If you have a problem with alcohol, you're at risk for more than destroying your friendships and ripping your family apart — you could be risking your life, too. Eighty-eight thousand people die from alcohol-related illnesses every year, making alcoholism the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol abuse also plays a role in 31 percent of all driving fatalities each year.
April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and considering over 18 million Americans are struggling with an alcohol disorder of some sort, and 38 million are drinking too much, it’s a month that we should all be taking very seriously. Although what constitutes drinking too much isn't an exact science, the CDC says if you're a woman who has eight or more drinks a week, or a man who has 15 or more drinks a week, the you're definitely drinking more than you should. But even if you drink less than that, you can still have a drinking problem if your life is being negatively affected by the amount of alcohol you're consuming.
Sure, drinking is fun. As someone who has struggled with alcohol, I can attest to the fact that I had many alcohol-induced fun times. But on the flip side of that, every single one of my worst times was also a result of me being smashed.
So if you think that you might drink too much, listen up. Here are the 12 signs you just might have a drinking problem — and if you identify with any of these, please think about talking to someone about how much you drink.
1. You Sometimes Lie About How Much You Drink
Even those who don’t want to face the fact that they might have a drinking problem are still prone to secret behavior. It’s one thing to go out drinking with your friends; but it’s a whole other ballpark if you’re lying to people about how much you’ve had to drink and are feeling shame because of it.
2. You Often Call In Sick Because You're Hungover
During the one and only AA meeting I ever attended, they mentioned that a big sign that you have a drinking problem is if you've ever called in sick to work because you were either hungover or drunk. I remember wracking my brain and thinking back to all the “stomach bugs” I had when I was drinking all the time. I claimed to have food poisoning at least once a week back then. When what’s important in life becomes less important than your drinking, that's a glaring sign that it's gone too far.
3. You Use Alcohol As A Coping Mechanism
Who hasn’t said, “I need a drink,” after a long day or a stressful event? But it’s one thing to say it and even indulge a bit; it's another when your desire to relax with a drink becomes a dependency. If alcohol is how you usually cope with trouble, that’s a textbook sign of a drinking problem right there.
4. Your Personality Changes Drastically When You Drink
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, experiencing an extreme shift in your personality when you’re intoxicated is a sign of a problem. When the alcohol really starts flowing, the brain (cerebral cortex, to be exact) responds in an erratic way. This can make you act strange, or sometimes even become violent and aggressive, for no reason other than the fact that you're drinking.
As the saying goes, "a drunken man's words are a sober man's thoughts" — which means that whatever issues you may be able to keep under wraps when you're sober may come flying out when you're drunk.
5. You Have One Hell Of A Tolerance
While having a high tolerance for booze may have seemed like a good thing when you were in college (you know, so that you could drink cheap beer until the break of dawn), it’s actually a bad thing, because developing a tolerance is the first big sign of alcoholism.
What having a tolerance really means is that you’re regularly consuming so much alcohol that you need more and more to satisfy you (i.e. get drunk). You may try to switch from beer and wine to something harder, like whiskey or vodka, to keep up with your rising tolerance, but this doesn't help — your body is becoming accustomed to you upping the amount of alcohol you put in it, and responding.
6. Your Relationships Are Suffering Because Of Your Drinking
Between the way that heavy drinking can make you have messed-up priorities when it comes to responsibility, and the way it changes your personality, of course your relationships are going to suffer. And that can become even more the case when people start inquiring about your drinking and suggesting that maybe you drink too much, which can start the whole process of lying and hiding your drinking.
But the truth is, if someone knows you well enough, they'll know you've been drinking — and they'll know that you've decided to lie to them, too.
7. You Engage In Risky Behavior
When people drink, they tend to get cocky, because all those inhibitions that usually keep us behaving properly have been lowered. While it’s one thing to have a drink or two in order to work up the nerve to hit on someone cute, drinking to the point that you do horrible things you wouldn’t normally do — like drink and drive, get into physical fights, or engage in other acts of stupidity — is a sure sign that your drinking is out of hand. And dangerous: alcohol can be blamed for 60 percent of all fatal burn injuries and 40 percent of fatal falls, and that’s even before we take into consideration the 10,000 annual deaths due to drinking and driving.
There’s a reason why police stations have drunk tanks, and it’s because someone with a drinking problem isn’t just a threat to themselves; they're a threat to people around them, too.
8. You Experience Withdrawal Symptoms
You don’t have to be a falling down drunk 24/7 to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. In fact, even a weekend of heavy drinking with your friends can leave you with some problematic withdrawal symptoms the next day. Anxiety, shakiness, irritability, sweating, loss of appetite, and inability to sleep are all alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and severe withdrawals can also include seizures and hallucinations.
It's one thing to feel the side effects of drinking too much after a special weekend of getting wild and crazy with your girlfriends; however, if you're suffering from withdrawal symptoms every Monday morning, or any other day of the week, then there's definitely an issue there.
9. You’re A Regular Binge Drinker
Binge drinking, defined as consuming more than four drinks in two hours, has definitely become a public health problem in recent years. And it's the drinking problem that most commonly affects Millennials, with people 26 and older accounting for 70 percent of the binge drinkers out there.
While the CDC says that most binge drinkers are not dependent on alcohol, it doesn’t erase the fact that regularly pounding several drinks in a small amount of time can still create negative consequences in your life.
10. You Regularly Drink To The Point Of Blacking Out
To be clear: blacking out and passing out are two completely different things. If you pass out, then you’re done for the night, and are hopefully in a safe place like your bed (though passing out from drinking is not great, either). Blacking out is when you’re still drinking and outwardly functioning, but have zero recollection of it the next day. This level of memory loss means the damage you’re doing to your brain is extraordinary, and can result in nerve damage and brain shrinkage down the road — plus, blacking out puts you at risk for every dangerous behavior in the book.
11. You Often Promise To Quit Drinking, But Never Do
According to Alcoholics Anonymous, promising to quit drinking, or quitting for only a couple days then going back for more, is a dead giveaway that you have a drinking problem. It means you’re hooked, and willing jeopardize more than you might even know, in order to keep feeding your alcohol habit.
12. You Lie To Yourself About Having Drinking Problem
...even though a bunch of the previous 11 signs reminded you of your own life. Being honest with yourself is the first step towards getting better. And as long as you’re adamant about not having a problem, then, as they say in AA, you can't get the help you need. Having a drinking problem doesn’t mean you’re an alcoholic necessarily, or that you have to go to rehab. But if you find that you often drink too much, it's important to be mindful of when and how much you're imbibing, and it can be helpful to talk things over with someone else. Needing help is the last thing that you should be embarrassed about; you’re not alone in your struggles with alcohol.Editor's Note: If you think you may have a drinking problem, please contact the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence at www.ncadd.org or 1-800-622-2255, or Alcoholics Anonymous at www.aa.org.