When does drinking become a problem?
I’m writing this to the person who is like I was. The person who is ‘fine’ on the outside, but that deep down knows they drink too much, but really doesn’t want to admit it, because they know that when they do, they are going to have to do something about it. The person who can’t quite imagine their life without alcohol in it. That’s how it was for me. There were times I wanted someone to tell me, “Yes Claire you have a problem,” but more often than not I was too scared to talk to anyone, and if I did, because they didn’t know whether to take me seriously or not, they’d brush it off, and tell me I was okay, that it was fine to ‘enjoy’ a drink. The problem is, when you drink a lot all the time your perception changes and it’s hard, if not impossible to see a way out. For me, although I desperately wanted to drink still, I came to hate the dependence I had on alcohol, in my case wine.
If you follow my blog you probably know how hard I found giving up drinking. If you have ever questioned whether you drink a bit too much then you’re possibly in the same boat as I was. Or maybe you don’t have a problem at all, lots of people don’t. Many people can enjoy a drink without drinking too much, but I for one am not one of them. It was never enough until it was too much and so now, I don’t drink at all. I don’t eat food with alcohol in it and I avoid medication that has alcohol in it. I bought some echinacea liquid recently without checking the bottle as I had been taking the tablets for years, but when I got home I realised there was a warning on it that it might not be suitable for people with alcoholism. Now I don’t think that a few drops of it will send me back to where I was a few years ago, especially since you mix it with water, but for me it isn’t worth the risk. So it’s still in the cupboard. I probably should throw it away.
There are so many ways we can excuse drinking. Most of my friends also drank, so I kidded myself that the amount I drank was normal. I was blinkered to the fact that they drank when they were with me, but not so much on their own, and I drank all the time in the evenings. Other people had a soft drink in the evening, but I almost saw it as a weakness which is crazy when I look back at it. Excuses get in the way though, and almost enabled me to carry on in the way I was. I had a job, I had happy kids who were looked after, I had clean house, I studied for a degree alongside my job, I didn’t take time off work sick. The list of what I did could go on, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that I drank far too much. I was conscious of it, that’s for sure, because I stopped putting my glass out for recycling and took it to the recycling bank instead. Like hiding it somehow made it better! When my husband worked late I pretended I didn’t drink as much, I made excuses before anyone even asked or thought about it. Which means I was clearly thinking about it long before I even thought it was a problem. I even tried to put things in the way, I thought if I got out and did stuff I would drink less. For me, that didn’t work, I just drank more when I got home.
Maybe you aren’t sure if you do have a problem? Ask yourself how often you think about drinking or whether you cover up or lie (to yourself or others) about how much you drink. How often do you set yourself limits which you don’t keep to or change them to suit yourself at the time? Do you compare yourself to others in order to excuse yourself? Do you feel guilty or bad about your drinking? Does it dominate your thoughts? What about doing things you don’t remember or doing things you wished you hadn’t?
It’s not all doom and gloom though. I was seriously stuck in my rut, I couldn’t see a way out, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. I wasn’t sure what the point would be if there was no wine in my life anymore. So, if I can go from there, to someone who is happy to be sober, happy not to drink and honestly, really doesn’t feel that I am missing out by not drinking, then anyone can. I mean it.
Getting sober is not easy, I’d love to say it is and all you have to do is stop drinking, but I don’t want to lie. It is so good to be sober, so in the long run it is worth it and there are things you can do to help yourself. Here’s a few ideas.
- Awareness. It sounds rubbish, but by being aware of what you are drinking you no longer have your head in the sand. This is one of the first things that made me realise just how much I was drinking. I didn’t change it for a while, mainly because I wasn’t ready to, but just realising how bad I was made me want to change something.
- Measure your units. They say that men and women in the UK shouldn’t exceed 14 units of alcohol a week, but of course that does not take into consideration your weight or height, which must play a part. The guidelines state that one unit is 76ml of wine. Well I know for sure that my glass was 250ml at the very least and it wasn’t the biggest. So I was drinking 3 units per glass, and at least six glasses a night, which means I was drinking more than the weekly guidelines per day. Every single day. Easy to run away with you isn’t it? Especially when you think it’s only a glass or two. Glasses at home are the worst, they are so big compared to measures in the pub, so just be aware.
- Drink free days. It’s easier said than done for some people, I know I really struggled with this. It made me stress out because I was so dependent on wine for my anxiety, and if I didn’t drink one night, which was rare, I just thought about when I could drink again. I’m all or nothing when it comes to drinking. Cutting down though is best, so try to manage two days at least a week if you can.
- Stay in contact. Meetings work for some people, but if you don’t want to meet other people, like me, you can try online communities. There are so many out there, and knowing you are not alone can really help.
- Ask for help. I for one am not keen on doctors, but, there is a time and a place, and for me, I needed some advice from a medical professional. I drank too much to be able to go cold turkey without it being dangerous. Please don’t try to stop suddenly if you are in a similar place, as it can cause a lot of problems for your body.
- Find things to do. Everyone has triggers that are individual to them. For me it was certain situations or times of the day. I found 5-6pm particularly hard, and associated it with my first glass of the evening, it’s sometimes called ‘wine o’clock’ for that reason. If I could get out and get past that time, it was often easier not to have a drink. Although don’t get me wrong, I still found it hard. New hobbies and time for yourself help, so don’t be afraid to spoil yourself a little.
- Expect it to be hard. I read a lot of experiences from people who maybe did a few days without drinking and then seemed fixed. Don’t get me wrong, it is amazing if that works for you, but don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t. I almost felt there was something wrong with me, (besides addiction), when I wasn’t fixed straight away. It is a hard road, but one I wouldn’t change, I just think it might have been easier for me if I had been prepared for it to be so hard.
- Don’t feel you have to explain yourself or make excuses. Frankly it is no-one else’s business whether you drink or don’t drink. Don’t put yourself into situations where you are challenged to the point of breaking your resolve and don’t feel you need to tell others anything. It is up to you what you do, and I found a lot of people don’t understand. It took a while for me to be okay with my new found sobriety and be able to take judgements from others without it affecting me. Now I feel stronger in my sobriety, it makes no difference to me what other people think, but it’s taken a long time to feel like that. I still worry I’ll be judged, but I am wrong more often than not, and it’s just because I don’t like being different!
- Save your money. A lot of people find putting the money you would spend on drinking into a jar, and visually being able to see how much you have saved yourself is really helpful. There are apps which do this for you too!
- Remember that no one is the same. Different approaches work for different people. Just because something does or doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean it is wrong. Just do what you need to, and remember that it will get easier. I promise. It just takes time.
So, when does drinking become a problem? In all honesty, this isn’t a question that anyone can answer for you. We are all so different and what is a problem to one person might not be to another, but don’t hide from it. Facing up to a problem is scary, but is one of the best things you can do. One of the biggest things to remember is that there are so many of us out there. Alcohol is said to be more addictive than heroin, and yet you can buy it in the local shop. It’s crazy. People use it for so many reasons, but for those of us who are excessively busy, who have a minds that work overtime, it can be easy to slip from a ‘normal’ drinker to one who relies on it. Facing up to reality is hard, but the more of us who do it, the more people will realise that they aren’t alone, and that a sober life is not a boring life. It’s one I wouldn’t change for the world.
I hope this helps someone.
Take care, and thanks for reading.