A glass of wine with dinner, just one more beer for the road, a misty memory of the evening before. How do you know if the amount you are drinking is starting to get out of control?
Here are the five key signs that you are drinking to excess.
1. I need a drink…
You can’t say no to a drink, you crave alcohol and cannot wait for that 6 o’clock glass of wine or bottle of beer.
There is a point when having a social drink is not enough, you just need to have a drink. What started as a way to relax and put a stressful day behind you is now something you must do to relax.
2. I need to drink more to feel the same buzz…
Just that one drink is no longer enough, you need at least two or three beers to get the same effect or you find you are no longer putting the bottle of wine back in the fridge. As with any addiction you body will build up a tolerance and there is a risk you can slip into alcohol dependency.
There are different levels of dependence and it may not necessarily involve drinking excessively, you can start with a psychological dependence, the ‘I need a drink’ feeling or believing ‘I cannot relax without a drink’. Sadly this can all too quickly become a physical dependence where your body will show physical symptoms including shaking, sweating or nausea if you do not have alcohol in your system.
3. I have a drink most days…
Social drinking is perfectly acceptable, but when you find you are drinking most days, you need to consider if you have a problem. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states ‘”men should not exceed 4 drinks per day or a total of 14 per week and women should not exceed 3 drinks a day or a total of 7 per week”. The American Heart Association suggest even lower levels stating that “men should not exceed 2 units/day and women should not to exceed 1 unit/day to stay healthy.”
You need to be particularly careful when you drink at home, a single unit of alcohol is classed as a measure of spirits, half a pint of average strength lager or two-thirds of a 125 ml glass of wine. Outside of the controlled measures of a bar, it is easy to find yourself serving much more than a unit and slip into drinking more than you think you are.
4. I drink alone…
Finding yourself reaching for a drink when you are by yourself could be a sign of a problem. Research has shown that drinking alone can be linked to heavier drinking and a greater risk of addiction.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a drink at home, but be aware when you find you are regularly drinking when you are alone.
5. I don’t have a problem with drink… Honestly…
Denial can be a big sign, if you find you cannot admit you are drinking too much. When you hear yourself saying ‘I’m not that bad…’ or ‘I just have a drink or two,’ consider if this really is the truth.
This is where friends or partners can be vital to help you. Admitting you have an issue is a massive step but can be helped by those around you helping you see your drinking is becoming an issue. If your partner or friend is in denial your role in helping them recognise and acknowledge the issue is vital. You can be pivotal in getting them on the road to recovery.
What are the risks of alcohol?
There are many health risks associated with long-term alcohol abuse. These include high blood pressure, risk of stroke, liver disease, fertility problems, impotence and an increased risk of cancer.
To understand the risks of drinking, the following is what will happen to your body as you drink more alcohol:
- Moderate drinking – 1 – 2 units
You may notice an increase in your heart rate and your blood vessels expand. You will become more sociable and talkative.
- 4 – 6 units
The alcohol starts to cause a reaction within your brain, with your judgement and decision making gets affected. You may start to feel more reckless and uninhibited. Your coordination and reaction time are reduced.
- Heavy Drinking – 8 – 9 units
Your speech begins to slur and you may suffer from blurred vision. The alcohol is unlikely to be out of your body overnight so you will most likely wake with a hangover.
- Excessive Drinking – 10 – 12 units
Your coordination will be seriously impaired and you are at a serious risk of having an accident. You may feel drowsy and depressed due to large amounts of alcohol in your bloodstream.
Of course, in addition, you need to consider the cost of alcohol and the large numbers of empty calories contained.
How to get back in control…
If you realise you are drinking too much you can take steps to recover, the first stage is to acknowledge you are drinking too much and to be willing to make a change. If you are at an early stage, you can look to reduce your alcohol intake and give your body time to recover.
Having a break from alcohol can help you greatly. Research by University College London has seen individuals who gave up alcohol for four weeks notice improvements to their liver function, blood pressure and cholesterol levels and were also at lower risk of developing diabetes and liver disease. A break from alcohol can be useful to ‘reset’ your drinking levels and detox. Your body and your wallet will thank you!
However, if you are alcohol dependent, you may find that a sudden reduction may cause withdrawal symptoms including nausea, sweating, a craving for alcohol and shaking. Here it is best to seek professional advice before attempting to cut down on your intake. In this way, you can be advised of a sensible programme to reduce and then eliminate your dependency safely.
Enjoy life, in control
Nobody is denying that a drink with friends or family is a great way to enjoy an evening, or that a glass of wine with a meal is anything but positive. However, it is all about recognising how much is too much and to enjoy yourselves without needing alcohol.
Learn more about drinking in popular culture with the sober drinking game, where you can learn what famous people from William Shakespeare to Dudley Moore said about drinking!