away from sweets and alcohol, to get eight hours of sleep a night. Too easy.

So much harder to actually do it myself. Lately when I wake up, instead of doing my usual prayer of gratitude for the new day, I moan, "Why did you eat those cookies, that pie, those potatoes!"  I whine, "Do I really have to exercise? It's so cold!"  I kvetch, "You stayed up too late watching TV!"  I could blame the lack of sunshine, the busy schedule, the fact that I'm middle aged. It doesn't matter. It's got to stop or at least slow down or I will end up looking like Jabba the Hut in no time.

Remember when I got into my skinny jeans? Well, forget that!

Counting calories? Still a good idea but am I doing it? Uh….

David Rock, Are Our Minds Going the Way of Our Waists, apparently thinks the reason I have so much trouble with regulating my eating is that there is so much temptation in my face all the time and the part of my brain that provides restraint is puny. I don't doubt it.

How could the therapist help herself? There is a concept that seems to resonate when I'm counseling people.  When we have trouble doing the right thing for ourselves consider this simple idea: 

In theory our psyches are made up of three entities, the Child, the Parent and the Adult. Transactional analysis, a humanistic school of psychology, used these terms.  Sigmund Freud identified these constructs as the Id, the Superego and the Ego respectively. We get out of whack (scientific term for neurotic) when either the Child or the Parent stomps all over the Adult.

Like when I see a brownie. The child in me jumps up and down and demands the brownie now!  The adult might say, "You know, eating the brownie is contrary to your goal of losing weight. No brownie. Eat an apple instead!" The Parent is silent. At least it is until I've ignored the Adult, given in to the Child and gobbled down the brownie. Then it yells, "What is wrong with you! Don't you feel bad? Well, you should!" 


Holiday Stress! Can a Professional Organizer Help?

My friend, Linda Groat, owner of Simply Back to Basics Organizing and Coaching, helped me reclaim my home office space, making it a much more enjoyable space to work in. Because that project worked so well I wondered if she could help me get through the frenzy of cooking, baking, shopping, gift wrapping, decorating and card distribution that comes around this time of year. Recently she graciously invited me to her home to explain how a professional organizer works.

I've used your services to help me organize both my offices at home and away
and still use the systems we set up. Can you describe how an organizer helps
people for those new to professional organizing?

Of course, Dr. Aletta. People get stuck in their projects usually because of a major life change
(illness, injury, recent or impending move, death of someone close to them,
birth/adoption, a new/demanding job, obligations to aging
parents, etc). People have busy lives that make it difficult for them to
keep all their commitments running smoothly.

Professional organizers provide
ideas and resources, support and
encouragement, planning and implementation of organizing projects, as well as follow up
and maintenance.
NAPO, the
National Association of Professional Organizers, is a group of
thousands of organizers across the US and other countries, committed to helping
clients achieve their goals.

I work through a consultation process, where I identify the
goals and vision of each client and tailor a plan that will work with their
personality and habits. The systems are set up initially within the first
session or two and are tweaked as needed within follow up sessions to ensure
everything is working properly. Clients are encouraged to share their feedback
with me to ensure things are working well.

When a client first contacts me, I provide a free 15-20
minute phone consultation about their concerns. Upon mutual agreement, we then
schedule a 2 hour initial consultation session in their home or office where I
conduct a detailed assessment of their goals and spaces. From that session, we
establish a shopping list of needed supplies and a detailed plan/scope of the
project. The time needed to complete each project varies with many factors. My
follow up sessions are a minimum of 4 hours to allow for optimal

I usually work hands on in clients’ homes or offices, but now
I am also offering a new service of consultation through a webcam, using Skype,
where we can work on certain things long distance, like vision planning and
time management.

thinking there are a lot of people like me, who feel completely blindsided that
it's already Christmas time! How can an organizer help me get a grip?

The holiday time creates a lot of opportunity for joy, and at
the same time can be stressful. Organizers can help you get both physically and
emotionally ready to make the most of your family time. By streamlining and
systematizing kitchens, laundry rooms, play areas, paperwork and daily
routines, those every day chores that are so taxing become automatic and even
enjoyable. That leaves time and energy left to do other fun projects for the

Do you have any special tips
for organizing gift giving?

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