Do you suspect that you or a loved one may have a problem with drinking? The “criteria” for being an alcoholic seem to vary depending on the source, but here we will just define a drinking problem as the point at which a person feels they are no longer in control of their drinking, and it is negatively affecting their life. Even just having one drink per night may be addictive behavior depending on the person, or only drinking once a month but when you do, drinking to excess.

What are some signs that you may have a problem with drinking?

  1. When you start, you can’t stop. Do you often tell yourself, “I’ll only have one drink”, and then up drinking much more? Perhaps you go out with friends and plan to have a tame night, but end up drinking to excess or blacking out. You may want to have one glass of wine when you get home from work, but end up drinking the whole bottle. This is a sign that you may not have control over your drinking behavior. Once you have one drink, your inhibitions are lowered and it makes it easier to talk yourself into having another.
  2. You use alcohol to self-medicate. If you’re having a bad day or feeling sad, do you turn to alcohol to take your mind off it or feel better? Maybe you drink to help yourself sleep, or to forget about your problems. This is not a healthy coping skill to use all the time. It can even be unhealthy to drink for celebration reasons, if that is the only way you can think of to have a good time. Societally, drinking has become an accepted and normal way to have a good time in a group- but if the only way you feel comfortable hanging out with friends is with a drink in your hand; that can signal a problem.
  3. Drinking has gotten you into trouble. If you have gotten in trouble with the law because of your drinking, such as getting a DUI or public intoxication charge, odds are you have been doing that behavior often but just happened to get caught. Missing work due to being hungover, cheating on your spouse because you were intoxicated, or breaking your nose in a drunken bar fight, etc. are also ways of getting yourself in trouble even if you did not break the law. If alcohol is having a negative effect on your life, chances are you have a drinking problem.
  4. People in your life have said you should cut down. Sometimes the people close to us know us better than we know ourselves, and can see signs that we cannot. An outside perspective is a valuable thing. If people in your life such as your significant other, best friend, or family members have told you they are concerned about your drinking behavior, perhaps you should be too.

Here are some tips for curbing problematic drinking behavior.

  1. Set rules for yourself and stick to them. Planning on only having two drinks at the bar? Only bring enough cash for two drinks and leave the credit cards at home. Only want to have one glass of wine at home on a Friday night? Buy a split bottle and limit yourself to that. If strategies like this don’t work for you, quitting alcohol altogether might be your best bet.
  2. Find healthy ways to relax or let loose. There are other, more healthy ways to cope when feeling sad, unable to sleep, or to have a good time with friends. Instead of going to the bar on a Friday night, sign up for a 5k with friends on a Saturday morning. Drinking tea or doing yoga before bed work wonders, and calling a friend for advice will likely help you more with your troubles than alcohol will.
  3. Join a self-help group. Of course AA is the first thing people think of when trying to quit drinking, and has been shown to be very effective. However there are many more groups besides AA, such as Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) for those who are not religious, or SMART Recovery, a program that incorporates scientific knowledge. There is even Moderation Management, which seeks to help those who just want to cut down on their drinking rather than stop altogether.
  4. Go to individual or family therapy. It can be very difficult to gain control of your drinking behavior on your own. Going to therapy can help keep you accountable, develop coping skills, and provide an outlet to talk about difficult issues in your life. In addition, a drinking problem does not just affect you; it also impacts your loved ones and vice versa. Family therapy can help.

Author: Grace Norberg, AMFT