7 Questions to Gauge Your Alcohol Use
For many adults, more time at home often equates to more alcohol use (up to an estimated 9 drinks per week, on average). Others may find they consume more as their work productivity increases, either to reduce stress or let loose with peers after a long workday.
Alcohol is well-known for its ability to decrease fear and anxiety, relax muscles, and slow a racing heart. Drinking triggers the neurotransmitters in the brain associated with pleasure, which keeps us coming back for more.
The higher our stress levels, the bigger relief we feel when consuming alcohol. And this is where problems can arise. When we feel a huge relief from a substance, we are hard-wired to want to keep using it.
But this reward cycle is not inherently dangerous.
More than the quantity of alcohol consumed, its effects on one’s life indicate an unhealthy relationship with the substance. For instance, alcohol is known to disrupt sleep, which in turn leads to increased stress levels and decreased ability to cope. It’s easy to see how turning to alcohol as a response to stress can become cyclical.
No matter your relationship with alcohol, it can be helpful to assess your current level of alcohol awareness.
A few questions can help you decide whether or not to consult a doctor about your alcohol use.
7 Questions to Gauge Your Alcohol Use
Maybe you’re aware of your dependence on alcohol. Maybe you have yet to question its impact on your life. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of change, these questions can provide clarity.
1. Do you drink alone?
Alcohol is generally consumed socially. If you find yourself drinking solo, it could signal dependence. Feeling like you have to hide your drinking from others is another strong indicator of a negative relationship with alcohol.
2. Does your drinking ever make you late for work?
Drinking shouldn’t interfere with occupational and social obligations. Being late to work or failing to fulfill other obligations at work, school, or home could be a sign that your relationship with alcohol is… on the rocks.
3. Does your drinking worry your family?
You make decisions about your alcohol consumption, but your family’s perspective could be telling. If they are worried about you, it could help to hear them out. Maybe they’re noticing some of the signs mentioned here before you have.
Maybe they’re even worried about increased suicide risk based on your drinking habits. If this feels plausible, never hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
4. Do you drink when you feel angry or sad?
Similarly, drinking to alleviate moods or feelings may be cause for concern. We become programmed to cope with feelings in a repetitive way, but alcohol doesn’t help us process our feelings and move past them. The feelings will still be there when the alcohol wears off.
It’s best to develop other coping skills like mindfulness or talking to a friend or therapist – something with a positive pay off!
And if you feel like you’re craving a drink after a tough situation or simply at the same time you usually drink, you may want to consider telling a doctor about your relationship with alcohol.
5. Do you ever drink after telling yourself you won’t?
This doesn’t indicate failure to abstain so much as alcohol’s role in your life.
Finding it difficult to stop drinking is a classic sign of alcohol abuse. Maybe you start with a plan but, as the night goes on, you’re unable to stick to it. Or perhaps you’re accepting drinks you don’t want. Whatever the scenario, feeling “out of control” when drinking or being unable to stop could be signs of alcohol dependence.
6. Do you ever forget what you did while you were drinking?
Binge drinking is defined as four drinks over a 2-3 hour period for women, and five drinks over the same period for men (due to differences in how we metabolize alcohol). Drinking too much may result in memory loss of all or part of the time you were drinking – aka blacking out.
Blacking out is a common – albeit, socially acceptable – sign of drinking too much alcohol. And browning out (a millennial term for only forgetting some parts of the night) counts as an indicator of excessive alcohol use too.
Consider what your night would have been like had you drank in moderation, or, not at all. If these options seem implausible to you, that could be another indication of alcohol dependence.
7. Do you get headaches/hungover after drinking?
Although headaches and hangovers have been tied to sweet drinks, you generally shouldn’t experience them every time you drink.
If you answered any of these questions affirmatively, you should consider your relationship with alcohol and what you want it to look like. We strongly encourage you to reach out to your primary care physician or mental health expert for assistance moving forward.