It’s no secret that many women over 40 love cocktail hour. We feel like we deserve a glass when things go right, when things go wrong, because it’s winter, because it’s summer. We’re saying Cheers just about anytime, and why not? We work hard, we’re successful, and well, we need a treat. Sipping makes us feel good, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling good. Or is there?
I’m not a big drinker, although I do love a good glass of Chateau Neuf Du Pape. If I watched a woman down more than five glasses in one sitting, I wouldn’t necessarily think she had a drinking problem. Instead, I would probably applaud her for her gusto and bravery, and then volunteer to drive her home. But if she was swigging it back every time we got together, I’d no longer be clapping.
According to Stats Canada, heavy drinkers—defined as having five or more drinks on one occasion at least once a month—represent only 8% of the female population. And yet, we’ve all been there. You’re in a restaurant, and you keep pointing to your glass. You had a successful morning, a positive chat with a co-worker, a fun night last night, and so far, it’s been a great hair day. Time to celebrate!
Are you celebrating too much? Do you need hangover cures way too often? How do you know you’ve got a drinking problem, and if you do, what should you do about it?
DO YOU HAVE A DRINKING PROBLEM?
Assessing Your Drinking Habit
Many of our everyday activities stimulate dopamine release, the feel-good hormone. And when dopamine is released, we feel pleasure, happiness, excitement, and even relaxed and less tense. Exercise, sex, eating, socializing, winning, and even the simple activities like giving, sharing, and helping all release chemicals in our brains that make us feel good. The action that gets us there is rewarding, and so we want to do it again, and we’re wired to get those dopamine-induced feelings whenever we can.
When we drink out of habit, we’re performing the action repeatedly in response to a cue that our brains recognize to elicit a certain behaviour. When the activity feels too frequent, it may be turning into a habit. Habits can signal the beginning of a drinking problem, since the “cues” become encoded in our brains, and we automatically find ourselves at their beck-and-call.
Using substances like alcohol to give us that big bang of dopamine promotes the physiological and psychological temptation to use it repeatedly, especially if we are used to getting that feel-good charge. And if that feeling is strong, it may signal a problem.
Signs of a Drinking Problem
- Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
- Wanting to cut down on how much you drink, but being unsuccessful at doing so
- Spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol, and drinking when it’s not appropriate, like in the morning
- Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol, especially after certain repeated circumstances
- Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home, as due to repeated/consistent alcohol use
- Continuing to drink alcohol even though you know it’s causing physical, social or interpersonal problems
- Giving up or reducing social and work activities, and hobbies
- Using alcohol in situations even where and when it’s not safe, such as when driving, swimming, or around your children
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol, needing more when you do drink to feel its effect, or, having a reduced effect from the same amount and craving more
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms—such as nausea, sweating and shaking when you don’t drink, or drinking to avoid these symptoms
What You Can Do About it
If you think you might be drinking too much, here are some steps you can take:
1. If drinking is making you feel uncomfortable, it’s time to acknowledge you may have a problem. This is the first step and most important step to getting healthier, and getting help. Don’t feel ashamed. We all go through phases of difficulty where we need help to gain control.
2. Talk to someone you can confide in and trust, who won’t be judgmental and won’t stigmatize you and the situation. A drinking problem needs support. You can’t manage it on your own.
3. When out in social situations, go with a buddy who will take charge for you when you’re feeling vulnerable and may feel the urge to drink or over-drink. The best defence is to stay away from environments where the temptation to drink alcohol is present until you can trust your ability to refrain.
4. Identify your triggers. Knowing them will help you control your impulses and the other way around.
5. Get Professional help. Most drinking problems stem from emotional or relational issues. Not only can you change your environment but you can change behaviours and triggers as well. With the help of a professional, you can learn coping mechanisms, skills, and techniques to get you back on track.
Having said all that, the likelihood of you having a problem is probably low, but be aware, and know the red flags.
Cheers and Salut!