How to Spot a Drinking Problem
It’s not necessarily easy to spot a drinking problem and as Drinkaware very rightly point out, dependence on alcohol can range from mild to moderate or even severe. Unfortunately, an awful lot of people who have a drink problem don’t seem to realise until it’s started to affect them and their lives in a negative way.
People don’t like the word ‘Alcoholic’, possibly because it evokes images of a dirty old tramp walking around the local park or town centre swigging from a big bottle of high strength budget alcohol begging for change so that they can get their next drink.
Alcoholism (or drink dependence if you really don’t like the word) is more rampant than many people would like to believe and a lot more people have a problem with drinking than they would also like to believe.
How to Spot a Drinking Problem, Either in Yourself or a Friend or Family Member?
Personally, I gave up drinking in my mid 20s before I could develop any kind of problem (I’m not 100% teetotal…I have ONE drink on occasion but often several years between, the record being seven) partly because I realised that it was a problem for people close to me and because I quickly deemed it to be a waste of both time and money.
But as I’ve already mentioned I have witnessed quite a few people close to me who clearly have (and had) a drink dependence problem.
I’ve found teacups half filled with whisky on kitchen worktops, as well as whisky bottles hidden in the backs of kitchen cupboards.
I’ve caught an older family member helping themselves to an unopened bottle of Southern Comfort that I had been gifted for my eighteenth birthday who claimed that they needed it because they had a bad toothache, two days later the bottle was completely empty (I hadn’t had a drop!) and it dawned on me and I sat up and exclaimed “Just a minute, they haven’t got any teeth!”
Now I’m not a dentist or orthodontist but I’m certain that if you do happen to have a full set of false teeth then I don’t think that you’ll be experiencing toothache anytime soon. No more than three days later the entire bottle was empty and even though I had caught them in the act of helping themselves to the bottle it wasn’t them that had emptied the bottle, oh no, it must have been somebody else!
Not the only bottle of liquor that mysteriously evaporated despite myself never opening it, oh yes, some members of my family were happy to open any bottles of spirits that I hadn’t gotten around to opening myself.
My father was kind enough to drink an entire case of bitter that I had hidden beneath my bed unopened and when asked why there was only two cans remaining told me I’d obviously drank them because he’d only had one or two! After the third case was finished, I decided it was far cheaper to stop buying it.
When I gave up drinking and buying drink, I would still find them on occasion in my bedroom looking under the bed and through the wardrobe and closet and look hopefully at me as I entered the room and ask, “Have you got anything to drink?” and then deal with the anger after I’ve informed them there’s plenty of tea, coffee, and water in the kitchen.
I’ve known people who drank four or more bottles of red wine a night as well as several beers and a few shots of whisky too, every night for well over a decade!
And more than once I’ve found myself trying to diffuse a violent or potentially violent situation brought on by someone trying to flex their “alcohol muscles”.
I even had to talk to the police, fortunately the police officer leading the job was astute and reasonable and was able to spot a drunken smack talker and quickly determine and deal with the trouble causer!
In 2019 it was estimated that there were an estimated 602,391 people dependent on alcohol in England alone!
Sometimes, however, it’s not always so obvious that somebody has a drink dependency issue so what are the signs that you should be looking out for if you’re concerned a friend, family member or even you are drinking too frequently and to excess?
The following blog will highlight some of the signs and symptoms that a person has become dependent on alcohol and needs to cut down on their drinking with a view to abstaining completely in the future as well as some advice and tips on how to avoid becoming dependent in the future!
Becoming Economical with the Truth
Like the personal anecdotes above about the Southern Comfort used for toothache and the cases of beer that ‘evaporated’ from under my bed, a lot of problem drinkers will simply deny what you can see as truth, they’ll know the routes to every off licence (Liquor store in the UK) and supermarket in their neighbourhood to avoid going to the same one twice in one day.
They’ll lie to friends and family (and the off-licence staff) about their drinking, how much they’ve been drinking and how often if someone is to show concern about them.
I’ve read and personally seen myself instances where people will start making excuses to the person on the cash register about why and what they’re buying at the off licence and what for.
