Most heavy drinkers reach a point where they find themselves on Google, cautiously typing the words, “Do I have a drinking problem?”
Sure, you’ve been told you might have a drinking problem in the past, but that doesn’t make you an alcoholic. Right?
These are vulnerable moments when we teeter on edge between two identities. Are we the fun-loving party guy or gal who occasionally goes a little overboard, or are we out of control and need help?
When do partying and over-indulgence become a problem?
How Do I Know If I Have a Drinking Problem?
Alcoholism, Alcohol Use Disorder, alcohol abuse – there are many names and degrees of severity concerning when it comes to drinking and drinking problems.
There’s no official diagnosis for a drinking problem, but there are many people who fall into this gray area which is (aptly) called gray area drinking. This is that in-between space I already mentioned where you start to question your drinking habits because they are causing problems in your life.
At the bottom of this article, I’ll include a quiz to help you assess your alcoholism risk, but for now, we can keep an eye out for some signs that you might not have full control over your alcohol consumption.
- You frequently think about or wish you could drink less but cannot.
- You often wake up feeling regret or shame related to something you did when drinking.
- You say or do hurtful things to loved ones when drinking.
- You’ve tried to take breaks from alcohol but ended up caving within a week or two.
- You think about your drinking a lot and question if you should stop or reduce your alcohol intake.
These are just a few signs that your drinking is becoming problematic. For some people, a list like this seems like normal drinking stuff. After all, doesn’t everybody get a little drunk and embarrass themselves? Or wake up after a weekend of partying and think, “I’m never doing that again!”
The truth is, everybody doesn’t do this. But if that’s all you’re surrounded by, it is easy to convince yourself that this is normal behavior and nothing to get worked up about.
Part of you suspects that’s not completely true, and that’s why you’re here. So let’s dive in deeper!
What’s The Definition of an Alcoholic?
Simply put, an alcoholic is someone who has become alcohol-dependent. Drinkaware, and many other sites that deal with alcoholism, provide bullet points to let you know if you are one such person. These are the scary black dots that call us out on our shit.
They look something like this:
- Worrying about where your next drink is coming from and planning social, family, and work events around alcohol.
- Finding you have a compulsive need to drink, and it is hard to stop once you start.
- Waking up and drinking – or feeling the need to have a drink in the morning.
- Feelings of anxiety, alcohol-related depression, and suicidal feelings: These can develop because regular, heavy drinking interferes with neurotransmitters in our brains that are needed for good mental health.
- Suffering from physical withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking, and nausea, which stop once you drink alcohol.
When I was questioning my drinking a lot, I’d read countless lists like these and think, “Okay, yes, but….”
Or, I’d take an all-or-nothing approach. If I don’t tick yes for all the criteria, I’m still fine. I haven’t hit rock bottom, so there’s no need to make a fuss. I just need to cut back a little, right? (If only.)
And because there’s always a box left unchecked (I never drank in the morning, for example), I always thought I didn’t need to worry so much about my drinking.
But I was wrong, and things got much worse as a result.
7 Signs You Might Have A Drinking Problem
I’ve always had a problematic relationship with alcohol. Even though I didn’t drink very frequently until my late 20’s, when I did drink, it was to excess. I often lost control and made a fool of myself.
This made holding onto friendships and romantic relationships mostly impossible.
At first, I limited my drinking to the weekends and certainly never alone, so it didn’t occur to me that I had a drinking problem despite the fact that it consistently turned me into a raging lunatic.
By my late 20s and early 30s, that all changed.
Those little “alcoholic” checklists began to describe my life a little too perfectly. Here are seven things I did (or didn’t do) that let me know I had a drinking problem.
If you find yourself nodding your head to anything on this list, it’s definitely time to take your drinking seriously.
1. Solo drinking.
I eased into drinking alone by making it a natural extension of happy hour. I worked a difficult job that I was highly unsuited for. My colleagues and I always found ourselves at the neighboring bar on Fridays.
We all went HARD. I just tended to go a little harder.
Who was always the first one to get there and the last one to leave? You guessed it.
On my walk home, it was nothing for me to stop at a bodega and pick up a six-pack of hard cider.
I enjoyed my buzz and wanted to keep it going.
And then my solo drinking increased.
Eventually, that six pack doubled because I had a very real fear of running out that controlled nearly every aspect of my life.
Within a year, that six pack (or 2) pick-up had become a daily routine. Add that on to a pack of HEAVILY taxed cigarettes (we’re talking $13 USD a pack) and my bank account started to drain.
I easily spent $30-$40 USD per day on drinking and smoking which is why I could never afford to take vacations like my work friends.
And that brings me to #2.
2. Overspending or going into debt due to drinking.
If you want a nice reality check, crunch the numbers. On average, I was spending $11,000 USD on my drinking and smoking per year. Just looking at that figure makes me queasy.
When I moved abroad to a country where alcohol is heavily taxed, I easily doubled that.
It’s not just the alcohol that breaks the bank. There’s also the late night takeout purchases and the groceries that go bad because you’re too drunk to care about cooking.
