Ask the therapist: How do I know if there is a problem with my drinking?

In the “Consulting Therapist” series, I will answer all your questions about mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about living conditions, or just seeking the insights of a therapist, you can submit a question. Please pay attention to my answers to your questions in the Healthy Mind newsletter every Friday.

A reader asked

I drank a lot of alcohol during the epidemic. I thought everyone else was doing the same thing, but my friends seemed to drink much less than I did. I drink when I am alone, bored or even happy. I began to worry that I might have a problem. what should I do?

Amy answered

Like many people, it sounds like you first sought alcohol because you thought it was a solution. It may temporarily relieve boredom or loneliness. But over time, you may notice that alcohol has caused you more problems-it doesn’t actually solve any problems. Fortunately, you can take many different measures to control drinking.

Signs of the problem

Although you have noticed that your friends do not drink that much, you are not the only one who has increased their alcohol intake during the pandemic. Many people are now using alcohol to cope with the stress of daily life. But turning to alcohol to cope also means that many people are at increased risk of health problems, substance abuse disorders, interpersonal problems, and mental health problems.

The line between drinking and abuse does not just depend on how much alcohol you drink or how much alcohol you drink. Instead, it depends on whether your use will cause problems in your life.

Therefore, although one person may drink a few glasses of alcohol a week without any impact, others may encounter serious problems when drinking the same amount of alcohol.

When alcohol causes social or relationship problems, it becomes a problem. Maybe you are arguing with your partner while drinking, or you may become the loud speaker in a restaurant embarrassing their friends.

Legal issues may be another red flag. Whether you are driving under the influence or fighting with others after drinking, the intervention of the police indicates that your alcohol intake is causing problems in other aspects of your life.

Professional problems are also a sign of trouble. Asking for leave due to a hangover or secretly drinking alcohol at work may be a sign of a problem. It is also important to consider whether drinking alcohol affects your physical or mental health. If you ignore your health problems or even continue to drink while your mood is affected, it may indicate that you have a problem.

Take a step back and ask yourself, what kind of problems is causing my drinking?

Try your own strategy

Since you are worried about how much alcohol you drink, please try to take some measures to change your drinking habits. It is not clear from your question how much you drink. If you drink a lot of alcohol or drink alcohol every day, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop. Withdrawal symptoms should be monitored by a medical professional.

A good starting point is to call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357). They can guide you to resources in your area and provide suggestions on options.

Here are some other strategies you can try:

  • Set a goal for yourself. Decide how long and how much you want to drink. As a reference, healthy men are usually encouraged to drink no more than 14 standard cups a week. For healthy women, the upper limit of this number is 7 cups per week. You may decide to give up alcohol altogether, or you may limit the amount of alcohol you drink in a day or a week.
  • Keep track of your drinking. It is easy to underestimate your consumption, especially during a pandemic, you may drink at home. Writing down the amount and frequency of alcohol you drink can increase your awareness. Start logging to help you understand your daily consumption.
  • Create a list of reasons you want to reduce/stop. Why do you want to quit drinking? List the benefits of not drinking and why you want to stop drinking. When you want to drink, please read the list carefully.
  • Don’t put alcohol in the house. If you have a lot of alcohol in your house, you may drink more and more frequently. Therefore, although it may not be safe to go out to drink now, hoarding alcohol at home may not be a good idea.
  • Try other coping techniques. When you want to drink, pay attention to how you feel. Are you sad? boring? Lonely? Try other coping strategies first. You may find that reading, listening to music, taking a walk, calling a friend or watching a movie can also help you cope with uncomfortable feelings.
  • Get support. There are many places where you can get support from others. From AA conferences (you can now attend online or in person) to apps, there are many ways to get support.

Take the online screening test

You may take a free online screening test to assess the severity of your current drinking. There are several different types of screening tests, and you can access them from many different places.

Screening tests can provide you with more feedback on whether there is a problem with your drinking. However, screening tests should not replace medical advice. Regardless of the screening results, it is important to talk to professionals for more information.

Talk to professionals

Professionals can provide you with information about the risk factors of drinking, drug abuse, and management or abstinence strategies. Even if you think you have no problems, talking to a professional may provide you with the information you need to ensure that you maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol.

You can talk to your doctor first. Discuss your drinking habits and any concerns you have.

You can also contact a therapist. The therapist can assess your habits and make recommendations that can help you control your alcohol intake.

They can also help you discover other coping techniques to deal with uncomfortable feelings, because you say that drinking is to cope with things like loneliness and boredom. If you have other coping skills that can help you, you may be less likely to turn to alcohol to help you regulate your emotions.

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Ask the therapist: How do I know if there is a problem with my drinking?
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