Remember when you used to look forward to book club meetings, and now you’ll only go if it’s a boozy book club meeting? Or that time you resolved to cut back in the New Year, then sheepishly vowed to try again in February or maybe… June?
Both are signs that could indicate you have a drinking problem, says licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor Beth Kane-Davidson, director of the Addiction Treatment Center at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. More than 5 million women in the U.S. drink “in a way that threatens their health, safety, and general well-being,” the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports. That’s bad news since heavy drinking can lead to alcoholic liver disease, brain disease, cancer, and heart disease, according to the agency. Not to mention trouble at work and broken relationships at home.
If you’re feeling a little anxious right about now, give that some serious weight. “That’s enough of a question, a reflection you’re having with yourself, that you should probably seek further evaluation,” Kane-Davidson says.
Here are eight questions to ask yourself if you’ve ever found yourself wondering: Am I an alcoholic? If you find yourself nodding along, consider starting the conversation with your primary care doctor or another expert, says licensed mental health counselor and registered dietitian Anna Ciulla, R.D., vice president of clinical and medical services at the Beach House Center for Recovery in Juno Beach, Florida.
Questions To Ask Yourself If You Think You Might Have A Drinking Problem
“If you can acknowledge that the answers to these questions are not the answers you wish they were, then it’s good to talk to somebody,” she says.
You’re supposed to catch up with a friend at Panera but blow her off to go to the bar. Again. Worse company; better drinks.
Women with a drinking problem tend to lose interest in hobbies or people they once enjoyed because they’d rather go where the alcohol is. “You’re planning your social life and your time around drinking,” Kane-Davidson says. “You’re preoccupied with drinking to the point that you’re not really focused on what movie you want to see or where you want to hang out.”
Consider both the amount of booze and the frequency. Did it start at one level and gradually climb to another? Alcoholism is a progressive disease, so an upward trend indicates a problem.
Speaking of quantity: The rule of thumb for women is no more than three drinks in a sitting and no more than seven per week, according to the NIAAA. But just because you’re not exceeding that amount doesn’t mean that everything is well and good. For one woman, “two glasses of wine might be nothing—very social, casual drinking and part of dinner,” Ciulla says. A smaller woman, meanwhile, might have the same two glasses and experience more forgetfulness than she’d like, or fall asleep at 7 p.m. and miss the rest of the evening.
Exactly how much is too much varies woman to woman, so coming in under the recommended number of drinks isn’t a continue-as-you-are free pass.
You swore upside down you’d only have two cocktails at your co-worker’s dinner party because, you know, professionalism—but your end-of-the-night count was five. And when your boyfriend asked if you could have one weekend, just one weekend, without getting drunk, you said of course. Which turned into of course not, because you can’t seem to moderate your intake and stick to how much you say you’ll drink when sober you is talking.
Dig a little deeper by taking inventory of how many times you’ve tried to cut back (permanently, not just for one night) and failed, and ask yourself: If you really wanted to stop drinking, cold turkey, right now—could you?
While some of us are, in fact, drinking because our refined selves can’t get enough of the taste, others see it as the only way they can survive another first date or awkward party. “You’re drinking Kool-Aid because you love the taste, but you’re drinking wine or alcohol because there’s a desired effect from the alcohol,” Ciulla says.
Think about whether you’ve come to rely on booze as the only way to transition into the evening and to shut down work brain. If you need alcohol to survive the day or to function, or if you feel physically compelled to drink, it would be a smart move to start exploring help, Ciulla says.
Trying to cut back? Try these 3 easy, alcohol-free mocktails:
We’re talking that pit in your stomach not caused by too much champagne. Women with a drinking problem are backing out of plans, neglecting their friends, showing up late at work, and behaving like the frat boys they most certainly are not. And that doesn’t feel good.
“The guilt may be, I had this great talk with so and so last night and woke up and couldn’t remember a word of it,” Ciulla says. “Or I had drunken sex or I drove drunk or I called out of work because I was sick the next day.”
It only takes a few drinks to noticeably impair your memory, according to the NIAAA, and women are at greater risk of experiencing blackouts than men. Women’s brains are also more vulnerable to alcohol-induced damage than men’s brains, the agency reports.
If you’re having blackouts, you need to investigate your relationship with alcohol, Kaine-Davidson says. And that doesn’t necessarily mean losing the entire night—“it might just be not remembering parts of the evening,” she says.
Denial: right there on the bar nestled between the merlot and Chardonnay. Take inventory of how many times you’ve underestimated how much you drank. (Just two cans, right? But there are five on the counter and you were all alone last night.) Also, how often have you downplayed the negative effects of your drinking to yourself or others?
“It’s like a disease of lies, manipulation, and secrets,” Ciulla says. “You have to protect this thing you feel is protecting you—so if you feel [the alcohol] is saving you from your own emotions and helps you get through the day, of course you’re going to lie to others, of course you’re going to cheat to get what you need, or steal or manipulate others.”
Your mom, your boss, your boyfriend—these people know you. Don’t dismiss their concerns, especially if multiple people have echoed the sentiment. “It’s hard on both sides of the conversation,” Kane-Davidson says. “It’s hard for people to tell someone they’re concerned, and it’s hard for the people receiving the information to hear it.”