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Alcohol – when does it become a problem?

How do you know if you are drinking too much?

By Lucy Nichol

Alcohol – we consume it, and we are consumed by it. So much of what we do these days revolves around it – and that’s hardly a new thing.

Alcohol has been a staple part of our lives since before historic aristocracy guzzled mead around banqueting tables. But just because it’s become a kind of British tradition, that doesn’t mean it’s always a good thing.

While some people enjoy a glass or two of wine, a couple of beers or a cold G&T every so often, others may find themselves really stretching the meaning of the words ‘every so often’ as they try to place themselves firmly in the ‘I drink every so often’ category.

The problem with alcohol use is that, when it becomes a problem, it’s often already getting its toxic talons into our heart, soul, mind and liver. Alcohol can cause anxiety, depression and a whole array of physical health problems. Not to mention the potential to become addicted to it. As Professor David Nutt, an expert in drugs and alcohol, said in his book, Drugs Without the Hot Air, ‘If it were discovered today, it would be illegal as a foodstuff.’

But how do you know if you are drinking too much? What are the signs that alcohol has become a problem for you?

We spoke to several women in recovery from alcohol addiction who have shared the following insights in the hope that increased awareness could stop others from hitting rock bottom.

Here are the signs they say could warrant a serious review of your drinking habits and, where possible, seeking the advice of a health professional:

You haven’t even removed your jacket before you’re in the fridge grabbing a drink

You buy a breath-testing kit from eBay to make sure you’re ok to drive the next day

You work nights and tell everyone that a drink first thing in the morning is ok because of your shifts

You leave nights out earlier to ‘go home and drink properly’

You tell yourself ‘I don’t have a drinking problem. I can stop when I want’. But in reality, no more than three days later, you’ve rewarded yourself for stopping with a drink.

When you stock up you’re forever telling the cashier you’re having a party.

You take your bottles in the car to the bottle bank so your neighbours don’t hear all the clinking.

You always carry deodorant around with you in case the smell of stale drink is still there. Ditto toothpaste. Ditto perfume.

You always have at least half a bottle of something before you go out to meet friends.

You’re often low level angry every morning because you’re hungover.

You find yourself revolving your day around fitting in everything you ‘have’ to do to maintain the front of being normal – cooking, laundry, working etc up until a certain time. Then it’s time to reward your efforts and chill with a bottle of wine.

You think you can’t possibly have a problem with alcohol because you don’t drink spirits or because you don’t drink first thing in the morning.

But taking that first step can be difficult. Here, one woman shares extracts from her sober journal…

Day one: Sunday after the festival. Realised there will always be some event or party or celebration (every weekend) so there will never ever be a good time to do this. There will always be some kind of excuse. A bad day, a good day, a party, Christmas, a concert, a meal out – always some reason. These are not reasons. They are excuses. I still want to do these things – enjoy these things – actually fully remember these things. The ‘rock bottom’ that people talk about hasn’t hit, but I’m not convinced that it needs to. I don’t understand effectively waiting until this happens. I have been drinking around two large glasses of wine on weekdays and a bottle on weekend nights at least. I don’t recall many days when I have had nothing at all. 

Today: Where did all that time go? Still here, still sober. It will be my first sober birthday next month and I’m so happy. We have all been in lockdown since March, and I feel very blessed that I had nailed sobriety beforehand. It terrifies me to think about how bad my drinking would have got if I hadn’t stopped when I did. The boredom and isolation no doubt would have made me drink more and more and more. 

If any of these reflections and experiences resonate with you, it might be time to consider cutting down or quitting altogether. But you don’t have to do it alone.

For anyone thinking about cutting back as a first step, you might benefit from taking a look at the mindful drinking movement and the Club Soda website.

However, if you’re concerned about alcohol addiction, quitting altogether may be your best bet. For peer support, people in the North East can call the confidential George Street 24/7 helpline run by the Road to Recovery Trust on 0191 8149796.

For further information on twelve-step recovery programmes visit the ‘where to find help’ page on the Trust’s website.

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