“Is this a good whisky? I wouldn’t know it’s not for me, you see?”
“The besties coming over, need more wine!”
“Could you recommend something? I’m expecting company!”
If you catch a loved one or yourself doing this then it may well be time to look at getting some help!
If you’ve been a regular heavy drinker over a long time then feelings of anxiety can become commonplace, this is because drinking heavily and regularly interferes with the neurotransmitters located in our brains that are necessary to have and maintain good mental health.
As well as being the root of the anxiety this can also cause suicidal feelings and depression related to alcohol.
Anxiety from drink dependence can make you feel like you don’t want to go anywhere or do anything so it’s vital that you get help as soon as possible.
Do you get the shakes when you stop drinking?
Start sweating and feeling nauseous?
Do these go away once you begin to drink?
This is a classic sign of dependence on drink as well as other substances.
Your Social Life Revolves Around Drinking
This is one that a lot of people use as an excuse, that they’re ‘social’ drinkers and you may notice that almost all their social life is in the pub and all their family functions and work events are always related to drinking.
Or you turn into ‘that’ person that always must make it about drinking when other people are trying to have a healthier social gathering. The one who turns up with bottles of wine and gin pretending you were oblivious to the fact that the host has asked for it to be a sober gathering.
Drinking In The Morning
If you drink alcohol in the morning it could be a sign that you are an alcoholic, especially when it’s combined with other drink dependency issues (see above AND below).
If you’ve started drinking in the morning, and if you don’t you get withdrawal symptoms it’s high time that you speak with your doctor or a therapist about your problem.
Don’t think that just because you don’t fall into this category that you don’t necessarily have a drinking problem, there’s more than a few examples of people writing online about their alcohol issues who state that they didn’t even drink every day!
Feeling Compelled To Drink
Do you have a compulsive need that you need to have a drink and finding it nearly impossible to stop once you’ve started?
This is another classic warning sign that you need to take notice of for the sake of your health, wellbeing and potentially your social and work life as well.
Your Finances Take A Beating
The internet has plenty of tales of the devastation that drinking has taken not just on health and relationships but also the stress on wallets and bank accounts.
If you’ve the inclination do a Google dive yourself and read the stories of people at the height of their drinking spending thousands on alcohol each year, examples of people spending ten thousand dollars and sometimes even more in countries who put a higher tax on alcohol.
And it’s not just the money spent on alcohol that’s being wasted, if you spend your money on a takeaway every night because you’re intoxicated the costs add up again and again.
Add to that that you may be buying food from the local supermarket and never getting around to cooking anything before it goes bad then you’ll still be out of pocket even more!
Like most of the signs in this article, this is another that will put a serious strain on a relationship and if you’re drink dependent and this happens it will only help things spiral downwards even further!
There’s No Stopping You
Literally you cannot stop, that one drink turns into two then three then four.
You justify drinking to yourself using the most tenuous excuses going.
Had a bad day? DRINK!
Work life hard? DRINK!
Loud Kids? DRINK!
You intend to take breaks, but the smallest thing makes you reach for the nearest bottle of booze.
You’re on first name terms with the staff at the local off-licences as you call at each of them (and you have 3 or four!) so often because you can’t bear the thought of running out of your favourite unwinding tipple.
Eating is just a chore to get over with so that you can drink more!
Filled up on food and beer and feeling stuffed? Start on the spirits, more alcohol but less filling, win-win!
These are classic warning signs of a drinking problem and if you’re recognising any of these signs and symptoms in yourself or another person then it’s perhaps time to reach out and ask or offer some help and support.
One of our previous blogs on quit literature is available to read here and may provide you with some inspiration for your own sober journey.
Your Mental And Physical Wellbeing Start To Deteriorate
Alcohol is bad for your health, FACT!
Ask Professor David Nutt – a celebrated British academic who has literally written the book on this as well as others on drugs and addiction.
He says that if alcohol were introduced today with the food standards that we now employ it would never be allowed to reach the stores!
