When Is Drinking A Problem? How To Reassess Your Relationship With Alcohol
If you went from having a drink with a friend once or twice a week to pouring yourself a glass of wine or a cocktail just to break up the day, you're not alone. In fact, you've got plenty of company. It's 2020 and we're all feeling the stress—of the news cycle, a pandemic, a sense of uncertainty, and a unique at-home juggle.
If it's starting to feel like your 5 o'clock pour is automated rather than a conscious choice, it could be time to reassess your relationship with alcohol. We sat down with licensed psychotherapist and Monument adviser Laura Diamond to discuss how to think about your relationship with alcohol and potentially take steps to shift your behavior and mindset with the support of the new online platform Monument.
"Do I have a drinking problem?": It's a spectrum.
Laura explains that as a culture, we tend to think in a binary framework, but in reality, there is so much that occurs between extremes. There are many shades of gray between healthy and unhealthy relationships with alcohol.
To be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), there are certain criteria you need to meet and varying levels of severity and duration that classify your level of misuse. It is important to note, however, that not all AUD experiences are the same. Something that seems problematic to one person might not be for another person, and vice versa.
A general rule of thumb is if you have a consistently strong urge to use alcohol, continue to drink despite negative consequences, or have withdrawal symptoms when you decrease or stop drinking, it is important to take a closer look at your drinking and obtain professional assistance. In addition, any increase in alcohol use could be a reason to seek support, especially if the increase is related to an effort to cope with negative emotions.
Reassessing your relationship with alcohol.
Assessing your relationship with alcohol is a practice of mindfulness and honesty, especially during the holiday season. Check in with yourself before, during, and after each drink, considering how you feel. Also, be sure to track:
- Frequency: How often do you drink?
- Amount: How many servings are you having? Are you measuring your drinks?
- Duration: How long do you spend consuming?
- Emotions: How did you feel before, during, and after drinking? Did something trigger you to start?
If you decide you want to seek support, we encourage you to share your answers with a professional so they can help you create a framework to manage a plan that works for you. Monument can connect you to licensed physicians and therapists who specialize in helping people through this process. They can share information about how to utilize medication as a part of your treatment plan to reach your goals, and Monument's specialized therapy can help you create healthier boundaries as well.
Drinking within guidelines: Can it still be a problem for your health?
It absolutely can. While generally recognized guidelines (one drink a day for women, two for men) provide an overall framework and barometer, they do not take preexisting conditions, concurrent mental health conditions, or situational psychological or interpersonal stressors into account.
Many people are drawn to the temporary calming effects of alcohol and use it to "soothe," helping to distract from symptoms of anxiety or depression. This can, however, have the opposite effect, increasing psychological stressors and symptoms.
- Is a depressant that alters your brain's natural levels of neurotransmitters, which transmit chemical signals throughout the body and play a big part in regulating thought processes, behavior, and emotion
- Is dehydrating, and can cause GI issues, lower blood sugar (reducing your energy), and disrupt sleep, all of which will intensify preexisting depression and/or anxiety
- Can affect emotional development, hindering you from developing healthy coping mechanisms for daily stressors and sadness
Using alcohol as a temporary solution to sitting with uncomfortable emotions, even when drinking within recommended guidelines, could be a reason to seek external assistance.
Signs you need additional support.
If you're noticing you're drinking more, that could be reason enough to seek out additional support, especially if the increases are related to an effort to cope with negative emotions.
Some questions that are helpful to ask yourself are:
- Are you drinking to avoid feeling and sitting with uncomfortable feelings?
- Are you preoccupied with how or when you will obtain your next drink?
- Do you prefer to drink alone and in private?
- Has the frequency of your use increased?
- Do you continue to drink despite negative consequences?
- Are people around you expressing concern about your drinking?
- Do you prioritize drinking above important commitments or responsibilities?
- Do you experience intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms?
- Have you been unsuccessful at trying to reduce your frequency of drinking?
If you answered yes to any of the questions above, we would recommend seeking professional support. You can join the free Monument Community to access expert resources, connect via free virtual alcohol support groups on a range of topics, and explore clinician-led treatment plans.
Signs your loved ones need additional support.
Perhaps someone in your life is exhibiting unhealthy drinking habits. It is not always easy to know if your loved ones are struggling, especially when they're in the beginning stages of alcohol misuse. Some signs that may suggest that they could benefit from external assistance:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Absence from work and/or any obligations
- Exhibiting dangerous/risky behavior
- Hiding alcohol
- Irritability when they are not drinking
- Increased tolerance
- A need to continue to drink to avoid withdrawal symptoms
- Experiencing memory loss or blackouts
Additional support is always recommended, but the list above includes concrete examples of when it may be imperative (and, in some cases, lifesaving). If you're looking to better understand what your loved one is going through, Monument also hosts a support group for friends and family of those in recovery.
How to approach someone who is struggling.
Speaking to someone about their drinking is no easy feat; it's a sensitive subject that will likely cause a reaction. You cannot force someone to stop or reduce their alcohol consumption, but you can be there for them so that they feel less alone while navigating their issues.
Tips for approaching a loved one about their drinking:
- Learn about alcohol use disorder.
- Choose a time when they are not drinking. A calm and private environment is essential.
- Remain neutral and compassionate. Listen with empathy.
- Help them set a plan of obtaining external support and managing resources.
- Encourage other interests and social activities that don't include alcohol.
- Help to identify what brings them joy.
Alcohol use disorder can be incredibly isolating. A crucial part of the recovery process for people struggling with substance use disorders is for them to reengage with healthy attachments and to surround themselves with people who make them feel safe, supported, and loved. Your role is to be present and to encourage them to obtain professional help, but ultimately, they're responsible for their own use and/or recovery.
While you're helping care for them, it's key that you remember to take care of your own needs. Caretaking exhaustion and fatigue are prevalent when dealing with loved ones with alcohol use disorder. Remember to set boundaries, manage stress, and make sure you have your own support system. You can also check in with Monument's friends and family support group: Caring for yourself while caring for someone in recovery.
How Monument can help.
Monument connects you to personalized evidence-based treatment methods that include a combination of community, therapy, and/or medication, via an accessible digital platform. It's based upon the principle that changing your relationship with alcohol is a dynamic process, support is accessible at any moment, and treatment should be individualized. The platform helps members determine their course of action based on their unique needs and goals, whether that means moderating their drinking or stopping altogether.
What's more, Monument offers a sense of community: It's a supportive social network that combats isolation and emphasizes accountability. Monument gives members the autonomy to make their own healthy and productive decisions with their treatment teams and, ultimately, empowers them to gain the tools to lead a productive and fulfilling life, on their own terms.
If you feel like any of the information and advice above applies to you or someone you care about, learn more and connect to a therapist and/or physician through Monument here. Whether you're confident you need support, or it's something you simply want to explore, there's strength in knowing what's available to you, and that you are not alone.
Meg Phillips is a Brand Strategist at mindbodygreen. She received her degree from Columbia University in the City of New York. She has worked at many top publications and brands including Vogue, Milk Studios, Allure and Bon Appétit. She lives in Manhattan, NY.