For some people it’s obvious when they have a drink problem. They reach a stage where there is no doubt in their mind – or that of anyone else – that alcohol is causing them harm and yet they cannot stop drinking.
For countless other people things have not yet reached that stage – and yet the problem is just as real and just as destructive.
Anyone who continues to function – holding down a job, still maintaining relationships with family and friends and doing all the stuff that’s ‘normal’ life – may find it easier to deny their reliance on alcohol. But it may still be there, nibbling at the edges of their existence and bringing with it the threat of illness, injury or ultimately chaos and catastrophe.
Harmful use of alcohol costs three million lives each year, according to the World Health Organisation. In the UK, alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill health and disability among 15-49 year olds. A recent report focused on addiction problems in just one region – the region of Greater Manchester – displays how big an issue alcohol is to individuals and communities.
Here are a few ways to spot if your drinking has started to become a problem. Identifying yourself in one of these things is not a diagnosis, but it may mean that taking a moment to pause for further thought would not be a bad thing.
If you see yourself in a number of the points there’s a higher likelihood that you perhaps ought to consider more closely your relationship with alcohol and whether you may want to try to cut down or seek further support.
- You are worried about your drinking
Just being concerned about your drinking is enough to indicate that it may be a problem. It’s worth listening to that niggling voice.
If someone else is worried about your drinking that can be a sign too.
The AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test), the world’s most widely used alcohol screening tool, is a survey of 10 questions that helps medical professionals to identify if a drink problem may be present.
One of the questions is: “Has a relative or friend, doctor or other health worker been concerned about your drinking or suggested you cut down?”
It’s sometimes easier to cast aside, belittle or ignore your doubts or those of others, but doing so may lead you to miss the opportunity to take action before you become dependent or before a dependency is so entrenched that beating it is going to be so much more difficult.
If those doubts are there they may well have some foundation.
- You feel remorse and guilt due to your drinking
Regularly feeling remorse or guilt due to drinking can be a sign of a problem. Drinking can lead anyone to do things they regret and many people who have ever drunk more than they can handle will have a story about doing something foolish or shameful. That in itself doesn’t necessarily mean you have a problem.
If remorse and guilt is something that you’ve felt often due to drinking, or is an increasingly common thing, it can be a sign of an issue.
Perhaps you promised yourself or someone else that you wouldn’t drink and then did? Or maybe you are reckless, aggressive or foolhardy when you’ve had a drink. Whatever leads to those regretful feelings ought to be examined to help you understand the issue.
- You binge drink
There’s a common misconception that all people with a drink problem drink everyday and can’t start the day without drinking. For some people with a drink issue that is the case.
A drink problem, though, means an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and binge drinking can indicate that too, even if that happens on a more irregular basis. Regularly drinking more than six standard measure alcoholic drinks in one session is a crude but useful yardstick as to what may be indicative of a potential problem.
It’s not uncommon for people to turn to alcohol for comfort, to relieve stress, for ‘courage’ or to try to escape problems or pain. However, none of these are hugely healthy things to do. If you find that alcohol is often a coping mechanism to you – or a form of self medication – you may have an issue to work through.
- You drink frequently
The more obvious and accepted sign of a drink problem is drinking to excess regularly.
Of course, if you find yourself drinking often in the morning or throughout the day, these are potentially signs of an issue, but more ‘accepted’ evening drinking isn’t always safe and ok either.
If you have formed a habit of sinking a bottle of wine every evening, downing a number of measures of spirit to help you clear your head of the stress of the day or struggle to pass a day without a significant amount of alcohol, it could indicate a problem.
Even what you may view as relatively moderate daily drinking may add up to a problem.
The UK’s National Health Service advises that to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level people should not drink more than 14 units per week.
How many units are in a serving of alcohol depends on the strength of the specific drink, but a broad baseline estimation may be:
- Around two units in a bottle, can or pint of beer
- Around one unit in a small shot of spirit
- Around one and a half units in a small glass of wine
A bottle of wine is likely to contain at least 10 units and a bottle of vodka 28 units.
Setting rules for yourself around the type of alcohol you drink (such as only drinking good quality wine) or the times of day you drink, does not guarantee you don’t have a problem. If you drink every day but only after 8pm, it’s no less of an issue.
- You have failed to keep commitments due to your drinking
If you’ve had to cancel arrangements, let someone down or been unable to work due to your drinking numerous times, it can be a signal of an issue.
Alcohol can lead to issues with depression and sleep issues which may also impact on your ability to maintain commitments.
Unpleasant and debilitating withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, shaking, retching or vomiting are common among people with drink issues.
What to do if you’re worried about your drinking
Talking to someone is vital if you are concerned about your drinking. Don’t ignore the worry or rationalise it. If you have a concern about your drinking seek help and support.
You may well be able to take some sensible steps to bring your drinking under control without needing formal treatment.
Either way, saying nothing and keeping your worries to yourself is unlikely to see any change for you.
It’s vital not to feel alone or ashamed. You may not be proud of things you have done when drinking or for feeling you need help, but seeking help is an act of courage and recovery is possible.
Many, many people struggle with alcohol issues and the more we talk about and address those issues the more people we will encourage and support to get free of their demons.