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How Do You Know When Drinking Has Become a Problem?

How Do You Know When Drinking Has Become a Problem?

We live in a culture where drinking is common and sometimes even expected. This can sometimes make it hard to know when our drinking is normal or excessive. We are particularly prone to misjudgment because our ideas about normal drinking are most strongly influenced by our immediate circle of friends and relatives. Unfortunately, this standard can be misleading. Furthermore, we are all different--we have different risk factors for addiction, different ability to metabolize alcohol, different states of health, and so on. Whether or not your drinking is excessive depends a lot on your personal situation and the following can help you determine if your drinking is a problem.

Yellow Zone

You don’t necessarily have to have an alcohol use disorder to have a problem with alcohol. Problem drinking comes in many shapes and sizes, including the following.

Moderately High Daily Drinking

When you get outside the green zone of moderate drinking--typically no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women--you can get into problems pretty quickly. First, it suggests an escalation in drinking, which means your drinking might continue to escalate. Second, over years of mildly excessive drinking, you are still at higher risk of a number of health issues, including heart disease, liver disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Third, you can form a dependence more easily than you might think. For example, if you’re a woman, you may experience withdrawal symptoms after drinking five or six drinks a day for two months. 

Weekend Binge Drinking

You typically have to drink most days to develop a dependence on alcohol. A dependence is considered necessary but not sufficient for addiction. However, as noted above, problem drinking comes in many forms. If you don’t drink all week, but then go hard on weekends, you are still vulnerable to many of the negative effects of problem drinking, including alcohol poisoning, blackouts, accidents, fights, and DUIs. Even one such event can seriously affect your life.

Red Zone

The following are some of the clearer signs that your problematic drinking has become an alcohol use disorder.

Canceling Plans to Drink

One of the main indications of a substance use issue of any kind is if it takes priority over other things in your life. So if you’re making room for drinking, especially drinking alone, it’s a clear sign of a problem That includes canceling plans with friends, neglecting family responsibilities, missing work, and so on.

Lying About Drinking

When you’re lying about how much you drink or that you drink at all, it indicates at some level you either know you are drinking too much or you know other people will think you are drinking too much. Neither is a good sign. If you tell your spouse you’re running an errand so you have an excuse to go get a drink, if you’re “priming” before you meet up with friends, or if you’re hiding alcohol around your house or in other containers, it’s a pretty good sign you have an alcohol use disorder. Lying and deception are among the biggest reasons addiction is so harmful to relationships.

Borrowing or Stealing Money to Drink

Another clear sign of addiction is if you are violating your normal ethical principles, including borrowing or stealing money for alcohol. If you don’t have money for alcohol and you have to go to such lengths to get a drink, that’s a huge red flag.

Needing More Alcohol to Feel the Effects

Another word for tolerance is dependence. If you have to drink more than you used to feel the effects, it’s a sign that your body has adapted to the presence of alcohol. The flip side of that is that once you stop drinking--or try to stop--you’re going to experience withdrawal, which is often a major barrier to quitting.

Drinking to Relax

Drinking to relax can be a problem for two reasons: First, it can indicate that you are drinking to cope with stress, which is a problem in itself because it can mean drinking fills an emotional need. Second, it may indicate that you have developed a dependence and you are physiologically unable to relax without alcohol. You may even be feeling some mild withdrawal in the form of irritability, tension, headaches, and so on.

Legal Problems

For many people, running into legal problems is a clear sign their drinking has gotten out of control. It may be a DUI, a domestic violence call, a fight, or other problems that wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t drinking. It’s possible that you just happened to get caught on the one night you drank too much, but that’s very unlikely.

Health Problems

Health problems can be another wakeup call for many people. Drinking may lead to heart disease, liver disease, obesity, diabetes, and various kinds of cancer, as well as other problems. Some of these may appear more quickly than you think. For example, you may have fatty liver disease with no symptoms and at a relatively young age.

Work Problems

Work is often the last thing to suffer when someone has an alcohol use issue. Not only do you need some kind of income to pay the bills, but many people tie their sense of identity and self-worth to their work. They often feel like they can drink as much as they want, as long as they still perform well at their jobs. Therefore, it’s often a sign of a serious problem if you are drinking at work or skipping out early to drink.

Trying to Quit and Failing

Finally, it’s a pretty clear sign of addiction when you think you should quit or you actually try to quit but you can’t seem to manage it. This may take several forms. Perhaps you can’t even get through withdrawal. Maybe you can make it a couple of weeks and then you say to yourself, “See. I proved I can do it so now I can start drinking again.” Maybe you decide to quit and somehow find yourself drinking again the same night, the way smokers sometimes light up without any conscious awareness.

There are many possible signs that drinking has become a problem. If you’re asking yourself the question at all, it’s probably time to take a break. If you are showing some of the more serious signs of an alcohol use disorder, such as lying, borrowing, stealing, needing alcohol to relax, having legal or health problems, and so on, it’s time to take decisive action, whether that’s going to an AA meeting, finding a therapist, or looking into treatment programs. If you have tried several times to get sober and failed, it may be time for something more intensive like residential treatment.

 At Foundry, we know that addiction takes a toll on nearly every aspect of your life, including your relationships, your finances, and your health. We also know that recovery is a holistic process, which is why we treat addiction from many angles, including psychotherapy, diet, exercise, and spiritual wellness. To learn more about our approach to addiction treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.

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