How would you define your drinking habits? Is it a question you’ve ever considered? Our relationship with alcohol can shift at different ages and life stages, and it’s an act of self-care to continue to check in on it. As you evaluate how you interact with alcohol and what influences your drinking, it’s important to understand that there are various types of drinking habits and be aware of the short and long-term effects on your mental and physical health. Read on to learn more about some of the various drinking habits we can develop. And remember, if you don’t identify with any of the below definitions, that’s okay too. Everyone’s relationship with alcohol is valid, and something that can become healthier with time and support.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines heavy drinking as consuming more than four alcoholic drinks a day for men or more than three drinks for women. The term is also defined by binge drinking on five or more days in a month.
Seemingly ‘normal’ drinking habits like meeting for a few beers with colleagues after work or joining friends for a wine happy hour can be riskier than you think. The same goes for the sporadic weekend tailgate party or social day drinking. Your current drinking habits may not seem harmful, but every instance of heavy drinking causes changes within the body.
Although every person metabolizes and handles drinking alcohol differently, the more a person drinks, the more the body learns to tolerate alcohol. Eventually, with continued heavy alcohol use, the body starts to crave alcohol and experience withdrawal symptoms when cravings are not met. Heavy drinking also causes internal damage to the liver, heart, brain, and other organs and functions of the body.
Being aware of how often you partake in heavy drinking is a good first step when learning how to moderate your drinking. Take into account the environment you’re in and how you’re feeling emotionally when you drink. Once you recognize recurring catalysts, it’ll allow you to identify and change the factors that contribute to harmful drinking habits. Working with a therapist in alcohol therapy from an alcohol treatment program can also help you identify what motivates you to drink, and how to build healthier habits.
While binge drinking and heavy drinking seem synonymous and can overlap, they have slightly different definitions. Binge drinking is defined as a pattern that brings your blood alcohol concentration level up to .08 percent or higher in a short, two-hour window of time. This is approximately the equivalent of five or more alcoholic drinks for males and four or more drinks for women.
This level of alcohol intake is largely associated with the college culture, although it’s not limited to this age group alone. “Partying” seems like an innocuous part of the experience, but is a risky drinking behavior. In fact, the CDC states binge drinking is most common among the ages of 18 and 34 years old. It’s associated with a long list of physical side effects and can lead to dangerous circumstances.
Some of the common effects of binge drinking include:
- Memory problems or blackouts: Drinking excessively can cause short-term memory lapses when a person doesn’t remember details of an event or has no recollection of an entire block of time.
- Heart disease: Too much alcohol in the system at any one time can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and other adverse heart conditions.
- Alcohol poisoning: When the body can’t metabolize alcohol fast enough, it can lead to serious side effects, such as vomiting, seizures, and a slowed heart rate. It can also cause a person to become unresponsive.
- Increased risk of injuries: Since intoxication from alcohol also affects cognitive functioning, slurring of speech and slow reaction times are common. This can be a risky situation that leads to falling, car accidents, or acts of violence.
Not everyone who binge drinks will experience all of these symptoms or have the same experience. However, it’s a dangerous drinking habit to become accustomed to, regardless of when or how often it takes place. You may feel different side effects than others who binge drink as well. It’s also important to recognize how you feel.
Starting with self-reflection can begin to shed light on your relationship with alcohol, and why you drink. Ask yourself questions like:
- Are my drinking habits due to social pressures, work responsibilities, or problems in personal relationships?
- How often do my drinking habits lead to negative consequences?
- What happens when drinking alcohol is taken out of the equation? Do I feel more conscious of my behavior?
Once you begin identifying the influences behind your relationship with alcohol, you can better understand your true needs and values, and reshape your habits accordingly.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
When you start drinking more and for longer periods than you want to, that’s one indicator of alcohol use disorder. AUD can co-exist with binge drinking and heavy drinking. The American Psychiatric Association best explains how to define and help diagnose the severity of AUD in the DSM-5 manual. In this manual, there are 11 different points of criteria which help determine the severity of AUD. After reviewing the 11 points of criteria, severity can be determined by the following:
- Mild: A mild AUD diagnosis means 2-3 points of the criteria were recognized.
- Moderate: A mild AUD diagnosis means 4-5 points of the criteria were recognized.
- Severe: A severe condition means 6 or more points of criteria were recognized.
The full chart of criteria can be found below:
If any of these situations or side effects resonate with you, it might mean you fall on the spectrum for alcohol use disorder.
If you do fall on the spectrum for alcohol use disorder (AUD), you are not alone. AUD is a medical condition with a medical treatment solution. With Monument, there is customized treatment available to get you from where you are to where you want to be . It’s designed based on your medical history, needs, and goals, so that you can change your relationship with alcohol on your own terms.
It’s also important to note that you don’t need to meet any number of criteria for AUD to benefit from or seek treatment. If you feel like alcohol has too much control over your life or you’re feeling weighed down by the negative effects of excessive drinking, know that you have a community of support ready to show up for you. Many people wait to seek treatment only after their condition has become severe, but everyone can benefit from checking in on their relationship with alcohol regardless of what type of drinking habits you identify with most. If you identify with none of the above, you are deserving of support, too.
Managing your drinking through quarantine
Redefining Drinking Habits with Moderation
Drinking in moderation is one way to regain control over unhealthy drinking habits. However, moderate drinking can prove unachievable for some, particularly those with a more moderate or severe alcohol use disorder. In some instances, practicing moderation may be an effective way to begin to change your relationship with alcohol, with the long-term goal of sobriety.
Each person’s journey is different, and you deserve custom support tailored to your goals and preferences. While generally recognized guidelines of moderate drinking create a reference point, they do not take into account pre-existing conditions, co-occuring mental health conditions, or situational psychological or interpersonal stressors, all of which can alter our relationship with alcohol, and what it takes to change it.
For example, many people drink in order to “soothe” or experience the short-term calming effects of alcohol. This coping mechanism is often used to combat symptoms of depression or anxiety. In reality, drinking can have the opposite effect, and instead increase psychological symptoms and stressors. Working with a therapist can help address co-occuring conditions like depression and anxiety while also building healthier drinking habits.
Changing Your Relationship with Alcohol
Heavy drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol use disorder are all harmful to your health and can limit how fulfilled you feel in life. While you may identify with these habits at different stages of your life, it’s important to look at when they arise and what changes or patterns may be the driving force. Addressing your relationship with alcohol may feel challenging and uncomfortable. However, as you become more in tune with why you’re drinking, and how drinking makes you feel, you’ll be able to set boundaries and change your relationship with alcohol.
Moreover, you will experience the positive changes that drinking less has on your physical and mental well-being. Getting treatment to change your drinking should be a point of pride, like other acts of self care. By joining a program that meets you where you are, it allows you to make progress without putting the rest of your life on hold. Monument takes a holistic, evidence-based approach that includes personalized therapy, a peer community, and physician-prescribed medication, tailored to your individual needs. It’s available entirely online, and on your own time.
Changing your drinking habits is within reach. No matter your drinking habits, motivation to stop drinking, and goals, you can make a change, and you don’t have to do it alone.
Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.