Here’s How To Tell If Your Relationship To Alcohol Is Healthy, According To Experts

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When it comes to drinking alcohol, you may think having a couple drinks with dinner is no big deal. However, the lines sometimes get blurred when it comes to figuring out when you go beyond moderate drinking. For women, moderate drinking is considered up to one drink per day, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines. As drinking increases — if it’s four or more drinks per day or eight or more drinks per week for women — it’s considered high-risk. When it comes to drinking in moderation, though, how can you tell if you’re doing so? And, if you consider yourself to be a social drinker, but are social and drink every night, then what?

Social drinkers can leave a glass with alcohol remaining in it,” Carrie Carlton, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) of Beachway Therapy in Florida, tells Bustle. “For problem or excessive drinkers, too much is never enough.” She says there is a common saying, “One sip is too many and a thousand is never enough.” According to Carlton, a good rule of thumb is that people who are true social drinkers can “take it or leave it” when it comes to alcohol. “They are not fixated on it,” she says.

That said, there are certain red flags that can help you figure out your attachment to alcohol.

1. You Pre-Game — Alone

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Sometimes, you may start drinking even before you meet up with other people — maybe you’re waiting for them to show up or would feel more comfortable with a drink. While it's OK to have a drink by yourself every once and a while, take note if this happens frequently. “People who are trying to hide dependence or addiction often do this so as not to raise any red flags among friends or family,” Carlton says. “So, while you might see them ‘only drink two glasses’ at dinner, you don’t know how much they consumed before arriving, or how much more they will consume when they return home.”

2. You Repeat Yourself, Have Trouble Concentrating, Or Forget The Night Before

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Carlton says another sign that alcohol’s affecting someone is if they’re repeating themselves or having trouble concentrating. “Most people who have two drinks at a meal or an event spanning a few hours are still going to be coherent and not sloppy,” she says. “If you are usually a ‘together’ person and you keep repeating the same story or sentiment over and over, get overly emotional for no apparent reason, or are overly aggressive when you are normally more reserved, this is a sign that you are truly under the influence of alcohol.”

She says that with typical “social” drinking, people’s personalities do not change dramatically. “Another huge tell-tale sign is if you seem to have forgotten actions, conversations, and circumstances of the night before because you were functioning in blackout mode,” Carlton says.

3. You Chug Any Drink, Not Just Shots

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Carlton says another way to tell if you may be drinking just to drink depends on how you’re drinking — if you chug any drink, not just shots. “Social drinkers are imbibing to be social and enjoy the flavor of their alcoholic beverage,” she says. “But people who are ‘more’ than social drinkers do not savor each sip.” She says that even if you are drinking a glass of wine, you may chug that glass in one fell swoop to feel the affect of the drink rapidly. “While the ‘social’ drinker is still leisurely sipping their first glass, the problem drinker is on their third,” she says.

4. You Are Focused On Whether Or Not Alcohol Will Be Available At An Event

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Carlton says that if you become very invested in whether or not alcohol is available at a particular venue, this is a sign that alcohol has become a centerpiece in your life. As such, when people invite you places, you question if alcohol will be available.

“If you don’t accept people’s invitations to meet at a coffee shop, juice bar, shopping mall, or yoga class," this could be a red flag, Carlton says.

All in all, it’s important to see if you recognize any of the above warning signs that can help you determine your relationship with alcohol. And, if you find you’re drinking alcohol in excess, there are steps you can take to temper it. Karen Wolownik Albert, executive director of The Gateway Foundation in Lake Villa, IL, tells Bustle that some safe-consumption tips include: drink slowly and plan no more than one “drink” an hour; decline “shots” or other forms of rapid alcohol consumption; drink with trusted friends to avoid unsafe situations; plan to get home safely (a designated driver, taxi, or ride share); and, instead of reaching for alcohol, seek out healthy supports and coping skills to manage stress, depression, and anxiety. And Wolownik Albert says that if you have any concerns about your drinking, seek out a professional for an individualized assessment.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).