For me, alcohol produced crippling anxiety, and I found myself compulsively purchasing things just to get a little dopamine hit.
It’s a snowball effect.
I feel depressed and hungover so buying a pair of shoes might perk me up. Or let’s get this kitchen appliance that I’ll never really use because I don’t cook anymore! Buying things and drinking felt like a compulsion.
Because my drinking problem caused me to pack on the pounds, I had to buy a whole new wardrobe. Often, I purchased things just because I felt so terrible about my body and wanted to look good. The irony is that I never went anywhere so they mostly stayed in my closet, tags on.
I could’ve saved thousands of dollars as an expat living a tax-free life, but instead found myself in debt or barely breaking even.
3. Trying to hide your drinking or alcohol purchases.
When I lived in Brooklyn, I had my bodega rotation mapped out. (If you don’t know, a bodega is a local corner store in NYC.)
I would walk several extra blocks if it meant not having to return to the nearest bodega for another six pack after buying one just three hours earlier.
It could be 11 o’clock at night, freezing rain, and I would dutifully put on my boots and trek 7 minutes to the next avenue to get more hard cider.
I strategically spaced out my alcohol purchases.
In hindsight, I wasn’t fooling anyone.
It was fairly normal for me to go into a bodega right before it closed for another six pack and attempt to play it off like I wasn’t already six bottles in and slurring my speech.
Occasionally, I’d make up a lie to cover up the obvious. “Hey! Having friends over and looks like we need some more cider!”
Why I felt the need to do this is beyond me. Nobody ever asked.
There was one incident when a bodega worker asked me why I always drank alone. He didn’t even work at one of my go-to spots. I was mortified. How did he know?
I didn’t go back there for at least a month.
My favorite liquor store game was to browse the wine section like I was trying to make a purposeful wine choice and even engage the clerk in some recommendations for the dinner I was hosting that night. (There was never any dinner.)
Then there were the social invitations I turned down.
I would wait until the last minute and lie about why I couldn’t make it. The real reason was because I’d already started drinking and was too wasted to get dressed up and go anywhere.
Eventually, the invitations stopped.
4. Not caring about your physical appearance.
I have little photographic evidence because I was too embarrassed to hop in front of cameras during the great weight gain of 2014-2016.
At the time I moved abroad, I was 59kg. That was the HEAVIEST I’d ever been in my whole life. By the end of 2015, I was 10kg heavier (that’s 22 lbs for my fellow Americans).
It wasn’t just the weight. I had a very alcoholic face. (Yes, that’s a thing.)
I constantly had a red, puffy, tired look about me. And my hair? A lifeless, stringy mess. My chest had broken out with these tiny red lines, which I later learned is a sign my liver wasn’t doing so good.
Then there was the rosacea and the broken capillaries all over the sides of my nose.
Was I happy about any of this? Absolutely not!
Did I care enough to do anything about it? Also, no. Much easier to wallow in self-pity with a glass of whiskey and buy the next pants size up.
5. Worsening mental health problems.
For whatever reason, we get the idea that turning into the hulk after we’ve had some drinks is both normal and forgivable.
There’s the raging dude bro who always wants to fight after he’s had about five beers or the weepy friend who frequently experiences an existential crisis by the end of the night.
And what do we say to them?
It’s okay. You had a lot to drink.
But it’s not okay, and I say this as someone who quite frequently lost her mind while drinking.
As time went on, my mental health took a major hit. I’ve always struggled with depression, but after years of heavy drinking, I was also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
I don’t know if I’ve always had anxiety or if the drinking caused it. But it was one of the hardest parts about quitting alcohol, and something I had to actively manage through therapy and medication years into my sobriety.
During my heavy drinking days, I had severe mood swings and depressive episodes which often caused me to lash out at people. Sometimes I became so absorbed by my own sadness that I had nothing else to talk about.
If I’d been watching the same behavior in another person, I would not have hesitated to call them out and distance myself from them.
Because I decided to treat my problems with alcohol, I ended up losing most of my friends and causing major stress in my marriage.
We don’t realize it at the time, but what we say and do does matter to other people. When you don’t think you have any value, it’s difficult to believe that others would see any value in you either. We end up hurting a lot of people this way.
And that’s exactly what I did. I don’t begrudge anyone who managed to escape me over the years.
6. Your drinking puts your safety at risk.
There are countless incidents in my memory that make me wince. Times when I drove and shouldn’t have, got wasted in public and barely made it home safely, or drunkenly wandered around the streets of New York at night, alone.
Even now, I hear people at social gatherings brag about how they don’t know how they got home the night before. Like it’s a badge of honor.
There’s nothing heroic or admirable about getting blackout drunk and putting your safety at risk, even if you end up surviving yourself.
The last person I heard brag like this was a 40-something mother of three who lives in a country where being that drunk can land you in jail for several years and then ultimately deported. Why take that risk?
I used to be that woman and can’t help but wonder if people looked at me the way I looked at her. Probably.
