Understanding when drinking has crossed the line from a social pastime or moderate behaviour into a drinking problem is not always easy. As a general rule, if you are turning to alcohol to better cope with problems, escape reality or avoid feeling bad, you could be slipping into dangerous territory. The sooner you get to grips with your approaching problem, the easier it is to handle.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can quickly sneak up on you, and understanding the warning signs is crucial in getting help. If you recognise warning signs, take measurements to cut back and take a closer look at the interconnected factors that may be causing the problem.
There are many different factors that could be at the root of your drinking problem, including genetics, how you were raised, your social environment, and your emotional health. Some racial groups can be affected worse than others, as can those with a family history of alcoholism.
Recognising the signs of alcoholism
Experts place a distinction between alcohol abuse and alcoholism, with alcohol abusers being considered to have some level of control on their drinking. For alcoholics it’s a different story, and their drinking habits can be out of control, self-destructive, and dangerous.
Common signs of alcohol abuse include:
Neglecting responsibilities - Performing poorly at work, flunking classes, skipping commitments, or neglecting kids due to repetitive hangovers.
Dangerous drinking - Drinking alcohol in places considered to be dangerous, such as behind the wheel, while operating machinery, or while taking prescription medication.
Legal problems - Repeated arrests for driving under the influence or for drunk and disorderly conduct.
Continued use despite relationship problems - Knowing your drinking will cause an argument or upset but choosing to drink regardless.
Use as a relaxation tool - Using alcohol as a way to self-soothe and relieve stress, or reaching for the bottle as soon as you walk in the door from work.
Common signs of alcoholism are:
Greater tolerance - Finding yourself drinking a lot more than you used to but without the past effect.
Needing alcohol to function - Feeling physically compelled to drink alcohol in order to get on with the day’s activities.
Withdrawal symptoms - Needing a drink to steady the shakes, reduce anxiety, prevent sweating, prevent nausea, or treat insomnia, depression or a headache.
A neglect of usual activities - Giving up on sports or activities you love in order to drink.
What to do if you recognise these signs
Denial is one of the biggest obstacles when faced with an alcohol problem, with the desire to drink so strong that it affects rationale thinking. In order to overcome denial, it’s important to look deeply at the situation.
Denial comes in many shapes and forms and you may find yourself blaming others for your drinking, rationalising your habits, lying about your drinking, or becoming defensive when the subject is raised. Typically, if you find yourself making excuses and lying, you have a real reason to suspect denial. If you truly believe you don’t have a problem, you have no reason to justify it.
To help you get over denial, a good idea is to weigh up the benefits of alcohol against the benefits of quitting. An example of this is:
Benefits of drinking: Helps me forget about problems, have fun, relax, unwind, connect with buddies, and ignore responsibilities.
Benefits of not drinking: My relationship would most likely improve, as would my health. I’d feel better mentally and physically. I’d have more time and energy for the people and activities I care most about. My work life would improve; I’d feel less anxious, and could perform my family responsibilities better.
The next step is to determine what it is you want to do. Do you want to stop drinking all together or just cut back? If your goal is to reduce your drinking, decide on what days you will allow yourself to enjoy a drink and set a limit on how many you have. At the very least, commit to a few days where you consume no alcohol at all.
Cutting back: To help you with the goal of cutting back, it’s important to get rid of temptations. Remove all alcohol reminders from your home or office, and remove yourself from situations in which others are drinking. It may also help to announce to friends and family your goal, so that they can support you on your recovery.
When you do choose to drink, drink slowly and take regular breaks between drinks. Try switching to soda, water or juice after a beer, or snack on a sandwich between drinks.
Stopping for good: If choosing to give up alcohol completely, your body may go through withdrawal symptoms. Depending on how much alcohol you are drinking or how long you have had a problem for, these withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe. If you are concerned these withdrawals will be too much to handle, seek help from a medical professional. Generally, withdrawal symptoms improve within five days.