Tuesday, 13 February 2018
5 Signs That You're Drinking Too Much
In the final months of my long and turbulent love affair with wine, I would often end up asking Google or Siri if I had a drink problem.
Usually, one of those online questionnaires would pop up asking questions like do you drink first thing in the morning? Have you lost a job because of your drinking? Do you drink alone?
I'd answer 'yes' to some (of course I drink alone sometimes. Doesn't everyone? Anyhow, I'm not really on my own - the dog is here, and the kids are asleep upstairs...), but there were an awful lot I could answer 'no' to, which would convince me that I didn't really have a problem.
Yay! Crack open the vino to celebrate!
However, alcohol addiction is not black and white. It's far more nuanced and complex than that. Like any addiction, it's progressive, it's fifty shades of grey (but not in a kinky way).
Alcohol can have a hugely negative impact on your life way before you get to the vodka-on-the-cornflakes stage. And the sooner you realise that it is a problem, the easier it is to address before you really do reach rock bottom.
So, based on my experience, and on the hundreds of e-mails I've had from readers over the years, here are the five signs that I wish I'd been told to look out for:
1. Is Alcohol Affecting Your Mental and Physical Health?
Alcohol has a huge impact on our mental and physical health, particularly as we get older.
It's not just the obvious things, like the hangovers, it's far more insidious than that.
If you have a problem with anxiety, you may well think that the booze helps you to relax. Well actually, it's the booze that's causing the anxiety.
Alcohol affects our dopamine levels. When you have a drink you get a boost of dopamine which, admittedly, helps you to chill out, but the next day you'll get a corresponding domaine crash, which makes you feel hugely anxious.
And, over time, the brain reduces the levels of dopamine it produces to compensate for the alcohol you're drinking, making you feel generally depressed.
You may also find that you're getting worse and worse at sleeping. You get to sleep okay, but then wake up at around 3am tossing and turning for ages. That's the booze.
Muffin top? Nope, it's a wine belly. A bottle of wine contains around 650 calories.
Those are just some of the obvious ways in which booze is impacting on your health, but there are longer term and more dangerous ones too, like the fact that alcohol hugely increases your chance of getting seven different types of cancer.
2. You Keep Making (and Breaking) Rules
I did this for years before I finally quit drinking.
I did Dry January (but started a few days late and finished a week early).
I did 'not drinking during the week', but then decided that the weekend started on Thursday and ended on Monday. I did 'not drinking at home' and started going out an awful lot.
I tried alternating alcoholic drinks with water, which worked okay until I got slightly drunk, then I totally forgot about that rule. I tried only drinking weak beer, but after several of those I'd lose all willpower and order a vodka.
The constantly making and breaking of rules is exhausting and hugely damaging to your self esteem, and it's a really good sign that booze is no longer your friend.
3. You Keep Thinking About Alcohol
I know that there was a time, back in my dim and distant past, when I didn't think about alcohol at all, except when I was actually drinking it. But it started taking up more and more space in my head.
If you find yourself constantly thinking about if you're going to drink, when you're going to drink and how much you're going to drink, then it's starting to be an issue.
You might find that you've started to think really weird stuff (if so, don't worry, you are really not alone!)
Many of us, for example, started to worry about whether the supermarket cashiers were judging us and would rotate the shops we bought booze from. Or we'd worry about our neighbours checking out our bulging recycling bags.
You might also find that you've started to Google 'am I an alcoholic?' and that you're avidly reading articles titled things like 'Signs that you're drinking too much.' Just saying...
4. Your Memory is Playing Up
Alcohol is really toxic to our brains and our memories.
You might joke with your friends about how you can't remember the details of the party the night before, but actually, those memory blackouts are a really bad sign. You've overloaded your brain with so many toxins that it's stopped being able to make memories.
Maybe you've never experienced a full scale memory blackout (some people are more prone to them than others), but you may well have found that although you spent five hours at a party you can only really recall enough of it to fit into about an hour. And it takes you a while in the morning to remember how you got home and where you put your handbag and your phone.
That's called a 'brown out'. It's the precursor to a blackout, where your memory sort of flicks on and off like a malfunctioning lightbulb.
If any of this sounds familiar then you're drinking too much,
5. You're an All-or-Nothing Person
One thing I've learned is that some people are just more prone to addiction than others, and if you're one of these people then you really need to be careful around any form of drug (or even sugar, gambling and internet shopping!)
I call this tribe the 'all-or-nothing' people, and we are brilliant. We throw ourselves into everything - love, friendship, hobbies, you name it. We are hopeless at moderating all of that good stuff. But, sadly, we're also hopeless at moderating booze.
If you were totally unable to be a 'social smoker' and ended up with a packet a day habit, if you can't eat one crisp in a bowl and leave the others, if you've never seen the point in having only one small glass of wine, then it's likely that you and booze are not a good mix.
If you've read all of that and are now thinking OMG I HAVE A DRINK PROBLEM! WHAT DO I DO? then do not panic.
You might find that you're easily able to cut down, but if not (see point 2 above) then do ditch the drink! Go alcohol free! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
That anxiety, sleeplessness, wine belly, increased cancer risk - gone. The lack of self esteem as you keep making and breaking rules - no longer. All that time wasted thinking about drinking - no more. You'll have more energy, more money and a better life, and you'll be able to remember all of it!
If you're still not convinced then read the diary of the ups and down of my first year sober. Here's a link to my Amazon page. You can read the first few chapters for free using the 'Look Inside' feature.
Love to you all!