Sometimes it can be tough to know whether your drinking is healthy or not. Are you a social drinker? Habitual drinker? Alcoholic? Let’s start by getting a better sense of the definitions.
Social drinking can be hard to define, but social drinkers generally drink only occasionally when they’re in social situations. They probably don’t feel like they need alcohol to have a good time and don’t spend a lot of time thinking about when their next drink is going to be. Their drinking also never lands them in trouble.
Habitual drinking is similar to social drinking, but here the drinking has become a habit of daily life. You might have a drink each day after work or after the children are asleep, much like you might make yourself coffee in the morning. This drinking isn’t necessarily problematic, but in many cases, alcohol has begun to serve an essential role for the habitual drinker. It might be used as a way to relax or fall asleep, for example.
Alcohol abuse is defined as drinking that leads to negative consequences. Your drinking might affect your relationships with family, friends or occupation. There might be legal consequences, including divorce or separation, or financial problems related to drinking. In spite of some of these problems, you also continue drinking, knowing that it might be better if you stopped. Fortunately, you’re not addicted yet, and modifying your behavior can keep you off that road.
Alcohol addiction is evident when you try to modify your behavior and can’t. You try to cut back or stop all together and fail in spite of family and friends who may have pointed out the problem and asked you to stop. Your tolerance to alcohol builds, forcing you to increase your drinking over time. You probably drink more than you plan to and use alcohol as a way to cope with your feelings.
If you are addicted to alcohol, know that it’s treatable. It can be hard to imagine when you’re addicted. In fact, it was impossible for me to imagine a life without drinking when I was addicted. But we do recover, and life can and will take on a new meaning. I was once hopelessly addicted, but I have not had a drink in more than 21 years. I am proof that it is possible to recover from addiction, thrive, and find peace and joy in your life.
When I have clients who are questioning their relationship with alcohol, I make three suggestions.
Step 1: Start a drinking diary:
Drinking becomes a personal relationship that delivers every time. It is very easy to turn to a glass of wine to ease the discomfort within or to take the edge off, relax, and feel good. A drinking diary keeps a record of how you are feeling before each drink. Ask yourself: How am I feeling? What feeling do I hope alcohol will change? How do I feel afterward?
This exercise ends the mindlessness of reaching for alcohol. Writing the diary forces you to reflect, if even for the briefest of moments, and gives you insight into your behavior. The entries become a written record of the motive behind your drinking. It’s enlightening to look back on the diary after a week. You will begin to see your pattern of thoughts, feelings and actions as well as the associations between drinking and time of day or certain activities. Keeping the diary creates a new association. Remember, it can take time to change behavior, but the first part of any change is seeing and acknowledging the problem and pattern.
I suggest to my clients to keep this diary for 90 days.
Step 2: Make a Vision List
This is one of my favorite exercises to do with clients. I ask each person to write their vision for themselves in a year. As yourself what you want in your life? Do you want a closer relationship with your spouse? Friends or children? A promotion at work or a new home or that trip you have always wanted to take? Maybe to further your education or start a business? Photocopy the list and keep it in a few places, like your home, your car and your office. Read the list several times a day, every day. Then, as you begin to reach for the alcohol, simply ask yourself, Is my relationship with alcohol taking me closer or further away from that which I want most?
In those moments before you drink, list one or two actions you need to take to move closer to the vision on the list. For example, if you want to start a business, list what you need for the business, like a website, business cards or a business proposal. Over time, my clients report alcohol becomes less important as they begin to take action toward accomplishing their list.
Step 3: Quit for 90 days
If you are truly curious about your relationship with alcohol, cut it out for 90 days. Doing so will be a beautiful social and interpersonal journey. You will see the world and our culture through new eyes. You will feel more. You will enjoy more. You will see more clearly how much alcohol is a part of our daily lives. And you will gain a new appreciation for the substance. Maybe you’ll return to drinking. Maybe you won’t. But I guarantee you will have a new appreciation for alcohol and will approach your relationship with it in a whole new light.
Should you try any one or all three of these exercises and fail to cut back on your drinking or discover that you are an alcoholic, there is hope and there is help. Alcoholism is not the disease it used to be. It is no longer something to be ashamed of and there is excellent treatment available. The millions of people who live sober are a testament to the success of new ways to treat addiction. If you are an alcoholic, reach out for help in your community and always remember that you don’t have to suffer the despair of alcoholism another day.