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Dear Christine, Drinking in Detroit

| August 26, 2018

Dear Christine,

How do I know if I’m drinking too much? My husband told me last night that he believes I’m an alcoholic. I don’t think so even though my drinking has increased over the last year. I’ve started working as a bar tender Friday and Saturday nights at a local bar so I wind up having a few gin and sodas both of those nights. In addition, I have enjoy a couple glasses of wine or a couple beers with dinner each night. I don’t get drunk or stupid and I don’t binge drink.

Does 2-3 cocktails a night make me an alcoholic?

Signed, Drinking in Detroit

Dear Drinking,

This is an excellent question.  You might check some of the on line self-tests to see if your drinking qualifies you as an alcoholic.  Alcohol is a substance that you can build up a tolerance for, needing more alcohol to feel the buzz you first felt with one glass  of beer or wine years ago.

Moderate drinking has certain health benefits, including helping your heart and your brain, and reducing the chance of developing diabetes or having a stroke.  Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

Examples of one drink include:

  • Beer: 12 fluid ounces (355 milliliters)
  • Wine: 5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters)
  • Distilled spirits (80 proof): 1.5 fluid ounces (44 milliliters)

From <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/alcohol/art-20044551>

Even moderate drinking has risks, such as drinking and driving.  So, limit yourself to one drink if you are a woman  of any age, and men after 65.  Younger men, up to 65 should limit themselves to 2 drinks.  Some people “lose count” once they have one of two drinks, and the number can grow significantly.  Alcohol can fuel poor judgment and loosen the tongue, sometimes causing fighting among partners, friends and family.

You might want to ask your husband what his concerns are.  What signs is he seeing that lead him to confront you with the label “alcoholic.”  Try to be open to his honest appraisal, rather than being defensive, reminding yourself that he loves you and he only wants the best for you.

It can be tricky to spot the signs of alcoholism as alcoholics can be secretive about it and can become angry if confronted.

However, if someone close to you is showing any of the following signs, it may be that they’re suffering from alcoholism:

  • A lack of interest in previously normal activities
  • Appearing intoxicated more regularly
  • Needing to drink more in order to achieve the same effects
  • Appearing tired, unwell or irritable
  • An inability to say no to alcohol
  • Becoming secretive or dishonest

If you think you may be drinking too much, or that your drinking is beginning to have a damaging effect on your life, taking our alcohol self-assessment can help you understand if there is cause for concern.

A doctor will diagnose alcoholism when three or more of the following have been present together in the past year (1):

  • An overwhelming desire to drink
  • An inability to stop or to control harmful drinking
  • Withdrawal symptoms when stopping drinking
  • Evidence of alcohol tolerance
  • Pursuing the consumption of alcohol to the exclusion of alternative pleasures
  • Continuing to drink despite clear evidence of harmful consequences

From <https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcoholism/>

Recent studies report that Millennials and women Boomers have increased drinking to dangers levels.  Millennials have been developing cirrhosis and/or cancer of the liver from starting drinking in teens and 20s, and not tapering off by their late 20s.  Binge drinking has become a significant problem for them as well.  Women over 65 have increased drinking wine at a much higher rate than prior generations.  Both of these groups have suffered economically over the past 10 or so years since the economic Great Recession.  Loneliness, frustration, boredom, despair, depression, unemployment, underemployment and not being able to afford to retire fuels these groups drinking to excess.

Many people told me that their drinking increased after the 2016 election results, facing a chaotic and conservative change in the government.  Clearly, that is not a good response to continue until the next election!

Keep talking with your husband.  What are the signs he is seeing?  What is troubling him about your behavior and your choices?  Choose to feel honored that he cares enough to bring this up, risking your anger.  Keep talking together.  Consider talking to a therapist about your alcohol usage, to make sure you have other ways of coping with the stresses of day-to-day life.  Try going without any alcohol for a week, or a month, just to see if you feel any different.  Notice how your mood is, how your thinking is, how your motivation and so on, are after a time of sobriety.  You are the only one who knows all that you are experiencing, feeling and knowing how it affects you.  But your husband’s point of view is helpful, to cut through the times when maybe you are minimizing or denying something that he sees.

Lastly, check out a 12 Step Alcoholic Anonymous meeting.  They are everywhere, and provide an emotionally safe environment to explore your experience with alcohol and what it is like to not depend on it or abuse it.
Take care,
Christine C. Cantrell, PhD

Licensed Psychologist

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