Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on August 03, 2020
Are you wondering whether your drinking is on the high side of normal or if it's crossed the line into a problem? Think back on the past year. If any of the following scenarios seem familar, it might be time to make some changes.
You Drink More Than Planned
You've had times when you ended up drinking more than you thought you would, or for longer than you were going to. It may not seem like a big deal if it only happens once in a while, but that shows you have trouble controlling yourself while drinking. And it's an early warning sign.
You Spend a Lot of Time on Drinking
We're not talking about just the time with a glass (or can, or bottle) in your hand. There's also getting the alcohol, feeling sick after you drink, and recovering from the effects later. Keep track of all your activities in a daily diary or schedule planner for a few weeks, and take an honest look at how it adds up.
Your Tolerance Has Gone Up
"The usual" doesn't have as much of an effect on you anymore. You need to drink much more than before to get the buzz you want. Your brain adapts to alcohol over time and can become less sensitive to its effects.
You Crave Alcohol
There are times when you want a drink so badly, you can't think about anything else until you get one. That strong need or urge can be triggered by people, places, things, or times of day that remind you of drinking. Certain emotions or physical sensations can also trigger a craving. When you have a drinking problem, your brain reacts to these triggers differently than a social drinker's does.
You Give Up Other Activities
What is it that you do for fun, besides drink alcohol? Think about the activities you used to enjoy, the issues that were important to you, and the ways you used to spend your free time. Has drinking edged those things out of your life, or prevented you from doing them?
You're Dropping the Ball on Life
Can you think of more than a few times when you came to work with a hangover, missed deadlines, or got behind on schoolwork because of your drinking? When your alcohol use, including being sick from drinking, often prevents you from keeping up with responsibilities at home, work, or school, it's a problem.
It Causes Friction in Relationships
You care about your loved ones, but you can't imagine your life without alcohol. Your drinking has led to trouble with your family or friends, or made problems worse, yet you continue to drink. This doesn't make you a bad person, but it does make it more urgent that you look for help to change your habits and get your relationships back on track.
You Have Withdrawal
As the effects of alcohol wear off, you may have trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating. Alcohol changes your brain chemistry, and when you drink heavily over a long period of time, your brain tries to adapt. If you suddenly stop drinking, your brain has to adjust again, causing these withdrawal symptoms.
You Could've Been Hurt
While you're drunk, your brain doesn't grasp the short-term and big-picture results that could come from poor decisions and getting into risky situations like driving, swimming, fighting, having unsafe sex, or walking in a dangerous area. Even if nothing bad has happened -- yet -- this is a warning sign.
Drinking Is Making You Sick
Do you continue to drink even though you know it's causing health problems, or making those problems worse? Alcohol can damage your liver, heart, brain, pancreas, and immune system. And it can raise your odds of getting certain cancers. Although you realize it's harming you, a physical or emotional dependence on alcohol can make quitting hard.
You've Gotten Into Legal Trouble
If you've been arrested or had other run-ins with the law more than once because of your alcohol use, it's getting serious. You might be dealing with the fallout from this for years. But it's not too late to do something about it.
You Want to Stop but Can't
Maybe you've been concerned enough that you've already thought about or actually tried to cut down on your drinking -- and it didn't happen. Alcohol masks unhappy emotions, so those feelings may come back when you quit drinking, making it harder to stick to your goal. If you try to abstain, but then obsess over alcohol or switch to another drug or behavior, that's a red flag.
What to Do
Any of these things could signal an alcohol problem. Don't feel bad, but do consider cutting back on drinking -- or quitting altogether. Talk to your doctor, a therapist, or a counselor. The more things you said "yes" to, the more important it is that you take action or seek help from a health professional.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
1) Getty Images
2) Getty Images
3) Getty Images
4) Getty Images
5) Getty Images
6) Thinkstock Photos
7) Getty Images
8) Getty Images
9) Getty Images
10) Getty Images
11) Thinkstock Photos
12) Thinkstock Photos
13) Thinkstock Photos
14) Thinkstock Photos
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: "Alcohol Use Disorder," "Alcohol's Effects on the Body."
Rethinking Drinking: "What are symptoms of an alcohol use disorder?" "Handling urges to drink," "How can you reduce your risks?"
Alcohol Alert: "Neuroscience: Pathways to Alcohol Dependence."
"Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM-IV and DSM-5," NIAAA, July 2016.
Neuropsychopharmacology: "Differential Brain Activity in Alcoholics and Social Drinkers to Alcohol Cues: Relationship to Craving."
Psychology Today: "Social Drinkers, Problem Drinkers and Alcoholics," "Failed New Year’s Resolutions to Cut Back on Drinking: Time to 'Think about Your Drinking.'"
Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology: "Effects of alcohol intoxication on the perceived consequences of risk taking."