Is Alcohol Affecting Your Life? 11 Warning Signs and 9 Ways to Help Yourself -by Laura Novak, LCSW, CADC

Is Alcohol Affecting Your Life? 11 Warning Signs and 9 Ways to Help Yourself

We live in a society that minimizes, normalizes and glamorizes irresponsible drinking, and it can be a challenge to figure out if your drinking has become an issue.  Luckily, there are some clear cut ways to determine – if you are honest with yourself – whether you have crossed the line into alcohol abuse or dependence.    The following are signs of alcohol abuse (must meet one of these symptoms in the past 12 months.)

  1. Drinking has affected your various roles such as student, parent, family member, employee, friend, etc.  A couple examples could be, a college student missing repeated classes due to hangovers, or calling in sick to work because of drinking too much the night before.
  2. Repeated legal problems.  Examples would be, DUIs, underage drinking tickets, domestic violence, or possession.
  3. Repeated use in physically hazardous conditions.    Consuming alcohol when operating a car or machinery, or mixing alcohol and medication.
  4. Drinking is affecting your interpersonal relationships.  This could include being a “mean drunk,” when out with friends, or fighting with your significant other over your drinking.

If your drinking is consistently problematic and you’ve noticed an increase in your psychological and/or physical reliance on alcohol, you may be dependent.  Meeting three of these symptoms within 12 months is indicative of substance dependence.

  1. Tolerance.   You can tell this is occurring when you need to drink more alcohol to experience the same effect.  For instance, before you’d feel a buzz after 2 drinks, now you need 4.
  2. Withdrawal.  You may feel withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, including sweating, feeling shaky, and anxiety.
  3. Substance taken in larger amounts or over longer period of time than intended
  4. Repeated attempts to cut back or quit.  While many may rationalize this as a sign that they can “stop when they want to,” many failed attempts at controlling your drinking is indicative of a serious problem.
  5. Great deal of time spent obtaining the substance, using the substance or recovering from the effects of the substance.
  6. Giving up social, occupational or recreational activities because of the substance use.
  7. The substance use is continued despite physical or psychological problems that may be caused or worsened by the substance

One of the barriers to recognizing that you may have a problem is denial. Denial of a problem is shown through behaviors such as minimizing, rationalizing, and blaming others for your substance use.  That is why it is so important to be honest with yourself about your own drinking behaviors.  If it feels like something is not quite right with your drinking, trust your instinct.  Still not convinced?  Try 30 days without alcohol and see how you do.

The good news is that there are plenty of options available if you have concerns, from individual counseling to both outpatient and inpatient treatment programs.

Here are several things to consider if you are trying to live alcohol free:

  1. If you have tried many times to quit and not been successful, it’s time to seek the help of a professional.
  2. At first, you may find yourself needing to avoid “high risk” situations where you may want to drink.  If you really have a hard time picturing yourself not drinking at that party- don’t go!
  3. If you do attend an event where there will be alcohol, consider how you may turn down someone’s offer for a drink.  If you want to be upfront about how it’s caused problems for you, that’s fine, and some find it helps keep them accountable.  But you don’t owe anyone an explanation of why you are making this choice, and many people find it easier if they come up with an excuse as to why they aren’t drinking.  It could be something about how you’re taking cold medication and don’t think it will mix well
  4. Try an AA meeting.  If possible, it is generally most helpful to attend AA as well as seek professional help.  Many people who have success with sobriety attend meetings regularly, as it can be quite helpful to have the support of others who are living a sober life
  5. There are many good books to help you on the path to recovery.  A couple of my favorites are The Mindful Path to Addiction Recovery by Lawrence Peltz and Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson
  6. You may need to reevaluate certain relationships.  If there are certain people that you know will make your sobriety extra challenging, create boundaries in the relationship.  Many people learn who their true friends are when they quit the drinking and partying lifestyle.
  7. Find a new hobby!  You may find yourself with extra time on your hands and even feel bored.  It is important to find activities or new interests to help you through this time.
  8. If you are used to reaching for a glass of wine or a beer when you are home from work or to de-stress, you will need to find other options to manage stress.  Try a meditation or yoga class, or even some cardio.
  9. Check out this website: with online meetings, useful worksheets, and additional information.

If you would like to set up an evaluation to help you determine if you may have a problem, or for any alcohol or drug related questions or concerns, contact Laura Novak, LCSW, CADC at 847-336-5621 EXT 151.