All of us drug addicts, alcohol abusers and alcoholics have a number of things in common. One of them is the conviction that we are different from everyone else who ever used or drank. We don’t drink to excess, we can handle it, we can drink all our buddies under the table, use cocaine only on the weekends (well, maybe a tune-up now and then in between), and so forth. Most of all, we are able to convince ourselves that the well-known facts about addictive diseases don’t apply to us, and we get annoyed when we take those screening quizzes and they keep coming up with answers we’re convinced couldn’t possibly be accurate.
Well, I was wrong, and so are you. Those screens were put together over decades by people who make a profession of studying drug and alcohol addicts, cataloging the experiences we report, our scrapes with the law, and the other all-too-common issues surrounding the disease of addiction.
When they ask if we lose time from work because of drinking, it’s because they know that most addicts do. Active alcoholics and other addicts have an absentee rate several times higher than the average employee, and our absences follow patterns: the Monday-morning flu, the weekend that begins a day early, and so forth. These things, and the stories that we make up about them, fool no one but ourselves.
The same is true of the questions about our home life. Many of us make remarks like “If you were living with that so-and-so (or had parents like mine), you’d need to blow off a little steam too.” And you know what? Family members do get sort of bitchy about us missing meals, missing weekends, embarrassing them with other family, friends, and the neighbors, failing to pick the kids up after soccer because “the time just got away from me,” and stuff like that. A few missed birthday parties, broken promises, black eyes and the other delightful traits we exhibit will go a long way towards building just the kind of so-and-so that we use as an excuse for more drinking or drugging.
Remorse and begging forgiveness after a binge, financial problems because we just weren’t paying attention, or blew a paycheck at the crack house or bar, hanging out with low-lifes who use the way we do, the lack of ambition (“One of these days I’m going to be running this company. Now let’s cut out early for a beer”), daily using, avoiding people who don’t use chemicals like we do, eye-openers, thinking that we need to cut down or quit, lying about our consumption, blackouts, brushes with the law — these are all things that active addicts have in common, and all of them indicate problems with alcohol, drugs or both.
Fooling others (or thinking we did) is just rude. When it comes to addiction, fooling ourselves is usually fatal over the long run. But you know what? If you’re even close to honest, you can’t fool those tests. We can run from reality, but we can’t hide. Not really. Because, “no matter where you go…there you are.” Next time we’re tempted to say, “Those tests are ridiculous! They all say I’m an addict, and I don’t have a problem,” we need to consider this: maybe we’re getting our opinion from the wrong person.