It’s not always easy to see when your drinking has crossed the line from moderate or social use to problem drinking. But if you consume alcohol to cope with difficulties or to avoid feeling bad, you’re in potentially dangerous territory. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can sneak up on you, so it’s important to be aware of the warning signs and take steps to cut back if you recognize them. Understanding the problem is the first step to overcoming it.
Do you have a drinking problem?
You may have a drinking problem if you…
- Feel guilty or ashamed about your drinking.
- Lie to others or hide your drinking habits.
- Have friends or family members who are worried about your drinking.
- Need to drink in order to relax or feel better.
- “Black out” or forget what you did while you were drinking.
- Regularly drink more than you intended to.
Signs and Symptoms
Alcoholism is the most severe form of problem drinking. Alcoholism involves all the symptoms of alcohol abuse, but it also involves another element: physical dependence on alcohol. If you rely on alcohol to function or feel physically compelled to drink, you’re an alcoholic.
Tolerance: The 1st major warning sign of alcoholism
Do you have to drink a lot more than you used to in order to get buzzed or to feel relaxed? Can you drink more than other people without getting drunk? These are signs of tolerance, which can be an early warning sign of alcoholism. Tolerance means that, over time, you need more and more alcohol to feel the same effects.
Withdrawal: The 2nd major warning sign of alcoholism
Do you need a drink to steady the shakes in the morning? Drinking to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms is a sign of alcoholism and a huge red flag. When you drink heavily, your body gets used to the alcohol and experiences withdrawal symptoms if it’s taken away. These include:
|Anxiety or jumpiness
|Shakiness or trembling
|Nausea and vomiting
|Loss of appetite
Other signs and symptoms of alcoholism (alcohol dependence)
- You’ve lost control over your drinking.
- You want to quit drinking, but you can’t.
- You have given up other activities because of alcohol.
- Alcohol takes up a great deal of your energy and focus.
- You drink even though you know it’s causing problems.
Five myths about alcoholism and alcohol abuse
Myth #1: I can stop drinking anytime I want to.
Myth #2: My drinking is my problem. I’m the one it hurts, so no one has the right to tell me to stop.
Myth #3: I don’t drink every day, so I can’t be an alcoholic OR I only drink wine or beer, so I can’t be an alcoholic.
Myth #4: I’m not an alcoholic because I have a job and I’m doing okay.
Myth #5: Drinking is not a “real” addiction like drug abuse.
Alcohol treatment and recovery step 1: Commit to stop drinking
Most people with alcohol problems do not decide to make a big change out of the blue or transform their drinking habits overnight. Recovery is usually a more gradual process. In the early stages of change, denial is a huge obstacle. Even after admitting you have a drinking problem, you may make excuses and drag your feet. It’s important to acknowledge your ambivalence about stopping drinking. If you’re not sure if you’re ready to change or you’re struggling with the decision, it can help to think about the costs and benefits of each choice.
Evaluating the costs and benefits of drinking
Make a table like the one below, weighing the costs and benefits of drinking to the costs and benefits of quitting.
Is Drinking Worth The Cost?
Benefits of drinking:
- It helps me forget about my problems.
- I have fun when I drink.
- It’s my way of relaxing and unwinding after a stressful day.
Costs of drinking:
- It has caused problems in my relationships.
- I feel depressed, anxious, and ashamed of myself.
- It gets in the way of my job performance and family responsibilities.
Benefits of not drinking:
- My relationships would probably improve.
- I’d feel better mentally and physically.
- I’d have more time and energy for the people and activities I care about.
Costs of not drinking:
- I’d have to find another way to deal with problems.
- I’d lose my drinking buddies.
- I would have to face the responsibilities I’ve been ignoring.
Alcohol treatment and recovery step 2: Set goals and prepare for change
Once you’ve made the decision to change, the next step is establishing clear drinking goals. The more specific, realistic, and clear your goals, the better.
- Do you want to stop drinking altogether or just cut back?If your goal is to reduce your drinking, decide which days you will drink alcohol and how many drinks you will allow yourself per day. Try to commit to at least two days each week when you won’t drink at all.
- When do you want to stop drinking or start drinking less?Tomorrow? In a week? Next month? Within six months? If you’re trying to stop drinking, set a specific quit date. After you’ve set your goals to either stop or cut back your drinking, write down some ideas on how you can help yourself accomplish these goals. For example:
- Get rid of temptations.Remove all alcohol, barware, and other drinking reminders from your home and office.
- Announce your goal.Let friends, family members, and co-workers know that you’re trying to stop drinking. If they drink, ask them to support your recovery by not doing so in front of you.
- Be upfront about your new limits.Make it clear that drinking will not be allowed in your home and that you may not be able to attend events where alcohol is being served.
- Avoid bad influences.Distance yourself from people who don’t support your efforts to stop drinking or respect the limits you’ve set. This may mean giving up certain friends and social connections.
- Learn from the past.Reflect on previous attempts to stop drinking. What worked? What didn’t? What can you do differently this time to avoid pitfalls?