Alcohol consumption has become so normalized in our society. If you’ve ever tried to quit drinking then you’ll know why they say, “Alcohol is the only drug we have to justify not taking.”
It’s coping with all the questions and having to come up with excuses that keeps many of us trapped in our drinking, especially if we started drinking to relieve our social anxiety. We don’t want to be the centre of attention, and we certainly don’t want to be told we are “boring” because we don’t drink.
The fact that we have to make an “excuse” to choose a healthy lifestyle shows how far things have gone. Vegetarians and smokers have been through this, but society has finally accepted that we don’t have to eat meat and that smoking will give you cancer – it certainly took a while.
No doubt alcohol will have its very own “cigarette moment” but we are not quite there yet. The public reaction when Canada reduced their alcohol guidelines to two drinks a week shows that we still have a way to go.
It’s very easy to stay in denial about our drinking if our friends and family drink. It takes courage and confidence to go against the norm and accept that we are drinking too much and need to make a change.
So how do we know if we are drinking too much? Here are 7 signs to clue you in.
When I started to worry about my drinking, I decided to cut down. This was easier said than done, and I spent at least a decade trying (and failing) to drink less. It was exhausting and demoralising, but I just couldn’t imagine my life without wine!
Moderate drinking for women is described as having one drink or less in a day and binge drinking as consuming at least four drinks in one sitting. It’s pretty easy to go above these numbers. If you’re a wine drinker then a bottle and a half of wine a week is your low risk guideline. Of course if you want to be really healthy then it’s better not to drink at all!
If you can’t drink within these limits then you have crossed the line into dependence. The good news is that it’s much easier to quit than to cut down, and you’ll eventually feel happier and be healthier without it!
If you spend time thinking about alcohol, that’s a sure sign you need to make a change. Are you planning your next drinking session or recovering from it? Are you worried that you feel “under par” most days yet not quite joining the dots between your health and your daily wine habit? Would you like to quit drinking but have no idea how to go alcohol free? Do you worry about losing friends, missing out on fun and having to come up with excuses if you don’t drink?
All sure signs that you need to take a break from alcohol to test your dependence. Alcoholism is a slippery slope and it’s far easier to step off before things get too serious. One of the (many) advantages of sobriety is that you free up your mind to think about more interesting topics!
Perhaps you’ve created a list of rules around your drinking, like only drinking after 5 p.m., sticking to beer and wine or limiting yourself to two drinks in social situations. Do you wake up some days with a headache and decide that you won’t drink that day. Yet 5 p.m. comes round and you feel so much better that you can’t resist pouring that glass of wine!
These drinking rules might work for a while and may even be a sign that you are simply a responsible drinker. But if you keep making and breaking drinking rules then that’s a sign that you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and need to consider a lifestyle change.
Consuming alcohol every day or more than three times a week is another sign you should consider taking a break. It’s almost impossible to stay within the low risk guidelines if you drink every day and you are creating a habit which will get harder and harder to break.
The advantage of taking a significant break from alcohol (like 66 days) is that it gives you a fighting chance to “reset” your drinking patterns. You may find that after you’ve taken a break from alcohol you are able to drink just a couple of times a week which will make keeping to the guidelines so much easier.
Many people who need a detox from alcohol don’t realize just how much they need a break until they take one. Take note of how you feel during your alcohol break. For example, do you feel sick or weird in any way? You might be going through symptoms of withdrawal, which is another sign that you need to make a change.
Our bodies are highly sensitive and intelligent and will do their best to let us know when we are drinking too much. However once we get dependent we tend to “push through” and accept that we don’t feel great.
Once I hit 60, I felt exhausted but convinced myself that it was my age, nothing to do with my serious daily wine habit. Now I am 70+ and have been alcohol free for 8 years and am full of energy! Ditching the booze is one of the best things we can do for our health and happiness as we get older.
There are some clear signs that your body is telling you it’s time to take a break from drinking, like changes in your skin, weight changes, acid reflux and heartburn.
Alcohol can cause weight gain since it can trigger food cravings and keeps your body from burning carbs and fat (not to mention the drinks themselves can be riddled with calories and sugar). Fatigue is another common symptom of drinking too much since the quality of your sleep is diminished. Long story short, if you’re not feeling your best (and you’re noticing these changes), alcohol may well be the culprit.
Take a break, and yes, those first few weeks may be hard, but get your attitude right. You are not tackling a “problem” so much as taking an “opportunity” to improve your mental and physical health. Be excited!
Do you sometimes wake up at 3 a.m. feeling anxious? If you’ve been drinking the evening before, then that’s about the time when the alcohol will have left your body. Drinking may numb our anxiety for a while but that reprieve is temporary!
There is also a common misconception that alcohol helps you sleep better since it makes you feel sleepy. In reality, alcohol often causes sleep disruptions and suppresses REM sleep (which is considered the deepest sleep stage). A drinker will only get a couple of cycles of REM sleep whereas we need about 7 cycles to feel well rested. If we drink daily then this fatigue will build up over the years.
Consider skipping those evening drinks and see if that makes a difference in how you feel when you wake up. You may even find that you feel so well-rested that you decide to switch to tea or alcohol free drinks in the evening.
Do you sometimes find it difficult to stop once you begin drinking? Do you plan to have a couple of drinks and then find yourself drinking more? Do all of your social activities revolve around alcohol?
If you socialise a couple of times a week, it’s pretty easy to get through four drinks during an evening which meets the definition of binge drinking. As we get older, we have less water in our bodies which makes it harder to process the alcohol, and our liver will take longer to recover. We tend to think that once the “morning after” feeling has gone, then we are fine, but in fact, our body and brains need time to recover.
I used to convince myself that I didn’t have a drinking problem… I just went “over the top” now and again. Unfortunately those “over the top” occasions got more frequent and more severe, occasionally ending up in a blackout which is a real danger sign.
If one or more of these warning signs resonated then take a break from alcohol to test your dependence. If you find a 66 day challenge a breeze then you’re fine, but if it’s really difficult then you need to make a change.
Join our free 5-day Sobriety Bootcamp – 2nd– 6th October – info is here.
Listen to the weekly Tribe Sober podcast – available on Apple & Spotify or via our website here.
Do you take regular breaks from alcohol to improve your health and test your dependence? Does the thought of going 66 days without alcohol make you anxious? Were you aware that the low risk guideline was just a bottle and a half of wine a week? Did you ever do Dry January and find yourself longing for February?
Tags Healthy Aging