Ask Mary: 'Am I an alcoholic?

'I'm a 54-year-old woman and I am beginning to think that I have a problem with alcohol.

My husband and I used to love picking a good wine to go with our food in restaurants. I would read wine columns and spend time picking out good wines at off-licences.

But it was never more than a social pleasure – until recently, that is.

I started drinking more frequently about a year ago. I put it down to the fact that my daughter had moved into a flat of her own, but, ironically, I see more of her now than before.

My taste for wine hasn't abated, though.

I find myself counting the hours until 6pm, when I can 'respectably' open a bottle.

When the bottle is half-empty, I hide it in case my husband sees how much I've drunk.

I've also started looking at wine as my reward after a tough day.

I tried to stop for a week, but lasted a few days. When I broke out, I really went over the top and blacked out on the sofa.

I feel so afraid and ashamed. I hope I'm not an alcoholic. What do you think? Kath

Mary's view:

'Try to ration yourself to one glass'

Yes, you have the beginnings of a problem with your pattern of drinking. The positive thing is that you recognise it yourself, which will enable you to combat it and lift yourself out of it.

Going to restaurants and picking out a nice wine, reading the wine columns in magazines, all that is very interesting and there is nothing wrong with it.

It seems that your daughter moving out of home is the trigger for your more extensive drinking.

You say you can't wait until 6pm in the evening when you can "respectably" open a bottle.

Why not try to leave the house between 5pm and 5.30pm every evening, and always with a venue and a particular matter to which you have to give attention.

For instance, you could go to the local shop, you could go to the post office, you can visit somebody who is lonely... endless number of things, but make a plan for yourself.

You see, you have used 6pm as a benchmark, and it is better to be out of the house when benchmark time comes each evening. This, I hope, will be the start of breaking your addictive habit.

Now, the next step, Kath, is essentially in your own hands.

You do not have to become an alcoholic, but you could very easily tip over into being one if you don't take yourself very firmly in hand.

You say that you tried to give it up for a week but found that the aftermath was too difficult.

I feel it would be far better for you if you could work out a campaign of rationing yourself, ie, plan some days in which you never have a glass of wine and then, perhaps at weekends, you could have one.

So my advice to you is fairly simple and basic:

1. Break out of the 6pm habit in quite simply not being in your home for that time.

2. In the beginning, do not try to completely give up having a drink. Ration yourself to perhaps a drink of one glass of wine on a Friday night and perhaps another on a Sunday night, but one glass only.

3. Do not have drink in the house. That way, if you do not have it, you can't drink it.

This all sounds very rigorous, but I strongly feel you have to undertake those steps and hopefully all will work out in the end.

Remember, you can do this through your own strong will.

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