wellness

'How do I know if I have a problem with alcohol?' These are the 5 questions to ask yourself.

During COVID-19 lockdowns (plural, depending on what state you live in), you may have found yourself drinking more. At least one in eight Australians have been drinking every day since the pandemic began, according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation

One in 10 people also reported consuming more than 10 standard drinks per week - the recommended limit for a healthy adult, according to Australian Government Department of Health. 

"There's no safe level of drinking," medical doctor and the CEO of VIC Health Dr Sandro Demaio explains to Mamamia, before adding: "people roll their eyes when you say that". 

But for the majority of Australians who drink, there are ways to drink responsibly - another term that might trigger an eye roll, but nevertheless remains a crucial cornerstone for our health. 

So how do you know if you have a problem with drinking? 

Dr Demaio explains…

Is there a difference between an alcohol problem and an alcohol addiction?

Yes. 

One is a medical diagnosis, whilst the other is an unhealthy habit. 

Dr Demaio says an alcohol addiction or dependency implies that you are emotionally and/or physically dependent on alcohol. This may include drinking in the morning, feeling unable to cut down your drinking, or experiencing withdrawal symptoms. 

More common, Dr Demaio says, is unhealthy patterns of drinking which can be divided into two groups. The first is binge drinking - consuming large amounts of alcohol in short time frames, often leading to intoxication and most common among young people. The second is chronic or long-term alcohol exposure, which means drinking large amounts of alcohol on most days for an extended period of time, most common in people in their 40s and above.

Watch: How to talk to someone who has anxiety. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

What are the warning signs?

Dr Demaio identifies several warning signs, including...

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  • If you have an urge or strong desire to drink alcohol. 
  • If you find that you can't control how much you drink. Dr Demaio adds that this happens when “you say that you'll start with one or two drinks, but suddenly it becomes many more and you feel as though you don't have a sense of control.”
  • If you feel the physical effects like nausea, sweating, shakiness or anxiety when you stop after a period of heavy drinking. These are withdrawal symptoms, the health expert explains, and is a sign of dependency.
  • If you find that you need to drink more over time to get the same kind of feeling that you desire. Dr Demaio says this is "a sign that you're basically developing habituation". 
  • If you're drinking on your own or if you're hiding alcohol from members of your family, your friends or your partner. 
  • If you're lying about how much you drink.
  • If you're drinking early in the day, or you're anxious about when you'll be next able to drink again. 

One in eight Australians have been drinking every day since the pandemic began. Image: Getty. 

The five questions to ask yourself.

Dr Demaio identifies five questions you should ask yourself. 

How often are you drinking? As mentioned above, the recommended limit for a healthy adult is 10 standard drinks per week, with no more than four standard drinks in one sitting.

Do you have a number of days where you're not drinking each week regularly? 

Do you feel that you can't catch up with friends without a drink? 

Do you have an urge to drink?

Why do you drink? Dr Demaio says it’s important to reflect and analyse your personal reasons for drinking. "If you're drinking because you feel like you need to relax, you need it to be able to spend time with people around you, you need it to be able to break the circuit of stress at the end of the day, or, really concerningly, you need it to get going in the day, you should think about these reasons. Often we're drinking for a reason that's quite unhealthy. And there are much better, more effective and healthier ways of getting the same result."

What are the effects and risks of alcohol?

Of course, it’s no surprise that drinking can be dangerous. But it’s still important to understand the effects of alcohol and the associated risks. 

“Alcohol affects your health regardless of how much you drink,” Dr Deamio says. 

“Alcohol is a toxin. So literally when we drink, the brain goes into slow motion, which we often think of as a form of relaxation. Actually, it's not -  it's a form of toxicity on the brain, slowing down the brain signals and impairing things like decision making, your memory and your mood.” 

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"Alcohol is a toxin," says Dr Demaio. Image: Getty.  

Dr Demaio adds that alcohol leads to higher levels of anxiety and depression, and also negatively influences sleep.

In the long-term, unhealthy alcohol patterns “increases your risk of various types of cancer and heart disease. 

“Alcohol is a major risk factor for breast cancer among Australian women - it's one of the most significant risk factors apart from your age and your family history, both of which you can't change.

“And it's incredibly high in calories, so it's a major source of weight gain as well.”

What can you do if you think you have an alcohol problem?

Like any health-related issue, Dr Demaio says the first step is to see your GP, who can refer you to a specialist or offer appropriate advice.

But for those for whom their alcohol problem is less serious, Dr Demaio says it’s helpful to set goals for yourself. These can include...

  • Not drinking during the week.
  • Not drinking alone.
  • Not opening a bottle during the week
  • Making sure to hydrate with water, not alcohol.

Overall, Dr Demaio says he has three tips. 

  1. Think about why you're drinking - “If it's to relax, find healthier ways, because there is good evidence that drinking alcohol actually increases anxiety and increases depression.”
  2. Don't have alcohol in the fridge - "So if you get home and you're looking for something cold to quench your thirst, don't have alcohol." 
  3. Make sure you have a healthy form of hydration on hand - “Always have a glass of water nearby.”

Feature image: Getty.


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