Alcohol can be part of a normal social life for many people. A few beers with friends or a glass of wine to celebrate the end of a long week doesn’t usually do any harm. But how do you know if your drinking has crossed the line from moderate to excessive? How do you know when you have started to drink too much?
The answer isn’t always clear-cut. Alcohol affects each person differently and what may be too much for one person, is fine for another.
Health Canada’s Low-risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines can help to give you an idea of how much is too much. The guidelines are intended to provide limits which can reduce the harmful effects of alcohol.
The guidelines suggest women should limit themselves to two standard drinks a day, or ten standard drinks a week. Men should limit themselves to three standard drinks a day or 15 standard drinks a week. Everyone should include non-drinking days in their week to avoid developing a habit.
New research, however, suggests that even small amounts of alcohol can be harmful to your health. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction found that three to six drinks a week can increase your risk of developing certain cancers. More than six drinks a week can in increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
So, how do you determine whether your alcohol consumption is low risk or whether it is compromising your mental and physical health? There are a number of questions you can ask yourself to determine whether your alcohol use has become unhealthy.
Have you ever tried—and failed—to cut down on your drinking?
You tell yourself it’s time to clean up your act. Perhaps you make a plan to go out with friends, but this time you’re going to stop after two drinks. It won’t be a problem. But those first two drinks don’t feel like enough and before you know it, you’re downing your fourth drink.
If you’ve repeatedly tried to cut down on your drinking and been unsuccessful, it might be a sign that your drinking has become a problem. You may feel that you no longer have control over your alcohol consumption and that you need help to manage your habit.
Do you get defensive when others comment on your drinking?
The people closest to you have noticed that your drinking has become heavier. When someone mentions that perhaps you should slow down or take a break from alcohol consumption, you may feel angry or insulted. Your knee-jerk reaction is, “why don’t they mind their own business and stop monitoring me?” Other people’s concern feels like an attack and your instinct is to dismiss them, even if their comments are gentle and caring.
Do you try to hide your drinking?
If someone asks you how many drinks you’ve had, do you lie to cover up the real number? Do you find yourself quickly downing a drink in the kitchen before heading out to the dinner table. Have you ever secretly disposed of alcohol bottles so the people you live with don’t know how much you’re really drinking?
Do you use alcohol to self-medicate?
Many people enjoy a drink at the end of a hard day and find nothing wrong in associating alcohol with relaxation. It may seem like alcohol helps to de-stress, but over the long term it can have the opposite effect. Alcohol is a depressant and, while it may make you feel better initially, once those effects have worn off, it can make your mood worse. If you find yourself reaching for a drink to deal with negative feelings or difficult situations, it could be a warning sign.
Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to get rid of a hangover?
It’s a long-standing myth that having a drink in the morning helps you get over a hangover. Consuming more alcohol might make you feel better in the moment, but it will prolong your symptoms. The “hair of the dog that bit you” sounds harmless, but can in fact increase your dependance on alcohol and lead to long term problems.
If any of these signs above sound like you or someone close to you, there is help and support available.
At Tod Scott & Associates, we have experienced counsellors who can help you when you feel like you have no other option than to drink too much. We can help you to identify the causes and find healthy ways to cope and ways to heal that don’t involve drinking. To read more about our personal therapy practices, visit our individual therapy page by clicking here.
This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute therapeutic advice.