Are You Worried About How Much You Drink?

Many of us may worry that we drink too much. As we head into party season, expert Georgia Foster, gives the low down on signs we're overdoing it and how to cut down.

The media is constantly bombarding us about the adverse effects of alcohol and the need to reduce our consumption. This can trigger self-questioning amongst many men and women about their own drinking habits. Common thoughts are 'Am I drinking too much?', 'Maybe I should quit?'  and even 'I know I should reduce my drinking, but I just can't seem to!'

Old Habits

The truth is there are many people who are not 'alcoholics' but who cannot stick to the recommended number of units per week measurement, not because they don't want to but because years of drinking in a certain way has, unwittingly, become a habit. Which is why reducing feels so difficult.

The thought of waving goodbye forever to that lovely glass of crisp cold wine, ice cold beer or glass of Merlot often seems too daunting, which ironically can make worried drinkers drink more!

A particularly heavy night triggers negative thoughts like 'Why did I drink so much!' or 'I don't remember what I said last night' and this, understandably, stirs lots of anxiety and guilt about drinking too much.

I respect there are some people who are alcoholics and need to seek support to quit, because alcohol has become more important than their emotional wellbeing, family life, professional life and financial security. However, there are many people who are habitual heavy drinkers who are not alcoholics but are aware that they drink more than they should. If this sounds like you, read on...

Teaching Your Brain New Tricks

While they know they don't need regular meetings or therapy, for these regular heavy drinkers, the good news is that it has been confirmed by many neuroscientists that the brain works on what is familiar. It loves habits and if someone has been using alcohol as way to feel better, a reward at the end of the day, to deal with boredom, loneliness or financial stress then the brain will continue to demand alcohol as the 'quick fix.'

In addition the old saying 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks' we now know is completely unfounded, which is wonderful news for worried drinkers. We all have the ability to change any unhealthy habit to a healthier one.  We just need the right tools and resources.

I think it is important to note that for many drinkers earlier in their life alcohol was perhaps deemed a good way to deal with social anxiety or a way to calm their nerves. It doesn't take long before the brain connects alcohol to emotions and before you know it, the drinking too much habit kicks in as a coping strategy for moments of vulnerability.

I often remind worried drinkers that it wasn't long ago when it was deemed cool to get drunk or socially acceptable and even congratulated - not that I'm advocating or condoning this!

However, as time has moved on that drunk look isn't so cool or socially acceptable. We suddenly arrive at our 40's, 50's or 60's and recognise that alcohol is starting to cause problems. The irony is sometimes the worrying about drinking can trigger 'sneaky drinking.'  When this happens the concerns about drinking from family members, but more importantly from the drinker themselves, can exacerbate their drinking issue.

The Inner Critic

It becomes a vicious cycle of waking up in the morning feeling awful about how much was drunk the night before and then drinking again the next night to run away from the self-loathing and negative thinking.

This negative thinking is driven by an inner voice: The Inner Critic.  It loves drinkers to drink too much and it loves people feeling bad about themselves. The scientists call this the reptilian part of the brain that forewarns us about the 'What ifs of life' and if you listen to this voice, life can become pretty stressful.

What is interesting about the Inner Critic is that it goes away when we drink alcohol. You may not know this but often your brain is demanding the alcohol as a way to have some reprieve from the Inner Critic. It's no surprise for worried drinkers to discover that their Inner Critic is the catalyst to heavy drinking, because the brain 'needs' the space to run away from this unhelpful voice.

What I always say is 'It's the thinking before the drinking that is the problem!'

For drinkers that want to reduce the level of alcohol they drink or the number of hangovers they suffer it may be helpful to know that it doesn't always have to involve years of therapy or having to go cold turkey!

How to know if you're drinking too much

  • Using alcohol as a way to deal with life
  • Avoiding social situations that don't involve alcohol
  • Sneaky/secret drinking to hide how much is being consumed
  • Feeling worried that you are not able to have a day off alcohol
  • Cannot sleep unless alcohol has been consumed
  • Need to drink alcohol before being intimate
  • Can't relax unless drinking
  • Need to drink to communicate

Tips and Tricks to Try

  1. Keep an emotional diary for the first few weeks so you can notice what emotions drive you to drink.  There will be a pattern here. This is the key area that needs to be worked on in order for you to drink less more confidently.
  2. Start to do things in your life that empower you without a drink in your hand. Sober self-esteem is key to having alcohol free days and starting to build 'drink free times' that are rewarding.
  3. Stick to alcohol that you know so you can gauge what you drink more easily.
  4. Drink with your non-dominant hand, it will feel slightly uncomfortable and will slow your drinking down.
  5. Have a big glass of water before you have your first drink to make sure you are not dehydrated first and keep water with you at all times while you drink.
  6. Try to drink half of what you were used to consuming.
  7. Little white lies. Don't be coerced into drinking more to please others. Feign illness, big morning meeting or that you have a cracking hangover and couldn't fathom a drink!

I believe it's possible to train the brain to have healthier sober coping strategies that can liberate drinkers from the traps of the Inner Critic. The domino effect is there isn't that emotional urgency to drink as quickly or as often.

It's wonderful to see once someone discovers how clever their mind truly is and its ability to drink less, the improved self-esteem, better sober communication and more importantly a healthier mind and body.

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Georgia Foster is the author and founder of The Drink Less Mind Programme. If you want further support, you can also visit Alcoholics Anonymous or seek advice from your employee benefit and support programmes.

Disclaimer: Here at Bright Horizons, we understand that you're the expert on your own body, child or children, pregnancy and parenting isn't homogenous and it's each to their own. Opinions are solely the views of the author not Bright Horizons and are there to inform, help provoke thought and reflection on parenting situations and life dilemmas that naturally have no right or wrong.