Signs of a drinking problem include taking more risks, missing classes or work, or neglecting relationships or commitments — all because of drinking. Other people like friends, family, or employers and teachers may notice the signs that you are drinking too much and too often.
There’s not a single sign that you have a drinking problem. Instead, it’s more of a constellation of issues. This is why medical providers and mental health counselors use a set of criteria to identify if a person has a drinking problem.
Signs of a Drinking Problem
Ultimately, if drinking is having a negative effect on your life, it’s a sign that there is a problem.
The following are some specific signs that your drinking may have become problematic:
Drinking Is Your Top Priority
If your daily priority is drinking, this is a sign of a problem. You might feel as if you don’t have control over when, how often, or how much you drink. You may plan your day about when you can drink or miss out on things because you are recovering from drinking.
You Drink More Than Planned
You might intend to have only one drink, but you end up having five or six. Maybe you say you are going to take a week off from drinking but don’t even last a day. If you are unable to hold yourself to your goals when it comes to drinking, it’s a sign that your drinking is out of your control.
You Need to Drink More
If you need to drink more to experience the same effects you used to experience with less alcohol, it’s a sign of tolerance. This means your brain has grown accustomed to certain levels of alcohol.
Tolerance to alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean you are addicted to it, but it’s a sign of a developing problem.
You Drink to Relieve Stress
If you turn to alcohol whenever you are stressed, anxious, or nervous, this can be a sign that your drinking isn’t healthy.
You Drink to Cope
If you feel you need to drink to get through a task, responsibility, or project, it has become a coping mechanism for you.
You Drink to Escape
If you feel you can’t handle changes in your life, society, or the world, you may be drinking as an escape route. You likely aren’t dealing with underlying issues, and alcohol is simply distracting you from underlying issues in your life.
You Drink First Thing in the Morning
If you feel you must drink first thing in the morning, it’s often a sign of physical and psychological dependence on alcohol.
You Drink to Feel ‘Normal’
This is a sign of physical dependence. If you begin to experience withdrawal effects when you don’t have alcohol in your system, it’s a sign that you likely need medical assistance to quit drinking. Withdrawal symptoms include shakiness, insomnia, fatigue, headaches, nausea, irritability, and anxiety.
You Drink to Cure Hangovers
If you are suffering from frequent hangovers, you might choose to drink to feel better. This “hair-of-the-dog” approach creates a cycle of alcohol abuse. You never fully process alcohol out of your body if you are constantly drinking in an effort to prevent or relieve hangovers.
Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Drinking
When you seek medical help from a doctor, addiction treatment specialist, or therapist, they will ask you some questions to determine the scope of your drinking. If you think you might have a drinking problem, start by asking yourself these questions:
Questions About Frequency
- How often do I have an alcoholic drink?
- How many drinks do I typically have?
- Do I often have taller pours or “extra” shots?
- How much money am I spending on alcohol each week?
- Do I sometimes feel like I can’t stop drinking?
- How often have I failed to complete work or school tasks due to drinking?
- How often do I start the day with a drink?
If men have more than 4 drinks in a day or more than 14 drinks per week, it could be a sign of a problem. If women have more than 3 drinks per day or more than 7 drinks per week, it could indicate problem drinking.
If you feel like you are unable to limit your drinking, your work or school performance is suffering, or you regularly start the day with a drink, you likely have a drinking problem.
Questions About Feelings
- Do I feel guilty or ashamed about my drinking?
- Do I lie about how much I drank?
- Do I sometimes not remember what happened the night before?
If you answer “yes” to any of the above, you may have a drinking problem.
Questions About Feedback
- Do I get angry when someone comments on my drinking?
- Have others expressed concern about my drinking?
- Has anyone gotten hurt or injured due to my drinking?
- Have I been in treatment for alcohol abuse before?
If you answer “yes” to any of the above, it’s worth talking to someone about your drinking.
What Is an Alcoholic?
