Do I have a problem with drinking?
Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to your health, relationships or your ability to do your job effectively. The harm can be caused by both long term over-drinking or from binge drinking.
It’s also important to note that the harm is not just caused by the negative effects of alcohol on our physical or mental health, some of the harm can be more direct, and related to the ‘the kind of person you are when drinking’. Poor decision making while drinking, such as choosing to drive, or getting into fights has the real ability to affect the lives of you and others around you.
What to look for
Alcohol has different effects on different people, so there’s no hard and fast rule about when drinking becomes a problem. However, the New Zealand guidelines recommend:
- No more than two standard drinks per day
- No more than four standard drinks at any one time
It’s easy to think, “everyone I know drinks more than four drinks when out” but it is a good thing to hold this number up to the amount you are usually drinking.
What we do know is the more you drink and the longer you’ve been drinking for, the more likely it will cause problems in your job, at home, or with other people.
The trouble is, that it can be hard to notice this in yourself, as often the harm can be gradual and you might feel that you are functioning just fine. Often it is other people who will be first to notice that you are having problems, but it’s an awkward topic to deal with, so you can’t rely on others to tell you outright.
So you might want to think back and see if there are any signs from others that point to an issue:
- What are your friends and family saying; have they commented on how much you’re drinking?
- Is there often ‘fall out’ to deal with from the night before?
- Do some friends avoid joining you for a drink?
- Does the boss seem less tolerant when you have weekday hangovers?
If so, your drinking might have become a problem, even if you don’t feel like it has. The fact is, if you are still reading this far and you feel like you could have a problem – then you probably have a problem.
Alcohol abuse has the ability to impact on just about every part of life. Your health, wellbeing, relationships and your job.
If you’re drinking a lot it’s likely you’ll develop a tolerance for alcohol, meaning it takes more to give you the same amount of buzz, but that increased alcohol intake also increases the risk of physical harm, no matter whether you’ve reached that buzz state or not. So it’s doubly important to keep an eye on your alcohol intake if you’re drinking habitually.
What can I do about it?
If you think your drinking is causing you some problems, here are some tips for making decisions about what to do, and ways to start managing your alcohol use. For some people, these strategies might be all that is needed. For others, they can be a useful addition to getting professional help.
It can be helpful to think about what you’re getting out of your drinking, as well as what you’re missing out on. As with most things, there will be pluses and minuses to your drinking. For example, a plus might be that you get to have a laugh with your mates, and a minus might be that you don’t have enough money for your partner’s birthday present. Writing these pros and cons down on paper is a really good way to help you see the big picture and make a decision about whether you want to change your drinking habits.
Knowing where you stand will help motivate you to make changes that last.
If you’ve decided to change, you need to work out whether your goal is to cut back a bit, or stop drinking completely. Your goals should be specific, achievable, and broken down into steps. For example, you might say, “My goal is to only drink two beers a day. I’m going to cut back by one beer a day until I reach that goal”.
Once you’ve worked out what you want to do, you can write yourself a contract – this is an important part of starting to change, it will help you stay on track.
It’s really important to keep an eye on how much and how often you’re drinking. This will help you learn more about when, where, and why you drink. Keeping a diary is a good way of keeping track of your drinking, including the financial cost and other problems it causes, and is a good reminder that you need to stick to your limits. It’s also a good way of checking your progress towards your goals.
Don’t forget to reward yourself for making changes! Maybe with all the money you’ve saved by cutting back you can treat yourself to something you want.
It’s also good to think about other positive activities you could be doing – or have started doing - instead of drinking.
Sometimes people drink more than they should when they’re worried about other aspects of their life. The tools in the Resilience toolkit can help you with strategies to solve problems, build social supports, get more active, change the way you think, keep calm and sleep better. In particular, having more social support, getting better at problem solving and learning to manage unpleasant feelings are really important ways of changing your drinking behaviour.
Self-help isn’t for everyone. If you’ve tried the strategies above and are still having trouble changing your drinking habits, or if you’re worried you have a serious alcohol problem then it’s time to step it up and get in some additional support from people and agencies that deal with alcohol abuse problems and addictions. These are people who understand your situation and know how to help - and the first step is as easy as picking up the phone.
A good place to start is www.alcohol.org.nz.