Last Updated on April 23, 2021
Ever wondered if your relationship with alcohol is healthy? You’re not alone. In a culture where alcohol use is so widespread, it can be important to touch base with ourselves from time to time. Each of us may occasionally notice we’ve begun drinking more than we intend, or that we are using alcohol in ways we’d prefer not to.
The definition of “healthy drinking” turns out to be complex, and variable. And “problem drinking” can cover all sorts of behaviors beyond what we commonly call “alcoholism.” No matter your drinking habits, here are some questions to ask yourself about your relationship with alcohol.
The Alcohol Use Continuum
All too often, the discussion about personal alcohol use gets reduced to a single question: Am I an alcoholic?
This isn’t always a bad question to ask yourself, especially if you are noticing that you’re drinking a lot, and often. But this label can also lead to “black and white” thinking that obscures more minor issues, and creates stigma around getting help. In reality, alcohol use exists on a spectrum, and can be very different from person to person.
The “sober curious” movement has called attention to this issue recently: Many people are choosing to drink less simply because they don’t like the way it makes them feel. They don’t necessarily identify as alcoholics, or feel that their issues with alcohol are especially dangerous. But they’ve noticed that it isn’t having a good impact on them, and are making a conscious choice to scale back.
When considering your own drinking habits, start by asking yourself:
- Is drinking affecting my overall happiness?
- Is it having an impact on my relationships?
- Do I feel less healthy physically after drinking?
- Is drinking alcohol getting in the way of my life?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these, it may be worthwhile to reassess your relationship with alcohol.
How Important Is Drinking Alcohol in Your Life?
If you’re reconsidering the role of alcohol in your life, here are some further questions to ask yourself:
Do you prioritize drinking over other activities?
If you’ve noticed yourself choosing drinking over other things that interest you, this is an important warning sign. While there may be nothing wrong with having one or two drinks to relax in the evening, alcohol shouldn’t take priority over other parts of your life.
Does alcohol play a major role in your social life?
Do you ever choose social activities based on the availability of alcohol? Have you noticed that most of your friendships revolve around drinking? Social drinking is common, and many people use alcohol to help them manage social anxiety1. Beyond a certain point, however, this can become unhealthy. Make sure there are fun activities in your life that don’t involve drinking.
Do you prioritize spending on alcohol?
Ask yourself how much you spend on alcohol every week. Do you ever choose buying something to drink over buying something else you need? This is another sign that alcohol may be becoming too important in your life. If you’re concerned over how much you’re spending, try this alcohol cost calculator2 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
Do you plan for hangovers?
Are you structuring parts of your life around the expectation that you’ll be hungover? This is a sign that drinking is becoming a priority for you. While many people drink to excess on occasion, hangovers shouldn’t begin to feel like a normal routine. If you find yourself rearranging your schedule to accommodate “the morning after,” it may be time to rethink how much you drink.
Concerned you may be drinking too much? Take our alcohol use survey.
When Is It Alcohol Use Disorder?
If your drinking patterns are undermining your daily life, and you are struggling to reign them in, you may have alcohol use disorder (AUD). The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) lists 11 criteria for AUD3, any two of which are enough for a diagnosis.
AUD can range from mild to severe, depending on your specific symptoms. But if you’re concerned that any of these criteria apply to you, it’s important to seek help. In 2018, more 14 million Americans4 had AUD, but only about 7.9 received treatment for it. While heavy alcohol use can get overlooked sometimes in our culture, the long-term health effects of AUD can be serious.
Even if you don’t qualify as having AUD, you could still be participating in drinking behavior that is unhealthy. In 2018, 26.45 percent of American adults5 reported binge drinking in the past month. Binge drinking is defined by the NIAAA as drinking enough to raise your blood alcohol level to 0.08—generally four to five alcoholic drinks within two hours.
While drinking to this level on occasion may not seem so unusual, it turns out that binge drinking is responsible for more than half6 of the alcohol-related deaths each year in the US. And of the nearly quarter trillion dollars alcohol costs the US economy each year, 77 percent7 is due to binge drinking. If you find that you drink beyond this amount on a regular basis—even if you aren’t addicted—it may be a good idea to cut back.
Overall, no matter your drinking patterns, if you’re drinking more than you’d like to be, that’s enough reason to make a change.
How to Reset Your Relationship With Alcohol
There are many options available if you’d like to change your relationship with alcohol. In some cases, it may be enough to set personal limits and cut back on your own. Other people may benefit from the support of a program.
Ria Health is one option that can help you cut back on alcohol without putting your life on hold. Our whole program is accessible through an app on your smartphone, and is fully customizable to each person’s needs and goals. Both moderation and abstinence are options, and you don’t need to identify as an alcoholic to join.