For many people, alcohol is an integral part of their social and recreational life. Drinking in the evenings or on the weekend is just the thing to do. So how are you supposed to tell the difference between having a good time and having a potential problem? Well, if you tell yourself certain things when you're drinking, it could be a red flag.
Although substance abuse is a rough topic to examine, it's far from unusual. In the United States, almost 27 percent of people over the age of 18 admitted to binge drinking within the past month, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Binge drinking is defined as behavior that brings the blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 g/dL. In general, this works out females consuming four drinks, or males consuming five drinks, in a two-hour span, as further noted by the NIAAA. But you don't have to binge drink in order to have a problematic relationship with alcohol. Sometimes the problems become more apparent when you start making excuses or rationalizations for drinking.
There's even a specific term for these things you tell yourself when you're drinking to possible excess. "What you are referring to is called 'addictive thinking'. Those are the thoughts that the brain promotes to justify, minimize and rationalize excessive drinking," says addiction counselor Mark Levine of Minds at Peace. "The more someone drinks, the more the brain wants alcohol, and the more creative the addictive thinking becomes." Read on for some examples of these potentially damaging rationalizations for alcohol abuse.
1. I Have To Drink In Order To Sleep At Night.
Feeling like you need alcohol in order to sleep at night is a cause for concern. "In reality, the crutch of drinking for sleep is not only an excuse for problematic drinking, but a dangerous habit that can actually induce real sleep disorders," says Mark Burhenne, DDS, founder of AsktheDentist.com and bestselling author of The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox.
Although excessive alcohol consumption can help you drift off quickly, drunk sleep isn't the same as sober sleep. "Alcohol makes your brain produce alpha waves during delta-wave sleep (REM). Normally, alpha waves aren't associated with sleep at all. They disrupt your body's natural restoration processes [that] make sleep so beneficial," as Burhenne tells Romper. Basically, relying on alcohol to sleep every night is setting up your body for serious sleep issues.
2. Who Cares If I Drink To Unwind, It's My Right!
Feeling the need to justify your drinking is a potential issue by itself. "This is a defensive position to take and is definitely a sign because people who don't have problems drinking don't ever have to justify continuing," as Allie McCormick, M.P.A., the creator of Sober Alley, tells Romper. "By the time you're explaining your right to drink because of xyz reason, you're already in trouble of some sort." It's a case of protesting too much.
3. I Can Stop Anytime I Want To . . . I Just Don't Feel Like It.
This kind of statement may not be entirely true. "Usually this is also a sign because people who don't have drinking problems can either take it or leave it," says McCormick. People without a problem just stop drinking without even thinking about it.
4. I Only Drink On The Weekend.
Again, beware anything that sounds like you're making excuses or justifications for drinking. "If we try to rationalize our drinking, chances are we have crossed over into problematic drinking," as mental health expert Kelley Kitley tells Romper. Plus, you don't have to identify as an alcoholic to decide that alcohol just isn't working for you, as Kitley further explains.
5. It's Only Wine.
Well, you can still get super drunk on wine. "Alcohol is alcohol regardless if it comes in a more socially accepted version like wine or beer or through a stronger spirit and will ultimately have the same effect on the body and and mind," says Monte Drenner, licensed counselor and Master Certified Addictions Professional. "Don’t let the type of alcohol deceive you." In particular, the "mom wine culture" phenomenon can be problematic in its own way, as explained in Romper.
6. I Never Got A DUI.
OK, so refusing to drink and drive is commendable. But there's more going on with this statement. "Just because there is not an immediate consequence to your drinking does not mean it is not a problem," says Drenner. It's a way of minimizing the problem.
7. I Don't Get Blackout Drunk.
You don't have to get totally wasted to feel the harmful effects of alcohol. "Interestingly, research shows that women should drink no more than 1 drink per day; men under 60 should drink no more than 2 drinks per day," says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and addiction specialist. What counts as excess may be much less than many people realize.
8. I Have To Drink To Socialize.
Sure, plenty of people find social situations easier after a couple of drinks. But swearing that you absolutely need alcohol in order to function socially is a potential red flag, as Manly tells Romper. It may just be another way of excusing your drinking.
9. I Haven't Eaten Much Today, So I Can Drink More Tonight.
Skipping meals to enable more alcohol consumption is a concerning trade-off. "This is a disordered eating behavior that actively restricts the consumption of nutrients and energy, and alcohol is not going to provide the nutrition needed for good health," says Cara Harbstreet, MS RD LD of Street Smart Nutrition. It creates a harmful relationship with both food an alcohol.
10. I Don't Drink As Much As *That Person.*
As long as there's a bigger lush in your friend group, it's all OK, right? As it turns out, this is another common tactic for minimizing the problem. "The other way that we can excuse problematic drinking is by surrounding ourselves with others who drink more," says addiction therapist Tanya Fruehauf. Your booziest friends become a sort of decoy. "By doing this, you can convince others (as well as yourself) that your drinking is less of a problem than it really is." Perhaps you and your friend both have issues with alcohol.
If you're at all concerned about your relationship with alcohol, don't hesitate to reach out for help. For immediate assistance, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).