Are you an \u201calmost alcoholic?\u201d Do you even have any idea what that is? It may sound a little strange, but it isn\u2019t as far off as you might think. With all the media attention of the consequences of drunk driving, the national rates of alcoholism and continued teen experimentation with alcohol, you might wonder if we\u2019re a country of drunks or people skirting the boundaries of having a problem with alcohol. You might even be worried that you could be one of them \u2013 although you\u2019d deny it vehemently to anyone who brought up the subject or insinuated that maybe you\u2019re drinking too much. Just about one year ago, Dr. Robert L. Doyle, a professor of behavioral health at Harvard University and psychologist Dr. Joseph Nowinski, wrote a book entitled Almost Alcoholic. Their work provided a compelling look into the fine line that may pinpoint where a person can cross over from casual drinking to being well on their way to full-fledged alcoholism. Cutting to the chase, what is relevant today \u2013 as it always is for those who are possibly concerned about their drinking habits or those of their loved ones \u2013 is just what are the signs or markers that could indicate someone has more than just a few traits indicating they\u2019re on their way to alcoholism. In other words, how do you know if you might be an \u201calmost alcoholic?\u201d According to the authors, the following signs may indicate that you have moved out of the \u201cnormal\u201d realm of social drinking and are in or approaching that part of the drinking spectrum that qualifies as almost alcoholic. \tYou drink to relieve stress. \tYou often drink alone. \tYou look forward to drinking. \tYour drinking may be related to one or more health problems. \tYou drink to relieve boredom or loneliness. \tYou sometimes drive after drinking. \tYou drink to maintain a \u201cbuzz.\u201d \tYour performance at work is not what it used to be. \tYou aren\u2019t comfortable in social situations without drinking. \tYou find that drinking helps you overcome your shyness. But just looking at the aforementioned potential indicators of a near alcoholic doesn\u2019t seem to be too reliable in determining whether you might be one. After all, simply answering in the affirmative to one or more certainly wouldn\u2019t automatically mean you are a near alcoholic, would it? What if you only do the action sometimes or rarely? There don\u2019t seem to be any gradations, just absolutes. Yet the grouping of these indicators is perhaps helpful in looking at the situations you might put yourself in, how you typically act or react to certain stressors and circumstances, how often you drink, how much you drink, and for how long you drink. Taking them all together, a clearer picture might emerge as to whether or not you could be an almost alcoholic. Drinking to Relieve Stress Who doesn\u2019t feel some stress during the course of the day? If we are honest with ourselves, most of us do experience stress and try our best to alleviate it. Maybe one drink will do it, bringing you to a calmer state of mind, mellowing out your mood and taking the edge off stress. Maybe it requires more than one drink. Maybe, on certain occasions, you need a slew of drinks, one right after the other, to blot out an exceedingly unpleasant or highly stressful day. It isn\u2019t the once in a while that you drink to alleviate stress that will get you in trouble \u2013 as long as you moderate your intake and pay careful attention to other contributing factors that might intensify the effects of the alcohol. When this drinking to relieve stress may veer into murky territory is if you find yourself doing it all the time, as in you feel that you have to have a drink every day in order to unwind and de-stress from what happened. Drinking Alone If drinking alone is an indicator \u2013 or could be \u2013 that you\u2019re an almost alcoholic, what about the times that you have a drink at home and there\u2019s no one else around at the time? It isn\u2019t that you deliberately set out to drink by yourself. It\u2019s just that you happen to be alone at the time that you decide to have that cold beer. Maybe you are in the presence of friends at a party or someone\u2019s house or an outdoor get-together and everyone leaves to go home. You\u2019re still nursing your drink or have been busy helping the host or are engaged in cleaning up. You find yourself by yourself and you barely touched your drink. Since it\u2019s still full or fresh, you decide to drink it. This can\u2019t be construed as problematic, can it? Where drinking alone will tend to get you into hot water in the long run is when you make a habit of doing it. You may believe that you have to hide your drinking from others and that\u2019s why you drink solo. You may not want to hear their harping or see their disapproving looks. Maybe you don\u2019t want to get into a competitive drinking contest among heavy drinking friends and that\u2019s why you drink alone. Just be careful when you find yourself picking up a drink or drinks when you are by yourself. Monitor how often you do this and, more importantly, why you feel the need to do so. If it is becoming a frequent occurrence, consider tapering off. Get busy doing something else instead of