There are a bunch of reasons why we love drinking--to have fun, to wind down after a hard day's work, to fit in, to become more socially courageous ... the list goes on and on. I'm a recovered alcoholic, and when I used to drink, my main incentive was to escape reality. I was suffering from severe clinical depression at the time, and like many people with depression--and for that matter, many people without depression-- used to get smashed to drown out my problems.
Getting wasted every once in a while isn't the end of the world, but when you're doing it constantly, it can become extremely unhealthy. Ironically for me--and most other men with depression who turn to alcohol to cope--all drinking does in the long run is make depression worse, since alcohol is a depressant, after all. Mental illness aside, excessive alcohol consumption can also cause neurological-, cardiovascular-, liver- and gastrointestinal problems; certain types of cancer; and can interfere with testicular function and male hormone production. Yet despite the health ramifications, it is estimated that approximately one in six men will meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.
Below are 15 signs that you might be drinking too much. After hashing each of them out, I then talk about some of the steps you can take to cut down your alcohol intake, or if you'd prefer, to stop drinking altogether.
1. You go out with the intention of only having a couple of drinks, but you end up getting blind. Are what are originally intended as quiet nights frequently turning into big ones?
2. Your tolerance for alcohol has been increasing. When I started drinking heavily in high school, I'd get trolleyed off a six pack. But as the years wore on my tolerance grew, and at the height of my alcohol abuse when I was 18 or 19, I was having anywhere between 25 and 35 standard drinks a night.
3. You start to crave alcohol. Do you sometimes catch yourself fantasizing about having a drink in the middle of the day--feeling, what I like to call, "horny for booze"? Even worse, do you find yourself sweating, shaking or feeling nauseous if you haven't had a drink for a while? (FYI, those are withdrawal symptoms).
4. Your drinking constantly interferes with your day to day life. Are you shirking responsibilities at school, work or at home because you're drunk or hungover?
5. You frequently go out with the objective of getting drunk. When many guys go out, their entire night's about picking up girls, but back in my drinking days, it was more about--and often all about--trying to get as much booze into me as possible.
6. You continuously find yourself in precarious situations while being under the influence. Are you finding yourself in the middle of fights, having unprotected one night stands, or drunk driving?
7. Your friends and family members are hinting--or flat out telling you--that you're drinking too much. If the people who love and care about you are telling you this, then it's usually for a reason. Instead of getting defensive, try to listen instead.
8. You've started drinking alone. Alarm bells should be going off once this starts happening.
9. You've tried to quit but you haven't been able to. Again, sirens should be blaring.
10. Whenever something goes wrong or you're having a bad day, your first thought is "I need a drink." Again, this is something that people with depression and other mental illnesses need to be particularly careful of.
11. You don't know how to relax without alcohol. If someone told you that the world would be out of liquor for the next week, then how would you feel? Do you have other things in your life that you can do to unwind, or does the idea of staying sober for seven days stress you out?
12. You aren't comfortable in social situations without alcohol. Most of us need a little liquid courage to talk to the beautiful woman across the bar, but do you also find it awkward talking to a bloke you've just met without a few beers in your system?
13. You plan your social and work calendar around alcohol. Are a lot of what-used-to-be-coffee-meetings turning into drinks at a bar? Are you now only going to places that have a liquor license for lunch or dinner?
14. You're hiding the amount you drink from others. Do you find yourself downplaying how many drinks you had on a night out? Are you starting to buy your booze from different shops because you're afraid of being judged by the check-out person?
15. You've changed your drinking patterns to get drunk quicker. Have you been having increasingly more rounds of shots on a night out? Have you switched from beer to whiskey? Are single rum and Cokes becoming doubles?
If a lot of these signs are applicable to you, then you're in all likelihood developing--or have already developed--a drinking problem. In such a case, I'd recommend trying to stop drinking for an entire month. To make it official, sign up at Hello Sunday Morning and join the thousands of other people who've also pledged to take a break from alcohol. After the month is up, keep the above warning signs in the back of your mind, and moderate your alcohol intake so you don't fall into the same unhealthy patterns that you were previously in.
If however, you try to take a month off drinking and you're unable to stop, then I'd encourage you to seek help--perhaps in the form of therapy or AA. I'd start by booking an appointment to see your doctor, who'll be able to guide you in the right direction from there. If you have a drinking problem, then getting sober--or even reducing your alcohol intake to a healthy level--can be a difficult journey, but I can tell you from experience that it's well worth the fight. Ever since cleaning myself up, my mood has dramatically lifted, my mind is sharper, I feel more energetic, and I feel inspired to make the most of each day. It's so much better than waking up exhausted with a dry mouth and a pounding headache before dragging yourself out of bed and drifting through the day a mere shell of a man.
If you enjoyed reading this post, then sign up to my email list here and I'll send you a supportive quote each day to help you through your depression :)