I knew I was drinking too much when every single day I would wake up feeling shame, regret and hungover. I was 41, fed up, feeling stuck, carrying more weight than my 5’2” frame allowed, I was worrying that my drinking was making me a bad mum, and I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. All the signs were there, they had been there for a while in fact but I either couldn’t see them or chose not to. On March 28th 2018, I could no longer ignore the signs and haven’t had a drink since.
Perhaps you’ve got the niggling feeling that something is not quite right, the excesses of summer are taking their toll and you feel like you need another holiday to recover from the holiday you’ve just had or maybe, just maybe, the idea of taking part in Sober September this year doesn’t sound quite as crazy as it used to.
These are just some of the signs that you might be drinking too much. Below are more signs that it might be time to take a look at your drinking behaviours and some tips on what to do if you’re worried about your drinking or want to take a break from drinking.
How much is too much?
When it comes to alcohol, there is no completely safe level of drinking, but according to the NHS guidelines it is recommended not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, that’s around six glasses of wine.
Regularly drinking more than the recommended units of alcohol, poses a serious risk to our physical and mental health, but you might not be aware of just how many units you are drinking on a weekly or daily basis.
It’s not just the amount of alcohol that can be measured in units or glasses that tell us we’re drinking too much, it is worth being aware of the more subtle signs that your drinking habits might be taking you down a path you don’t want to go down, so you can do something about it if you need to.
Here are 8 signs that you are drinking too much
You’re always thinking about drinking. Is thinking about drinking starting to take up too much space in your head? Worrying how much you had the night before, how much you will have tonight, planning the shopping trips so you never run out, calculating when is a respectable time to start drinking, how much others are drinking, how much you can drink without raising concern and what on earth you will do when you can’t drink for whatever reason, are all signs that your drinking habits might be starting to take over.
You feel happy when you can drink
Similarly, when you know you have a night alone to drink without being judged or having to ‘moderate’ you feel the thrill of excitement. You might also find yourself looking forward to events and nights out because of the drinking that might be involved, not because of the evening itself.
You start to hide your drinking
Drinking in secret, lying about how much you had, hiding the empties, buying from different shops and taking the recycling to different places is definitely pointing to an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
Suddenly one bottle is turning into two
The trouble with alcohol use is that it sneaks up on us. We don’t go from having our first sip of cider and black one day to drinking two bottles of wine a night the next, that’s why the actual quantity and units alone are not enough to tell the whole story. That being said, if you are drinking more and more to get the same effect than before, then you are building a tolerance to alcohol and that is a sure sign that you are drinking too much.
The thought of not drinking makes you feel uneasy (or scared)
Before I quit drinking I desperately wanted to not drink yet the thought of having a whole day or weekend stretched out in front of me without alcohol in it, terrified me. If you can’t imagine an evening or a Sunday afternoon without a glass of wine or few, or the very idea of it seems impossible or miserable, this is a sign that you are drinking too much.
You’re doing all the things to ‘be healthy’ but still feel something is not quite right
Sure, you might yoga and drink the smoothies, go to spin class, have spar days and massages. You might even run, meditate, journal and regularly enjoy ‘self care activities’ but you still feel stuck. Maybe the weight isn’t coming off, perhaps you are still drained or numbing out at the end of the day or despite all the good things you are doing, your still feel meh and your anxiety isn’t getting any better.
This general feeling that something is missing, that you just don’t feel like you should, your energy is low and you’re getting through the days when you should be loving your days is a sign that alcohol is getting in the way of you enjoying your life in the way you deserve. This means you are drinking too much.
Drinking or recovering from drinking is getting in the way of your daily life
Do you try not to plan anything after 5pm? Do you feel resentful if you have to be a taxi driver for the evening? Do you find yourself making excuses, cancelling plans or not showing up as your true self because you are drinking, or recovering from drinking? These are all signs that your drinking is taking over your life and it might be time to take a break.
You’re can’t stick to your own rules around drinking
Probably the most eye opening sign you are drinking too much is when you constantly break your own rules when it comes to trying to drink in moderation. Rules such as, ‘I’ll only drink beer, I’ll only drink when I go out. I’ll only drink at the weekend and then I’ll only have one or two glasses.’ This is soul destroying and you don’t deserve to treat yourself this way. I promise, it is much easier to not drink at all than to put yourself through the pain of trying to moderate.
What you can do if you’re drinking too much
If you recognise your own behaviour in some or all of the above signs then the most important thing is to be super kind and gentle with yourself. Do not beat yourself up, otherwise you will only feel worse and as women we are too hard on ourselves anyway. This must stop.
Worried you are drinking too much – so what can you do?
Start to be aware
Begin to notice how your drinking is making you feel, tune into why you are drinking, what feeling you are trying to enhance or escape from and how you can be kinder to yourself in the moment.
Get more information
Read as much as you can about sobriety, quitting drinking, how alcohol affects your mind and body so you can begin from a place of feeling empowered and in control. Connect with other women already on this journey, ask questions and listen to their stories.
Find a way to be inspired and stay motivated
There is so much life and joy on the other side of drinking but you have to find your own version of it. What do you want to do? How do you want to feel? What will keep you inspired and motivated to stay alcohol-free when life gets challenging?
Put yourself first and ramp up the self-care
Probably the most powerful thing you can do for yourself is to really look after yourself. You deserve health, happiness, kindness, love and support so start by giving that to yourself. One of the reasons that as women we drink too much is because we’re so busy tending to everybody else we forget about ourselves, drink wine and carry on. You deserve to put yourself first, so start.
Commit to taking some proper time off
Having a goal in mind is really motivating and far less scary than saying I will never drink again. Having a timescale or milestone gives us something to aim for. Pick something that feels good to you such as 30 days or three months and then really commit to it. And decide how you will stay motivated and accountable for the time you plan to be alcohol-free for.
It is so much easier to stay motivated and on track when you have support and accountability, no matter how long you plan to stay alcohol-free. Get a coach, join a support group, enlist the support of a friend or take part in a challenge like Sober September. Sober September was created by Cancer Research UK to encourage people to take a month off booze while raising money for charity at the same time. Being part of a community or even just doing this with a friend is a brilliant way to begin this journey as you will have your person or people on your side, cheering you on and supporting you all the way.
Changing your relationship with alcohol is life changing. It can be the hardest, yet most rewarding thing you can do. Sober September just might be the springboard you need towards finding a healthier, fitter, happier you.
Gayle Macdonald, sobriety coach and addiction therapist and alcohol-free since March 2018, is the founder of Sober Bliss, helping women to change their relationship with alcohol in a way that feels good through uplifting and empowering coaching and community. Find out more at Sober Bliss and book a free call to talk about one to one sober support here.