IS MY DRINKING BECOMING A PROBLEM?
If you find yourself asking, “Is my drinking becoming a problem?” to yourself or to a loved one, there are some factors you may want to consider when trying to answer the question.
Problematic drinking is not defined by the quantity of alcohol consumed or frequency of drinking, but by how much your drinking behavior has affected your health, personal relationships, finances and employment, and the overall quality of your life. Another factor to consider is any family history of substance abuse or alcoholism.
Do You Have:
- a family history of substance abuse, alcoholism, or addiction?
- a family history of mental illness, including depression or bipolar disorder?
- a sense that your drinking is out of control?
- a need to drink in order to relax or de-stress?
- any financial problems related to your drinking?
- any legal trouble related to your drinking? Including DUIs, MVAs, or charges of “drunk
- and disorderly conduct”?
- any difficulty socializing without relying on alcohol?
- complaints from co-workers, management, or your boss regarding poor work performance or frequently missing work days?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, please continue reading to learn more about the dangers of alcohol abuse, binge drinking, and alcoholism. It is difficult to notice when normative social drinking has become alcohol abuse without knowing the behaviors that signal problematic drinking.
Binge Drinking or Chronic, Heavy Drinking
According to researchers studying alcohol abuse and alcoholism, alcohol abuse can be categorized as either binge drinking or chronic excessive drinking. Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that keeps the blood alcohol concentration above .08g/dl; an equivalent of approximately five drinks over a two-hour period, on the same day or occasion. It is most common among young adults, between the ages of 18 and 30. This can lead to chronic, excessive drinking at any point, especially if drinking behavior becomes influenced by emotional factors, including anxiety and depression. Chronic heavy drinking is defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) as more than five drinks, each day for five or more days in a 30=day period. Unlike binge drinking, heavy drinking is not done in a social context; the individual may be using alcohol to cope with negative emotions, relationship or work problems, or stress.
Do Any of the Following Characterize Your Drinking Behaviors:
- I often realize that my behavior while drinking is reckless; I often drive after or while drinking / I engage in risky behaviors when I drink
- I feel guilty and ashamed after drinking
- I often experience memory loss and blackouts when I drink.
- I drink heaviest when I feel sad, anxious, angry, or lonely.
- I often drink more than I intended when I go out.
- I often drink to the point of being physically sick.
- My close friends and family have all expressed concern over my drinking.
- I cannot participate in holidays, social gatherings, or celebrations without being drunk.
- I drink more than 4-5 beers, glasses of wine, or liquor almost every day.
- I often mix alcohol and prescription or OTC medications to intensify the effects.
- I often become aggressive, violent, angry, or depressed when I am drunk.
- It is difficult for me to stop drinking; I stop drinking only when I pass out.
If any of the above statements apply to you, you are most likely engaging in binge drinking and/or excessive, heavy drinking. Continuing to do so can lead to alcoholism, the physical and psychological addiction to alcohol that has life-threatening consequences.
Alcohol Abuse or Alcoholism
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism also differ slightly from each other. Alcoholism has all the same behaviors and signs as alcohol abuse, but with one extra factor: physical dependency. Alcoholism includes binging excessive drinking. Dependency is apparent when the body goes through withdrawal; in withdrawal, theabsence of alcohol causes symptoms that include hand tremors, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
When you stop drinking, do you experience any of the following?
- Anxiety, jitteriness, jumpiness
- depression or irritability
- profuse sweating
- loss of appetite
- hand tremors, shaking
- nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, you may be physically dependent on alcohol. It is recommended by medical professionals to seek treatment for safe detoxing. Depending on the length of time you have been alcohol-dependent, detoxing without medical supervision could put you in risk of seizures, stroke, or cardiac arrest.
Admitting loss of control over any behavior is always difficult. Many people react initially with denial; arguments are often aimed at rationalizing and minimizing the drinking behavior. Many people who drink excessively truly do not want to recognize their actions; looking for rationalizations or reasons to explain their drinking is a natural self-defense tactic. Minimizing the situation, outcome, or the drinking behavior is another defensive tactic; by trying to convince others that they are over exaggerating the issues, users can reassure themselves that they do not have a problem. Misconceptions about the nature of alcoholism are often relied upon to support efforts of denial, rationalization, and minimizing.
Misconception: “I can stop at any time”. Reality: If alcohol consumption has repeatedly led to negative consequences, if you are unable to stop drinking to avoid those consequences, you might not be able to stop at any time, without help. Misconception: “It does not affect anyone else; no one else has a right to tell me to stop”. Reality: Alcohol abuse, binge drinking, heavy drinking and alcoholism affect everyone close to you; excessive drinking often leads to a loss of emotional control and expression, and irresponsible/reckless/unreliable behavior Misconception: “I do not drink every day; I cannot be an alcoholic”. Reality: Alcoholism has less to do with the frequency of drinking and more to do with the behaviors that characterize your drinking. Drinking to excess, blacking out/passing out, driving under the influence, and drinking beyond financial means are all signs of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Misconception: “Alcohol is not an drug; drinking cannot be an addiction.” Reality: Addiction is characterized by physical and psychological dependency, compulsive substance use despite negative consequences, and withdrawal symptoms upon sudden cessation. Alcohol is the most common substance of abuse and addiction.