Though the term has a lot of negative connotations, an alcoholic is someone who has alcohol use disorder. This is the preferred term to use rather than alcoholism.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as an inability to stop or control alcohol use despite negative consequences.
A person with AUD may experience severe consequences at home, at work, and with their health, but they are still unable to stop drinking. They spend a lot of time focused on drinking, thinking about alcohol, and recovering from the effects of drinking. Despite any intentions, they cannot control how much alcohol they consume.
How Alcohol Affects the Brain
Regular consumption of alcohol disrupts the brain’s biochemistry, specifically the pathways of neurotransmitters like gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate. These brain chemicals control impulsiveness and regulate the nervous system.
In addition, alcohol affects the brain’s dopamine levels. Dopamine is sometimes called the “feel good” chemical. Dopamine levels rise after drinking and can contribute to the body craving a drink to feel good.
Causes of Alcohol Use Disorder
There isn’t a single cause of alcohol use disorder. Instead, many factors increase the likelihood that someone will develop AUD.
If you have a family history of alcohol use disorder, meaning a first-degree relative like a parent or sibling has AUD, you are more likely to also develop it.
It is well-established that early drinking is associated with higher levels of AUD. Many studies show that people who start drinking before 15 years of age may be more at risk of alcohol problems later on in life.
Mental Health Issues
Various mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and psychological disorders, have been linked to higher instances of AUD. Stress can also contribute to alcohol abuse and later formation of AUD.
History of Trauma
People with a history of trauma are more likely to use alcohol in an effort to self-medicate pain. Regularly using alcohol in this manner can lead to increased tolerance. This increases the likelihood for AUD.
Treatment for Problem Drinking
If you’ve determined you have a drinking problem, there is reason to be hopeful. Many people struggle with alcohol use disorder and are able to effectively stop drinking.
It’s not something you have to do on your own. In fact, if you get help, you are more likely to get and stay sober.
Alcohol abuse treatment comes in many forms. Here are some of them:
A do-it-yourself approach to alcohol detox can be dangerous, particularly if you’ve abused alcohol at high levels for a long time.
About 5 percent of people with severe alcohol use disorder experience delirium tremens when they detox from alcohol. This condition can be incredibly painful and even deadly.
Don’t risk alcohol withdrawal on your own. Get an assessment to determine the severity of your dependence before you attempt to stop drinking.
When you opt for medical detox, you’ll be under medical supervision during the alcohol withdrawal process. Medical professionals will monitor your condition, ensuring you stay safe and comfortable throughout the process.
You will likely be prescribed medications, like long-acting benzodiazepines, to mitigate the severity of withdrawal. This means you won’t feel the acute pains of detox, allowing you to focus on your recovery.
Medications are sometimes used on a long-term basis in medication-assisted treatment (MAT). For alcohol use disorder, acamprosate, naltrexone, and disulfiram are commonly used.
Various health issues can develop due to high-level alcohol use, and many of these can be serious. Alcohol-related problems, such as hypertension, liver disease, heart problems, and other medical conditions, will need to be addressed in a medical setting.
The backbone of treatment for alcohol use disorder is therapy. You’ll likely work with a therapist on an individual basis as well as in a group setting.
In your sessions, you’ll work to identify the underlying issues that led you to drink excessively. You’ll develop methods to manage triggers that make you want to drink, and you’ll begin to create a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t include substance abuse.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most successful therapies for treating alcohol use disorder. You’ll uncover irrational and negative thoughts that contribute to your drinking, and you’ll develop new habits and ways of thinking that support a healthier life.
Peer support can be vital in sustaining recovery. Support groups are a good source of comradery where you can learn from the experiences of others who have walked in your shoes.
Take the First Step Today
If you’ve been drinking too much and it’s having negative effects in your life, it’s a sign that you may need help. With the right treatment program and support, you can stop drinking and embrace a healthier future that isn’t governed by alcohol.
Take the first step toward a better life by reaching out for help today.
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