At Saint Jude, we know alcohol is so common and accessible that it's often difficult to draw a line between normal and excessive use. In some social settings, even excessive drinking is completely acceptable. If all your friends drink as much as you do, how do you know when you start to have a personal problem with moderation?
In order to assess your own alcohol use from an objective perspective, answer the following questions about your drinking. The questions themselves may illuminate problems you didn't notice, and even if they don't, it's a good exercise in self-reflection.
When you wake up, do you need a drink to start the day? When you answer this one, be careful to consider needs rather than desires. If you rely on alcohol to get through each day, you may have neglected other coping mechanisms and lost your desire to face your problems, but you may also have developed a legitimate physical dependency. If you start shaking every time you try to stop (these tremors are often called "the shakes"), you may need medical assistance to detox from alcohol before it's safe to get sober.
Are you dishonest about your drinking because you fear judgment from your family members, friends, colleagues, classmates, or roommates? Do you worry about losing your job if your employer finds out that you drink on the job or that you may go through a divorce if your spouse discovers how often you drink? Do you underestimate the number of drinks you've had that day because you think the real number "sounds bad"? If so, think about why it's a cause for concern.
If you are trying to self-medicate your anxiety or depression with alcohol, you're not actually addressing the real problems, and you may even be responding to psychological problems that stem from the alcohol use itself.
If you can't sleep when you're sober, you might use insomnia as an excuse to drink, but in reality, you've just conditioned yourself to think you "need" it. If you depend on alcohol as a solution for everyday problems, you're no longer using it casually or recreationally. Alcohol interrupts sleep patterns and doesn't provide good quality sleep so even as a short term solution it is a poor one. Itâ€™s best to deal with the issues themselves rather than adding alcohol into the equation and complicating the matter.
Maybe you realized your alcohol use was excessive, so you made an effort to limit the number of drinks you consume. If that effort didn't work, it doesn't mean you have a lifelong disease, but it does mean you need to strengthen your ability to moderate.
Of course, if you're asking these questions at all, you've probably noticed or experienced other red flags that are cause for concern or question. Moderation isn't easy for everyone, and as behaviors turn into habits, it can get even harder. However, it's never impossible. If you're struggling with moderation or facing negative consequences because of your drinking, it's a good indication that you could benefit from some time away from the bottle. Make a choice to get help and make even better choices.