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How Do I Know If I Have a Drinking Problem?

By Peg Rosen

 If you’ve landed on this page, you’re probably a little concerned about your drinking. Maybe you’ve had some messy nights out that you regret, or you’ve been trying to cut back on your drinking but you’re finding it really hard. Or maybe a friend or family member has said something about how much you’re drinking.  

Exploring if you may have an issue with alcohol can feel scary, but it’s a positive move that can help you think about what alcohol means and does to you—and if you need to make some changes.

If you think you may have a drinking problem, don’t worry right now about putting a label on it. What’s most important is figuring out what your relationship with alcohol is and if it’s interfering with your life.

Below are some possible warning signs.

You’ve Built Up a Tolerance 

A few beers or a couple drinks doesn’t give you the same feeling of being buzzed or tipsy.

You’re Blacking Out 

You wake up not knowing how much you drank, what you did, or how you got home. People tell you about things you did while you were drunk, and you don’t know what they’re talking about.

You’re Drinking for Different Reasons Than Your Friends 

They seem to be drinking in social situations for fun or as part of a group activity. You may be drinking in order to avoid feeling or thinking about something, or to feel something specific. You may also be drinking because it’s hard to be around people when you’re not. 

You’re Becoming Secretive With Your Drinking 

If you are pregaming alone, topping off your drinks when others aren’t looking, or keeping alcohol in your water bottle in order to appear that you’re drinking less than others, that’s an indication your drinking habits are becoming troublesome. 

You Drink More Than You Intended 

You tell yourself it’ll be a light night or swear you won’t have more than X drinks, but you sail right past that limit. Even if it happens only occasionally, it can be a sign you have trouble controlling yourself when you drink.

You Feel Physically Lousy When You Don’t Drink

If you drink heavily for a long time, your brain gets used to it. When you go without alcohol—even for just a handful of hours—your nervous system can have trouble adjusting. That’s called alcohol withdrawal. Depending on how heavily you drink, the symptoms can be mild or life-threatening. Signs you may attribute to other things, such as stress or anxiety, include difficulty sleeping, headaches, anxiety, irritability, sweating, and shakiness. 

Drinking Is Affecting School, Your Job, or Your Social or Family Life 

Do hangovers prevent you from focusing on or doing what you need to do? Are you having trouble making it to school or work on time? Are your grades slipping? Are alcohol-related arguments messing up your relationships? Are friends or family members telling you they’re worried or making comments about your drinking?

Alcohol Has Become a Priority 

Maybe you’ve quit sports because morning games are too hard with a hangover, or you’ve ditched certain friends because they don’t party as much as you do. Craving alcohol and thinking about your next drink now seems to come ahead of so many things that were once important to you.

You’re Ending Up in Risky Situations 

Waking up with unexplained bruises. Emergency room visits after drinking too much. Maybe you’re driving drunk or hooking up with people you barely know. Alcohol skews your judgment. Even if nothing terrible has happened yet, consider this kind of behavior a red flag.

So Am I an Alcoholic?

If some of what’s listed above hits home, don’t freak out that you’re an alcoholic. In fact, the term is so stigmatizing—and extreme—that substance-use counselors don’t use it anymore.

Experts now use alcohol use disorder (AUD) to describe when people have difficulty controlling their drinking, are preoccupied with alcohol, or continue drinking even when it causes problems in their life.

Alcohol use disorder is a treatable health condition, not a person’s identity. It’s also not black and white. AUD is a spectrum that ranges from mild to severe, with a whole lot in between.

Think of this list of warning signs as food for thought. Maybe these are some points you can be mindful of when you drink.

Seek help when and if you’re ready. Drinking isn’t always an all-or-nothing thing. With the right support, you can figure out what next steps are right for you.

Learn more about alcohol and how to change your relationship to it:

How Are Problems with Alcohol Treated?

How Do I Get Help with Drinking Too Much?

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text HOME to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, text or call 988.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.

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