It can be difficult to determine when socially acceptable drinking crosses over the line and becomes a drinking problem. Having a drink, or two, or more, is almost always socially acceptable. Virtually every celebration we attend—weddings, birthday parties, holiday gatherings—offer alcohol. We’re inundated with advertising portraying people having a good time while drinking.
We drink to celebrate, and we drink to relax. How do we know when socially acceptable drinking turns into a full-fledged drinking problem?
The Stages of a Drinking Problem
A drinking problem can start with the development of tolerance, which is where you have to drink more and more alcohol to achieve the desired results. This overconsumption can then develop into dependence, where withdrawal symptoms appear if alcohol is decreased or stopped.
Heavy alcohol consumption that moves from tolerance to dependence often leads to the development of an addiction. Alcoholism, known clinically as an alcohol use disorder, is when a person continues to drink despite negative effects on their health and well-being, and often despite a desire to stop.
Alcoholism looks different person to person. Some people drink excessively only in the evenings, and others take their first drink in the morning and continue throughout the day. Others drink only on occasion, but those occasions always involve binge drinking large quantities of alcohol to the point where they black out.
Recognizing the Signs of a Drinking Problem
Alcoholism has a fairly consistent set of signs that can help you determine if your drinking has progressed from occasional overindulgence to problem drinking:1
- You drink more alcohol or for longer periods of time than you intended.
- You’ve felt more than once that you need to drink less alcohol, or you’ve tried to stop drinking.
- You spend significant amounts of time drinking or recuperating from hangovers or other effects of alcohol.
- You crave alcohol or have urges to use alcohol.
- You miss work or school or fail to meet your family obligations due to drinking.
- You drink despite the relationship problems it’s causing with family or friends.
- You put drinking before other things and cut back on other important or pleasurable activities to make room for drinking.
- You put yourself at risk by drinking before or during situations that are dangerous, such as drinking and driving or having unprotected sex.
- You continue to drink alcohol despite the fact that it causes depression or anxiety, or it’s causing health problems or memory blackouts.
- You’ve developed a tolerance to alcohol. Tolerance means you need more alcohol than before to get the desired effects.
- You experience withdrawal when you’re not drinking. Withdrawal symptoms include sleeping issues, having the shakes, feeling restless, nausea, excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, seizures or hallucinations.
If you have experienced two or more of these situations within 12 months, it may be time to face the truth and seek professional help.
Getting Help for a Drinking Problem
If you think you might have an alcohol use disorder, consider seeking professional addiction treatment to reclaim your life. To ignore the signs of a drinking problem is to put yourself at risk for more serious consequences to your health, such as cirrhosis of the liver or neurological complications.2 The impact of a drinking problem on family and work life can also be devastating.
Treatment for a drinking problem works, and it can work for you. Reach out to a high-quality addiction treatment center and get the help you need.