reaching for a drink. It will be healthier for you and you won\u2019t be establishing a pattern that could prove to be habitual and dangerous. Anticipating Drinking The association between drinking and having a good time, socializing and unwinding at the end of the day has been perpetuated and promoted for years by companies marketing beer, wine and spirits. It\u2019s hard to pick up a magazine without seeing glossy advertisements showing young, happy and vibrant people having a great time \u2013 and holding a glass, can or bottle of the alcoholic drink being promoted. Billboards tout vodka and beer, possibly interspersed rarely with one containing an admonition to not drink and drive. Television is rife with beer commercials \u2013 and they\u2019re not only during sports games anymore. Talk about subliminal messaging. The point being made is that it\u2019s not only okay to drink this product, but that you\u2019ll be happier, more social and more accepted if you do so. Given the ubiquitous nature of alcohol advertising, is it any wonder that you might find yourself really looking forward to having that drink as soon as you walk through the door at home? Or, you can\u2019t wait for the end of the day so you can join your pals at the bar or tavern to catch up on what\u2019s happening over a round or several of drinks? No, it isn\u2019t merely the advertising that gets you in this mode of thinking. You are responsible for programming yourself. It\u2019s like Pavlov\u2019s dog. You know you\u2019ll feel more relaxed after you have that drink, so you look forward to the reward. Pretty soon, the anticipation starts to happen more frequently. More than just anticipating it, you really want that drink. Watch out here. This kind of patterned behavior can lead you down a path that you\u2019ll find it difficult to turn back from. There must be something else you can substitute for this kind of anticipation. Maybe it is spending time with your spouse or loved one or playing with your kinds or working outside. Try to find an appealing, healthy alternative. Drinking Related to Health Problems Let\u2019s say you have diabetes or heart problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, even cancer. What you may not have taken into consideration is that drinking alcohol can worsen the health problems you already have \u2013 as well as lead to additional health problems. Alcohol can cause changes in blood sugar levels, which can cause or exacerbate problems with diabetics. Heart disease, kidney disease, and circulation problems can worsen by the consumption of alcohol. Any medications that you currently take for health conditions may not work as well or may fail to work as a result of drinking alcohol. But there are also mental, emotional and behavioral problems that may be made worse by the consumption of too much alcohol. These include anxiety, depression, and short- and long-term confusion. So, if you have an existing health condition \u2013 or are showing symptoms of one but haven\u2019t yet been diagnosed \u2013 be aware that drinking alcohol can contribute to a worsening of that condition and could even bring about more health problems than you already have. Drinking to Stave Off Boredom or Loneliness Having nothing or no one to look forward to at the end of the day, or during long weekends and time you have to take off for vacations can sometimes make the prospect of having a few drinks more appealing. You may be a single parent, or are widowed, never married and currently living alone. Perhaps you are retired or are house-bound due to a medical condition or physical injury. You count the hours and they seem endless. You feel alone, unwanted, unappreciated and have no immediate hope of remedying the situation. Picking up that drink as a way to get past feeling bored and lonely is a dangerous practice that can only get worse. The more you engage in this type of aimless behavior, the more ingrained it will become. You will automatically find yourself gravitating toward alcohol as a way to pass the time without thinking or worrying about your lack of companionship or things to do. Being mindful of the dangers of drinking to ward of boredom and loneliness is the first step toward training yourself not to drink for that purpose. If you can, join a group that is devoted to some kind of activity you find enjoyable. There you will meet new people and may strike up a friendship. At least you will have somewhere to go and something to do that doesn\u2019t involve alcohol. If you cannot leave the house for whatever reason, join a cyber-chat group or have a relative or someone you know bring you books, games and things to do. Take up a hobby that you can do at home, something that will occupy your mind and get your thoughts off how lonely or bored you are. Driving After Drinking There is no question that drinking and driving is a serious problem in the United States. Looking at the recent recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for states to lower the legal level of blood alcohol content (BAC) for drivers from the current 0.08 to 0.04 might be enough to persuade millions of Americans to limit alcohol consumption or forego driving after drinking. Then, again, maybe it wouldn\u2019t. After all, many people who