Six non-medical signs you might be drinking too much

Jo Burnett | October 2019 | 8 minutes

You don’t have to be physically dependent on alcohol to have a problem. There are many people who never go to a GP or get diagnosed as being alcohol dependent. They don’t have any physical medical issues related to heavy drinking and don’t experience any physical withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. But they have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol that causes them problems psychologically and behaviourally and affects their mental health.

Here are six psychological and behavioural signs that it might be time to address your drinking.

1. Rules

You create rules around your drinking. It might be you restrict your drinking to certain times of the day or only certain days in the week. It might be you’re in a cycle of creating rules, breaking them and then trying different rules. The fact you’re giving this much thought and energy to alcohol, to where, when and how to drink is an unhealthy sign. People who have a healthy relationship with alcohol don’t think like this.

2. Head space

When you're drinking, you’re paying too much attention to the alcohol and not enough to what’s going on around you. Thoughts of drinking take over from your enjoyment of the situation you’re in. You might be feeling self-conscious about your drinking and worrying that you’re drinking more quickly than other people. You might be watching the amount of booze that’s left and wondering how to get the biggest share of it. You might be sneaking extra drinks in so people don’t notice you’re drinking more. You might be monitoring your own drinking so it fits in with other people’s. You might even notice yourself encouraging other people to drink more so that you can enjoy your own pattern of drinking without feeling too self-conscious.

Booze becomes the centre of your attention and when you’re not actually drinking or recovering from drinking, you’re giving head space to thinking about when you’re going to start drinking again.

3. You feel dependent on it

You can’t imagine enjoying yourself without alcohol. You can’t imagine social events sober. Perhaps you can’t even imagine relaxing at home without having a drink to help you de-stress. If you find that the reason you’re looking forward to an event is the opportunity to get drunk rather than the event itself, that suggests an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

4. Guilt and shame

You often feel uneasy, ashamed and guilty about your drinking or about what has happened when you’ve been drinking. You might wake up not remembering what happened the night before or replaying what happened over and over to check whether you’ve embarrassed yourself and have anything to feel guilty about. You might find that you don’t have much self-respect because of your behaviour when drunk and that this is harming your self-confidence.

5. Lack of control

You decide to not drink and then you end up drinking again. If you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it’s quite common to try to moderate your drinking or decide to not drink for a specific event or period of time, only to find yourself caving in and ending up drunk and hungover – again. You might feel like you’re out of control.

6. Questioning and worrying

You've spent some time thinking about stopping drinking but not doing it. You’re here, reading this. You might have done some research about drinking or stopping drinking online. You might have compared yourself to other types of drinkers to reassure yourself that you haven’t got a problem. Questioning your drinking or feeling uneasy about your drinking is a sign in itself that your drinking might have become an issue for you.

If you can relate to two or more of these signs, if it feels like alcohol is in control and getting in the way of you living your best life, it’s likely that you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and would benefit from some support to get back in control.

Many people seek help with their drinking; there’s nothing to be ashamed of. And there’s lots of support out there. Find out more here.

Jo is a writer, speaker and life coach specialising in habit change and helping people to stop drinking. She has spent 20 years working with people to transform their lives and change their habits through one-to-one coaching, training and mentoring. She now runs an online membership site that supports people who have decided to go alcohol-free. You can check out her website: stop drinking with go get sober.