7. Once you start drinking, you struggle to stop or “cut yourself off.”
Drinking became a remedy for the silliest things. Oh, some guy cut me off in traffic? I’m having a drink when I get home. The mall was a bit crowded today? Having a drink when I get home!
There was a giddy anticipation to parking my car and finally being able to sit on my balcony with a pack of cigarettes and an endless supply of whiskey and Sprite. It felt like exhaling after holding my breath for a long time.
Which, in a way, I was.
Once I managed to take the edge off, I kept going. The part of my brain that fears scarcity went into overdrive. I drank and smoked like someone was going to snatch them away from me at any moment.
I hated to take breaks, which is why I always canceled plans to go out because going would mean stopping my drinking to shower, put on clothes, and hop in a cab.
No, thank you!
Eat? I mean, if I have to…
Usually, I ordered food that sat there and got cold until it was absolutely necessary to eat. I’d reach a point in my drinking for the night where if I wanted to continue, I was going to need to eat something.
That was my primary motivation for having dinner.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Because it’s likely that you live in a country where alcohol and getting drunk is considered a normal part of everyday life, it is very easy to brush off these behaviors as “no big deal.”
Everyone does it! It doesn’t make me an alcoholic.
I downplayed my behavior for years until it got so bad that I had zero control over it.
Your life doesn’t have to be completely wrecked (or wrecked at all) for you to have a drinking problem. High-functioning alcoholics, like us, are constantly trying to walk the line of “I just like to drink” and “I have a problem.”
In fact, if you have to ask Google if you have a drinking problem, it’s probably a sign that something is wrong.
Breaking the Stigma of Sobriety
Personally, I rejected dealing with my drinking because I didn’t want to associate myself with “those” people.
I had no real experience with alcoholism, AA, or the recovery community beyond the dimly lit rooms in church basements I’d see on TV.
Those people didn’t look very good. They seemed sad and dull. Ruined. Who would want such an existence?
But that’s not who we are.
Maybe sometimes we feel sad or dull. But it isn’t who we are at our core, and it for damn sure is not who we have to be forever.
Notice I said, “we?”
What happens next?
If you’re reading this, chances are you or a loved one has a problem with drinking, so I’m inviting you into the fold right now.
There are millions of people in this world who understand what you’re going through. They’re from all walks of life, from the most successful CEOs and celebrities to regular Joes like you (maybe?) and me.
And you know what the great thing is?
More people are speaking out publicly about their sobriety. Sometimes it’s because they were/are addicted and other times, it’s because they just don’t see a purpose to drinking alcohol.
If you’re worried you might have a drinking problem, the first step is to talk to a medical professional or therapist. They can give you their professional opinion and advise you accordingly.
I also recommend joining online communities for people who are also questioning their drinking and trying to quit.
If you’re not ready to make that leap, there are a lot of great books on sobriety to help you understand your drinking and learn from people who have been there. At the very least, listen to their stories and see what transpires.
Take the AUDIT Quiz
I took dozens of quizzes when I first entertained the idea that I might be an alcoholic. Even though I always got the same answer, I’d continue taking different quizzes on different sites hoping for another outcome.
It’s something I think a lot of us go through on our journey.
The following quiz is an AUDIT assessment. AUDIT stands for Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, and it is frequently used by medical professionals to assess their patient’s risk for alcoholism.
I am not a medical professional, nor am I your doctor, so this test is for informational purposes only. However, I strongly encourage you to connect with a doctor or mental health professional if the results indicate you should do so.
Do you need some support?
Soberish has an incredible, private Facebook group for anyone struggling with alcohol. We are a tight-knit group of people at various stages in the sobriety process. Some of us have a few (or more) years under our belt and others are in the early stages.
We’ve got members who are struggling to stay sober for more than a few days at a time and members who are starting on Day 1.
The point is that no matter where you are in your sobriety, you will fit right in.
Visit the Soberish Facebook Group and request to join.
Stuff you may find helpful:
- Quitting Alcohol Timeline: What Happens When You Quit Drinking?
- The First 30 Days of Sobriety: What To Expect
- 9 Ted Talks That Will Help You Rethink Alcohol and Addiction
- The Best Books For Sobriety That Helped Me Quit Drinking For Good
Additional Resources If You Think You Have A Drinking Problem
For UK readers:
- Alcoholics Anonymous UK
- 0800 9177 650
- Al-Anon (for family and friends of alcoholics)
- 020 7403 0888
- Alcohol Concern
- 0300 123 1110
- Mental Health Foundation
- 020 7803 1100.
For US readers:
Visit AlcoholRehab.org for a comprehensive list of services both national and according to state.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, here are some resources to help get you through it.
- USA https://www.alcohol.org/
- Canada http://www.ccdus.ca/Eng/Pages/Addictions-Treatment-Helplines-Canada.aspx
- UK https://www.adfam.org.uk/help-for-families/finding-support/call-a-helpline
- Australia http://www.recoveroz.com.au/how-to-find-help/help-lines.html
- NZ https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/in-crisis/helplines