How do you know if you need to stop drinking (or at least take a break)?
This is something I get asked all the time, so here are some signs to look out for.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not about the amount or the regularity you’re drinking that’s necessarily the issue (though, clearly, if you’re drinking a lot, there will be an impact on your physical health and you might want to consider cutting back or stopping for that reason).
If you tick two or more of the following, you are likely to have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and should consider stopping drinking:
1. You create rules around your drinking. It might be you don’t drink after a certain time of day or only certain days in the week. It might be you create rules and break them and then create different rules. The fact you’re giving this much thought to alcohol and when and when not to drink it is an unhealthy sign. People with a healthy relationship with alcohol don’t think like this.
2. When you are drinking, you’re paying too much attention to the alcohol and not enough to what’s going on around you. You might be worrying that you’re drinking more quickly than other people. You might be watching the amount of booze that’s left and wondering how to get the biggest share of it. You might be sneaking extra drinks in so people don’t notice you’re drinking more. You might be feeling paranoid that other people will notice you’re drinking quicker or more than them and finding ways to disguise this. You might be monitoring your own drinking so it fits in with other people’s. You might stress about getting to a shop/pub/bar on time so you can get the drink you want. Again, giving all this thought and energy to alcohol is an unhealthy sign.
3. You can’t imagine enjoying yourself without drink. You can’t contemplate social events or even being home and having a relaxing evening without alcohol to help you cope/relax/unwind/have fun/become a different version of yourself/etc. If your drinking has had to be curtailed, you feel a huge sense of relief when you can escape the situation and drink how you want to drink. You might even notice yourself encouraging other people to drink more so that you can enjoy your own pattern of drinking without feeling too self-conscious.
4. You often feel uneasy, ashamed and guilty about your drinking or about what has happened when you’ve been drinking. Other people might make light-hearted comments about your antics or the fact you “like a drink” and you might worry about what they think about you or what they mean - you might even feel defensive, paranoid and hurt. You might often wake up not remembering what happened the night before or replaying what happened over and over to check whether you’ve embarrassed yourself and have anything to feel guilty about.
5. You decide to not drink and then you end up drinking again. If you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it’s quite common to try to moderate your drinking or decide to not drink for a specific event or period of time, only to find yourself caving in and ending up drunk and hungover – again.
6. You have spent some time thinking about stopping drinking but not doing it. You’re here, reading this. You might have done some research about drinking or stopping drinking online. You might have compared yourself to other types of drinkers to reassure yourself that you haven’t got a problem. Questioning your drinking or feeling uneasy about your drinking is a sign in itself that you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
Before I stopped drinking, I ticked every single one of these six signs and more! It doesn’t matter if you’re drinking two cans of normal strength lager every other evening, a couple of bottles of wine at the weekend or two bottles of spirits a day – it’s your relationship with the alcohol and your drinking habits that’s causing you a problem. It might be affecting your mental health rather than your physical health or it might be affecting both, but at some level, you’ll already know whether you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol or not and if stopping drinking, at least for a time, is going to be healthy for you.