Do you or someone you know have a drinking problem? Learn how to recognize the warning signs and symptoms.
Do you have a drinking problem?
It’s not always easy to tell when your alcohol intake has crossed the line from moderate or social drinking to problem drinking. Drinking is so common in many cultures and the effects vary so widely from person to person, it can be hard to figure out if or when your alcohol intake has become a problem. However, if you consume alcohol to cope with difficulties or to avoid feeling bad, you’re in potentially dangerous territory.
Other signs that you may have a drinking problem include:
- feeling guilty or ashamed about your drinking;
- lying to others or hide your drinking habits;
- needing to drink in order to relax or feel better;
- “blacking out” or forgetting what you did while you were drinking;
- regularly drinking more than you intended to.
The bottom line is how alcohol affects you. If your drinking is causing problems in your life, then you have a drinking problem.
Drinking problems can sneak up on you, so it’s important to be aware of the warning signs of alcohol abuse and alcoholism and take steps to cut back if you recognize them. Understanding the problem is the first step to overcoming it and either cutting back to healthy levels or quitting altogether.
Effects of alcoholism and alcohol abuse
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can affect all aspects of your life. Long-term alcohol use can cause serious health complications, affecting virtually every organ in your body, including your brain. Problem drinking can also damage your emotional stability, finances, career, and your ability to build and sustain satisfying relationships. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can also have an impact on your family, friends and the people you work with.
The effects of alcohol abuse on the people you love
Despite the potentially lethal damage that heavy drinking inflicts on the body—including cancer, heart problems, and liver disease—the social consequences can be just as devastating. Alcoholics and alcohol abusers are much more likely to get divorced, have problems with domestic violence, struggle with unemployment, and live in poverty.
But even if you’re able to succeed at work or hold your marriage together, you can’t escape the effects that alcoholism and alcohol abuse have on your personal relationships. Drinking problems put an enormous strain on the people closest to you.
Often, family members and close friends feel obligated to cover for the person with the drinking problem. So they take on the burden of cleaning up your messes, lying for you, or working more to make ends meet. Pretending that nothing is wrong and hiding away all of their fears and resentments can take an enormous toll. Children are especially sensitive and can suffer long-lasting emotional trauma when a parent or caretaker is an alcoholic or heavy drinker.
If you’re ready to admit you have a drinking problem, you’ve already taken the first step. It takes tremendous strength and courage to face alcohol abuse and alcoholism head on. Reaching out for support is the second step.
Whether you choose to go to rehab, rely on self-help programs, get therapy, or take a self-directed treatment approach, support is essential. Recovering from alcohol addiction is much easier when you have people you can lean on for encouragement, comfort, and guidance. Without support, it’s easy to fall back into old patterns when the road gets tough.
Helping a loved one
Helping a loved one
Admitting a loved one has a problem with alcohol can be painful for the whole family, not just the person drinking. But don’t be ashamed. You’re not alone. There is help and support available for both you and your loved one.
Start by talking honestly and openly with the friend or family member who’s drinking too much. But always remember that you can’t force someone to give up alcohol. The choice is up to them.
You may also benefit from joining a group such as Al-Anon, a free peer support group for families coping with alcoholism. Listening to others with the same challenges can serve as a tremendous source of comfort and support.
Reactions to avoid:
- don’t attempt to threaten, punish, bribe, or preach. Avoid emotional appeals that only add to the problem drinker’s feelings of guilt and increase their compulsion to drink or use other drugs;
- don’t cover up for them or make excuses or shield your loved one from the consequences of their drinking;
- don’t take over the problem drinker’s responsibilities, leaving them with no sense of importance or dignity;
- don’t hide or dump bottles or try to shelter your loved one from situations where alcohol is present;
- don’t argue with the person when they are impaired;
- don’t drink along with a problem drinker;
- above all, don’t feel guilty or responsible for the problem drinker’s behavior.
Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.