When does alcohol use become "too much"?
Do you have to be naked, passed out on a bench, and homeless?
People have lots of differing opinions about alcohol use, abuse, addiction, and dependence. Your own opinion probably stems from your upbringing, personal experience, and cultural beliefs and morals. Media and laws may play a role, too.
For centuries, civilizations have tried to figure out what to do with this intoxicating vice. They have tried to prohibit it, regulate it, normalize it, and even praise it. Yet, people all over the world struggle with problems because their alcohol use became "too much." For simplicity's sake, use becomes abuse when it begins to cause problems.
There is a tried and true screening tool for substance abuse that asks four questions:
Have you tried to Cut back but haven't been entirely successful?
Are people Annoyed by your use by complaining about it or avoiding you altogether?
Do you feel Guilty about your use, maybe lying about it or trying to hide it from others?
Do you need it to feel like yourself, like an Eye-opener or breath of fresh air?
Think about how these can cause problems:
Cutting back - If you are unable to cut back when you want, that means it's interfering with things you want like spending your money, consuming more calories, and time spent in environments while impaired. Not being able to stop when you want means that you may not have a plan to get home safely, prevent issues like drunk dialing/texting, and going home with people you didn't expect.
Annoying others - Your use becomes the reason people don't want to be around you, answer your calls/texts, or continue relationships with you. Most people do not enjoy worrying about the safety and wellbeing of intoxicated friends and loved ones. Cleaning up bodily fluids, tracking down lost items, bailing people out of jail, visiting them in the hospital, and late night rides home takes its toll on a relationship.
Guilt - Trying to hide your use or lie about where you've been and what you've used gets exhausting. You may beat yourself up about it, swear that was the last time you ever drink that much, refuse to ever drink tequila again, or commit to new habits. This can interfere with your physical and mental health, creating self-doubt, self-hate, and unrealistic expectations.
Eye-opening drinks - No one likes not feeling like themselves. Certain situations like parties, sports events, golfing or fishing, may have become synonymous with feeling intoxicated. Alcohol has become a central part of how your experience/personality, making it difficult to tell the two apart. Do you enjoy those activities or do you enjoy drinking during those activities? Do you really feel the way you said you did while drunk or was it just the alcohol talking? How do you know?
A common misconception is that an "alcoholic" drinks daily, all day, neglecting their responsibilities. Yet, this is only one face of alcohol abuse. The most common form of alcohol abuse is binge drinking, which typically involves drinking 4-5 drinks in 2 hours or less, resulting in a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08 or more. At that level, most people feel uncoordinated and experience problems with your balance, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, and hearing acuity. This results in impaired reasoning, judgment, self-control, concentration, and memory.
If you notice these or other problems related to your alcohol use, it does not mean you're an "alcoholic" but it may mean that you abuse alcohol. It's a tough thing to admit, but it's possible to overcome. It does not always mean swearing off alcohol or totally changing your lifestyle. But if you want the problems to change, then your use may need to change. Many people benefit from involvement with free programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, and others enjoy a more individualized approach through counseling. If you have a loved one struggling with alcohol, you may benefit from free programs like Al-Anon, or meeting with a counselor who understands your unique situation.