drink believe that they are perfectly capable behind the wheel after a few drinks. The truth is that unless they have been pulled over for a DUI and convicted of the crime, they probably will continue the dangerous behavior \u2013 possibly with ultimately disastrous consequences. Study after study has found that many people are intoxicated despite the fact that their BAC is below the legal limit. In some individuals, even one drink is enough to impair their driving ability. Some serious changes will have to be made in society to the point where alcohol consumption beyond lowered limits and driving simply will not be tolerated. Will this be unpopular? Undoubtedly, it will be, especially among those who believe they can hold their liquor. Will it gain traction? Will the courts mandate alcohol-ignition interlocks, alcohol treatment programs, loss of licenses and stiffer fines for first-time offenders? The trend seems to be going in that direction. Ask yourself if you drive after drinking and, if you do, are you completely convinced that you are under the legal limit in your state \u2013 and perfectly capable of functioning appropriately behind the wheel? This is not an idle question or an inconsequential one. Maybe curtailing drinking and then driving is a better option \u2013 especially if you have been prone to drinking and driving for some time. Drinking to Keep the \u201cBuzz\u201d Do you find yourself sipping your drinks for the express purpose of keeping the \u201cbuzz\u201d that you\u2019ve got, going? Drink sippers never drink to the point of passing out. Nor do they pound them down all at once. They nurse their drinks along so that the problems that were bothering them don\u2019t have a chance to intrude on the mellow feeling. The problem with this is that even though you think you\u2019re perfectly fine, you are still consuming alcohol. It isn\u2019t leaving your system through discontinuation of drinking. You\u2019re still helping it along, albeit slowly. Doing this as a regular practice is tantamount to skirting the edge of a cliff. Sooner or later, you\u2019re bound to get a little too close to be safe \u2013 and you may not be able to turn back. Drinking and Work Performance It isn\u2019t that you\u2019re in danger of getting fired \u2013 yet, but you may have noticed that your performance at work just isn\u2019t what it once was. This seems to be directly or indirectly related to the number of days you come in hung over from your drinking the night before. You may not be as alert or focused as you need to be, as you used to be. You may take shortcuts, gloss over important details, and even miss some entirely. Deadlines come and go and you\u2019re still not finished with the project or assignment given to you. Your boss takes notice and the impression is not good. If you\u2019ve been passed over for a promotion, didn\u2019t get the raise you expected, or got a less-than-adequate performance review, maybe your drinking is a big part of the problem. While you\u2019re not a stone alcoholic, there is no question that alcohol consumption is getting in the way of your optimum performance at work. And this can prove to be a serious setback to your career and further earning and advancement opportunities. Avoiding Situations Where There\u2019s No Drinking Allowed A pretty good clue that you may be a near alcoholic is when you deliberately avoid going to or being around people in situations where there is no drinking allowed or you know that there won\u2019t be any alcohol present. This goes to the heart of what you think constitutes an enjoyable social situation. If you would otherwise be with these same people or at the same event and the only difference is that alcohol is served, then you know you have a potential problem on your hands. Drinking to Overcome Shyness Still along the lines of social situations, suppose you feel you need to drink in order to overcome your shy nature. Loosening up with a few drinks may seem like the optimal solution, but is it really? What are you setting yourself up for other than a dangerous pattern of alcohol consumption in order to overcome your fear of interacting with people? Losing your inhibitions isn\u2019t all it\u2019s cracked up to be. In fact, you could go too far and make yourself look ridiculous to others \u2013 all in the name of feeling more at-ease. Such behavior isn\u2019t worth the risk that you establish and maintain a pattern that\u2019s clearly not healthy for you. Breaking the pattern is one of the smartest things you can do to help avoid becoming a near alcoholic. What You Do Now Counts Hopefully, the foregoing has given you something to think about with respect to your drinking behavior. Remember that having one or more of the indicators doesn\u2019t necessarily mean that you\u2019re a near alcoholic or even on your way to becoming one. But it is important to note that the fine line between casual drinking and getting close to being a near alcoholic is incredibly thin. It also tends to vary between people. Some will get closer to the edge than others. Some will be smart enough to recognize they\u2019re falling into dangerous patterns and decide to do something about them. And that is where the crux of the matter is. It is what you do now that counts.