I’ll be the first to admit that, for many people, alcohol is essentially harmless. And there are even proven health benefits1 of drinking in moderation. But it can be misused. In fact, it often is. And the misuse of alcohol extends far beyond clinical alcoholism. Booze could be negatively affecting you even if you're not technically addicted. Here are three signs you need to rethink your relationship with alcohol:
1. You're in a toxic relationship and you just can't get out.
Alcohol can numb bad feelings—temporarily. But numbing a feeling is treating the symptom, not the cause. The only way to stop feeling those icky feelings is to change whatever keeps bringing you down—toxic relationships, for example.
Anxiety and upset are signals that something is wrong. If you escape those bad feelings with booze, you're actually perpetuating your own unhappiness. If breaking up is what you need to do to get out of that toxic cycle, drinking is a handicap to that.
I’ve seen more than one person stay in an abusive relationship with a partner who cheated on them repeatedly. Most of these people become heavy drinkers, or they drown their unhappiness in other substances. If alcohol is numbing your unhappiness, that is a sign that you need to let yourself feel it. Feel it until you're uncomfortable enough that you change the situation.
Get back to living your own life and making the best decisions for you. And if, at some point in the future when you're happy and whole, you find yourself wanting a glass of red on occasion, there's nothing wrong with that. But the most important thing is to stand on your own two feet. Don't let alcohol (or anything else) become a crutch.
2. You hate your job.
When something occupies more than half of your waking hours—preparation, travel time, and wind-down included—it’s safe to say that thing is your life. And when your life is spent doing things you either despise or simply "get through," you’re going to feel like something’s missing. That dissatisfaction breeds anxiety. If, rather than taking steps to change that situation, you routinely escape those anxious feelings by using any type of drug (alcohol included), you're robbing yourself of the motivation it takes to take the action that could lead to your dream career.
Take my friend Ben, for instance. This guy is a modern-day Michelangelo with talents that we mere mortals would kill for—Ben’s a painter, sculptor, writer, designer—the list goes on. He graduated with a degree in design and got a placeholder job out of college. He just never graduated from that $25-an-hour drafting job, which doesn’t tap the first .00001 percent of his potential. I haven’t seen him not buzzed in over five years—and that’s not a coincidence.
Not living life on your own terms makes you feel bad. If your job happens to be the drag, you can escape the bad feelings and become a victim—or you can confront the situation like an empowered individual and improve your life. Sometimes that means letting go of a comfortable job, a cozy relationship, or both.
3. You don't spend quality time with real friends, and you've stopped doing what you love.
There are essential things in life that make you feel good: rich relationships, a rewarding community, and reveling in adventures and creative pursuits. Nothing should ever keep you from experiencing those things—least of all liquor.
A client named Kelly once came to me because she wanted my help doing more of the things she loved. I started by asking her how she spent her time. She replied, "I just drink when I get off work." Then I asked, well, what about your friends—do you do stuff with them? She said, "We go out drinking sometimes."
The very first thing I had Kelly do was to quit drinking because every night when she should’ve been doing what she loved, breaking out of her comfort zone, and making new friends, she was bullshitting with the same "friends" at the same bars. That never actually made her feel good because she wasn't progressing as a human being—nor was she connecting on a real, vulnerable level with those people. Within the first week of working with me, she had started hiking and riding horses again, and she'd begun meeting new people that she really connected with.
If you’re continuously pushing off the fun things that make you feel like you, or if you’ve allowed your social life to revolve around alcohol, you need to let it go. Do what it takes to be human first. Build back your networks and your life. Schedule more fulfilling activities like hiking, sports, game night, and yoga. Then, if you think you can responsibly reincorporate alcohol into your life, do it. But don’t ever let it keep you from fulfilling your needs and living your full potential. Oh, and if you're afraid to quit drinking, it means you need to give it up—at least until you learn to be fine without it.
I’m not anti-booze. I’m just pro-you. And if anything keeps you from living the bold and inspiring life you really want, I’m going to be your friend and call you out on it. If this article has been your wake-up call, mark today as the first day of your three months without booze. (That's the time it takes to break a bad habit.)
Let all your friends know that you won't be persuaded into having a drink on your lunch or dinner dates, and that you'd appreciate their support in sticking to this commitment. Then call your closest confidant and have them keep you accountable to your decision. Come up with goals for the things you need to work on—career, self-love, self-improvement, etc.—and have that person keep you accountable to making that progress, too.
Want more insights on how to level up your life? Find out how to discover your purpose and align yourself with it every day.
Daniel Dowling is a freelance journalist and copywriter based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His writing focuses on personal development and has been featured in Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and FitBit. He studied sociology and anthropology at New Mexico State University.