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Why I Was Diagnosed as an Alcoholic — Even Though I've Only Been Drunk Twice

I was hospitalized over two years ago for being actively suicidal and self-harming. I was put in the self-injury wing for nine days, and that was my first encounter ever with receiving mental health treatment. I went through everything I expected: group therapy, one-on-one therapy, meetings with psychiatrists — everything. They diagnosed me with depression (which would later turn out to be incorrect, but that’s another story), and that was just the beginning. But I received a diagnosis that came completely out of left field for me: they told me I was an alcoholic.

This greatly confused me because that wasn’t what I was there for. I also wholeheartedly disagreed with it, and I fought them tooth and nail on it. At that point in my life, I had drank four times and gotten drunk twice. How does that possibly qualify as being an alcoholic? It simply didn’t make any sense to me. But after leaving the hospital, I found my own outpatient therapist who I really liked, and I trusted her judgment much more than therapists who only knew me for nine days. But she told me the same thing.

The official diagnosis is alcohol use disorder, and they didn’t just think I had it, they thought I had the most severe form of it. When my therapist said she agreed with it, I again was confused. I had told her very clearly that, yes, I had drank a few times to suppress my feelings and thoughts, but it had only happened twice, that can’t possibly warrant a diagnosis, much less a severe diagnosis. What she said in response to that rings in my head today as clearly as when she said it:

“It’s not the number of drinks, it’s why you drink.”

As a college student, I am almost expected to drink even if I am below the legal age. But this expectation is for me to drink at parties and social events, not alone in my apartment early in the morning. The expectation is I drink with friends to have a good time, not to attempt to drown my sorrows in alcohol. I have had on numerous occasions the desire to drink, but not socially. In fact, I’ve wanted to drink on my own just so I can get fully drunk without being judged, allowed to try to swallow my dark thoughts and feelings as quickly as I can guzzle a beer.

Since I turned 21, it has become more apparent to me all of those therapists and psychiatrists got it exactly right: I have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Even when I knew I was having cravings for negative reasons, I never entertained the idea they might’ve been right. But now I find myself buying alcohol at stores with the intention of drinking half of it in one sitting, alone in my apartment, at night. I find myself at restaurants ordering as many drinks as I can before being judged by the bartender or those with me. I find myself physically craving alcohol much more than I should, and feeling agitated when I cannot have it.

I never recognized my problem until I had the means to really fuel it. But now that I see, I understand what everyone tried to tell me before. If I had simply listened rather than deny and shut down, maybe I could’ve led my life differently, set myself up for success rather than fall right into the trap everyone tried to warn me about. The cliche phrase, “Recognizing you have a problem is the first step in conquering it,” truly couldn’t be more right.

My hope for you is you become truly introspective, listen to those around you and wrestle with yourself to discover if you have a problem you haven’t accepted. It may not be an addiction, it could be anything. You have the ability to see it, the strength to recognize and accept it and the willpower to overcome it. I know you can, I believe in you.

Unsplash image by Warren Wong