Just going from the data gathered from over 2000 individual cases, he points out that one bad alcohol trip is more likely to give you schizophrenia than a lifetime of smoking cannabis! (By the way Professor Nutt won the John Maddox prize in 2013 for promoting sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest, whilst facing difficulty or hostility in so doing).
For starters alcohol is empty calories which will help you start to gain weight which will cause joint and respiratory problems, make you more prone to catching certain cancers, heart disease and increase the risk of heart attacks and possibly strokes!
Then we’re on to the damage caused to your liver by the booze and if it’s damaged enough regularly over a long period of time then you’ll cause cirrhosis (scarring), cirrhosis is also caused by being obese which if you’re a regular heavy drinker is a real possibility owing to the above-mentioned empty calories.
When you drink a lot of alcohol then you could also develop a stomach ulcer if your stomach lining becomes irritated after your stimulated gastric juices mix with alcohol.
Also, with regards to the stomach, a little alcohol can increase the flow of juices in it causing you to feel hungry. This more than likely will cause you to pile on a kilo or two (or more) and larger amounts of booze can make you feel fuller, dulling your appetite causing you to miss out on meals leading to malnutrition!
While your inhibitions run low through intoxication you can also put yourself at risk of disease through risky sexual activity.
An important thing to note is that women don’t produce as much of the enzyme that’s required to break down alcohol placing them more at risk.
Drinking in older people run the risk of increased chance of dementia, stroke, heart disease, depression, confusion, and cancer if they drink regularly and to excess!
Risks to your personal wellbeing from being drunk can also include putting yourself and others in danger through drink driving accidents and injuries or operating dangerous machinery whilst intoxicated.
You’ve Started Drinking Alone
Besides going to the bar after work or after the gym with friends at every opportunity that’s presented you’ve found yourself drinking alone more and more.
Your inner dialogue is just brimming with excuses to drink, and you find yourself filling the blue recycling bin twice as fast as your general waste bin.
Perhaps you’ve now found yourself alone at the bar after work because all the others have decided on a night with the family instead of drinking, but the notion of missing out on drinking fills you with the dreaded anticipation of your withdrawal symptoms.
This is yet again another classic warning sign that you may not be as in control of your drinking as you thought you were and it’s time to take stock and try to see if you can manage a day or two away from drinking.
If you find yourself incapable of taking any time away from alcohol then it’s time to seek help and guidance from somebody.
Reach out to either a trusted friend who is able to give you an objective view of your drinking from an outside perspective and support you once you decide to ‘try dry’, or if you feel it’s really gotten out of hand then it really should be a healthcare professional or addiction counsellor that you should be speaking openly about your issue with.
Does any of the above strike a chord with you?
If you (or a loved one) are demonstrating one or more of the above behaviours or habits, then it’s time to offer or seek help and guidance.
If, however, you feel that you’re not meeting some or all of the criteria of being drink dependent but still want to get in control of drinking and avoid becoming dependent then you should look at sticking to the UK low risk drinking guidelines which advises not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis (14 units is approximately six pints of an average strength beer or six 175ml average strength glasses of wine).
If you’re hitting the 14 units every week then it’s advised that you try to spread your drinking over three or more days.
If you can increase the amount of drink free days that you have each week then this will also benefit your health and taking regular breaks will also help to lower your tolerance to alcohol.
Our previous blog on inspiration for drink free days will give you plenty of ideas on spending a day or two away from the bar or off licence.
Tracking your drinking is a great way to keep yourself conscious of how much that you do drink and a way to be aware of any warning signs that your drinking is getting out of control.
You can do this by using an app, which is a great way to monitor your drinking habits and this one from Drinkaware not only tracks the drinks that you have but also those (empty) calories that you’re imbibing.
And if you feel like you need help and don’t know where to turn there’s a ton of resources and organisations designed to help you get on right side of the sober track just go to our external resources page and find something that suits you.
To keep informed about the latest information and techniques to help you on your first sober journey steps and beyond, check out all the help and information available for you right here on Sober Bubble and good luck and keep aiming for the stars with your own sober ambitions.