What Does Drinking “Too Much” Look Like? 6 Questions To Ask Yourself If You’re Concerned About Your Drinking, According To Experts
How do you know if you're drinking too much? It's not an easy question to answer — but if you're concerned about your drinking, experts say, there are certain guidelines that can help you figure out if your alcohol consumption is affecting your life. While it's not a substitute for reaching out for professional help, asking yourself a few questions can help you understand the degree to which your drinking is impacting your life, and figure out what to do about it.
Jared Heathman MD, a psychiatrist and substance use disorder specialist at Your Family Psychiatrist in Houston, Texas, tells Bustle that if you're concerned about how much you're drinking, you're going to need to go straight to the tough issues. "Some of the most important questions to ask or honestly evaluate are related to how alcohol negatively impacts your life," he says. If you want a general guide on how much is too much, Heathman notes that "four or more servings of alcohol per day are likely to cause some level of dysfunction." But that number isn't definitive for each and every person. If you're feeling uncomfortable with your alcohol use, it can help to ask yourself these questions provided by experts — and listen honestly to the answers.
1. Does It Cause Issues With My Friends & Family?
While it's important to acknowledge that not everyone will hold the same attitude towards alcohol in general — some religions abstain from alcohol entirely, for example — if your drinking leads to arguments or other issues with those who love you, it could be time to examine it more closely.
2. Does It Fill My Thoughts?
Ruby Warrington, founder of Club SODA, an event series for people who are sober or sober-curious, says that if you're concerned about your drinking, it's worth asking if you "spend a lot of time thinking about drinking." If you find that alcohol is invading your thoughts when you really should be focussing on other things — your relationships, your working life, your hobbies, your everyday life — then it's time to be serious about how important it's become.
3. Is It Affecting My Work?
People's relationships with alcohol don't necessarily end after the weekend; it can affect work or other responsibilities, as well. "Do you show up late for work or perform poorly?" Heathman asks. Have you forgotten to pay bills or fulfill responsibilities, or been unable to do so, because you were busy drinking or recovering? Hangovers or drinking at work, needing alcohol to unwind after a stressful day of meetings: these behaviors affect your working performance.
4. Do I Use Alcohol To Cope With Pain Or Distress?
Hair of the dog is one thing, but repeatedly using alcohol "to make a hangover go away," Warrington says, is an indication that you may have a relationship with alcohol that needs to be examined. Further, using alcohol to cope with emotions is also cause for concern.
5. Am I Getting Withdrawal Symptoms?
Alcohol addiction shows up in withdrawal, as your body starts to react to the lack of the substance. "Physical symptoms one to four days after alcohol use is stopped" are an indication that your body has developed a physical dependency on alcohol, Heathman says. According to Drinkaware, withdrawal symptoms can include tremors, headaches, nausea, depression, irritability, or insomnia, but they differ between people, so keep track of how you're feeling.
6. Has It Affected My Decision-Making?
Warrington notes that your decision-making can indicate that your relationship with alcohol is like. If being drunk has led to some questionable or dangerous decisions, it may be time to be more mindful of your alcohol use.
"Answering yes to these kinds of questions could mean you are alcohol dependent, but it's also important to note that thinking you may have a 'problem' with drinking does not necessarily mean that you're an 'alcoholic,' or you have to go to AA," Warrington says, noting, however, that. "Committing to an extended break, anything from 30 to 90 days, [can] give you an opportunity to reset and reevaluate your habits." If you're concerned about your drinking, it's a good idea to talk to an addiction specialist, your GP, a psychiatrist, or somebody else who specializes in substance use, and can help you move forward.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).