Living: Do You Drink Too Much?


Any week I can look at my schedule of appointments and note that I will see someone because alcohol was used to excess. The person or persons are in my office because they had an alcoholic parent or sibling or even a grandparent who caused chaos to family members. Or the person is here because his spouse is an alcoholic or an older child is abusing alcohol. Often the person has come because he is an alcoholic in recovery and wants to know more about the disease. Sometimes someone is in because a husband, wife or close friend has bluntly said, “You’re drinking too much and need to get help.”

Alcohol is our society’s legally accepted and hugely enjoyed drug of choice. We celebrate happy occasions with alcohol, or try to dull disappointment with alcohol. We seem to think alcohol will make us feel better or help us get through difficult times, and we seem to have no problem indulging ourselves in whatever form of the drug we like.

Many wine drinkers think they really couldn’t have a problem because “it’s only wine,” and many beer drinkers share that thinking as well. Beer and wine don’t carry the stigma of “the hard stuff,” like whiskey, vodka, gin or scotch. The facts are you can get just as drunk on wine and beer as you can on “the hard stuff,” and a DWI doesn’t “care” that your blood alcohol level was only elevated because you drank an extra glass of wine.

Alcohol is alcohol. It can ruin your life if you drink too much too often and if you misbehave as inebriation is prone to encourage one to do. Alcoholics tell me their stories of heartbreaking losses and painful nadirs of despair being hit because of alcohol abuse. These are folks who have accepted their problem with alcohol and have attained their sobriety through hard work, commitment to reality and self-discovery. They are some of the wisest people I work with; they have met the enemy — wrestled with it in devastating experiences and emerged better equipped to live a sober life — and now keep a vigilant eye on that nemesis, knowing it is right there to engage in battle at any time.

Do you drink too much? You may be shocked to find that about 3 ounces of alcohol per day is considered “safe” and/or “normal” drinking. That’s what you’d find in two cans of beer, two 4-ounce glasses of wine, or two cocktails using a jigger to measure the liquor amount in each drink. When I give that information in the office, some people laugh and say “Well, I drink too much” or “I guess I’m an alcoholic.”

I’m not sure exactly what an alcoholic is, though the best definition of addiction I’ve ever read is: “Addiction is a pathological love and trust relationship with an object or event.” The addict turns to the substance or the activity because he can rely on it to make him feel what he needs to feel. People are not so reliable, but the substance is. Soon, finding that feeling with the bottle takes top priority in the addict’s life, and relationships, work and other areas slip away.

I read along the way that if someone gets drunk four times per month, he’s probably an alcoholic. I think that’s a little too general, but it may have some truth to it. I think you need to worry if alcohol is causing you problems in any area of your life. I think you need to worry if you wake up feeling lousy, and you cannot recall much of what happened the night before. You need to worry if your family is tense when you walk in the door and often don’t engage you in conversation. If your friends start finding excuses to not be in your company, you need to notice and wonder why. If they ask for your car keys or won’t ride with you, that’s a clue you might have a problem drinking. If you’ve gotten a DWI, there is a huge red flag in your face. If you start thinking about when you can have your first drink of the day, on and off all day, you’ve got a problem. If your spouse says, “You drink too much. I’m afraid for you and for us,” you need to listen.

Most of the recovering alcoholics I see in my office are in AA, or Alcoholics Anonymous; I think it’s the best, most effective, long-lasting treatment out there. The people who consistently attend AA meetings and work their programs often/tend to stay sober … and lead an “examined life.” If you and alcohol need to part ways, there is so much help for you out there. Saying “goodbye” can be the best thing you will ever do for yourself.

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