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10 red flags that made me stop drinking

At 32 years old I had everything I thought I wanted. I was married to my soul mate, we had two gorgeous healthy boys, loving family and friends, our own home in Byron Bay Australia (my dream-come-true place to live!), I was excelling at work as a lawyer and had a body that could withstand grueling HIIT workouts.

But behind the perfectly curated façade, I was harboring a secret. My relationship with alcohol had turned toxic. It had moved from drinking with friends on the weekends in my twenties, to drinking alone every night in my thirties. It had morphed from social lubrication to self-medication. I felt like Pavlov’s dog. Each day as the clock struck 5pm, as if on autopilot, I found myself opening the fridge and a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. And, most nights, I couldn’t stop drinking until the bottle was finished.

Am I an alcoholic?

I grappled hard with the question “am I an alcoholic?”. I didn’t fit the usual description and I hadn’t experienced a dramatic rock bottom. But I couldn’t deny the red flags. I began researching about alcohol and addiction and I found that almost everything I thought I knew about these subjects was wrong.

I’d previously lumped drinkers into 2 categories: normal drinkers and alcoholics. I thought because I hadn’t crossed some imaginary line (like drinking in the morning or losing a job due to drinking), that I couldn’t have a problem.

The grey-area drinker

Turns out, it’s not as simple as that because addiction isn’t black and white. There’s a spectrum of problematic alcohol use ranging from abuse to addiction to physical dependence. I realized that most drinkers don’t fall into the extremes of black and white. Most of us sit somewhere in the vast grey-area in between.

I also learned that alcohol abuse is a pre-cursor to addiction, and addiction is progressive. I pictured myself in 5 years’ time with progressed drinking habits, and I didn’t like what I saw. I realized that “am I an alcoholic?” isn’t a helpful question, the better question is “would my life be better if I didn’t drink?”.

My 10 Red Flags

If you’re quietly concerned about your own drinking, I invite you to read through my Red Flags and see if you relate. Arguably, the more Red Flags you identify with, the less healthy your relationship with alcohol has become.

1. You set drinking rules but never seem able to stick to them

You tell yourself you’re only going to have X number of drinks, but never seem able to stick to that number. Or that you won’t drink Monday to Thursday but find yourself drinking on Wednesday.

2. Your tolerance for alcohol is growing

Do you find you have to drink more now compared to 1, 2, 5 years ago to get the buzz you’re after? Can you drink others of a similar weight under the table?

3. You feel you need to drink before events where alcohol will be served

Do you need to drink before events where alcohol will be served? I did. If I had 2 drinks beforehand, I could have 2 or 3 at the event (like a “normal drinker”) yet still clock 4 or 5 drinks – the amount I really wanted.

4. You use alcohol to make everyday tasks more enjoyable

Do you drink to jazz up everyday tasks like helping your kids with their homework, doing household admin or watching TV?

5. You regularly drink multiple drinks alone

Having 1 drink to unwind on your own is one thing. But 2, 3 or 4 drinks alone? That’s another. Why are you drinking so much alone? To numb? To escape? To forget? When you drink like this, you’re likely self-medicating.

6. You get memory loss and blackouts

Do you wake up wondering how you got home? Piecing together the last few hours of a big night? Do you sometimes black out completely – not remembering anything past a certain point in the night?

7. You’re getting sneaky

Do you find yourself consciously trying to hide your drinking in some way? Maybe you give your glass a secret top-up when the others are out of the kitchen or you pretend to have your first drink when you’ve already had one? Do you lie when asked about how much you drink?

8. You think about drinking a lot (even when you’re not drinking)

Do you think about drinking obsessively? Counting down the hours until your first drink? Mentally beating yourself up over how much you drank last night and scheming about how you’ll drink less moving forward?

9. Your priorities are changing

You might still be meeting all your responsibilities, but if you’re foregoing previously enjoyable activities or hobbies in favour of drinking, you may have a problem. For example, I stopped exercising in the evenings because it interfered with my drinking time.

10.There’s a history of alcoholism in your family

Having a parent or grandparent with a drinking problem means you’re genetically more pre-disposed to addiction than the next. This means you need to be extra cautious if you don’t want history to repeat itself.

Thinking about quitting?

There’s a huge shift happening right now. Thousands of people are waking up to the reality that alcohol isn’t the elixir of life. We’re figuring out that the world’s most beloved drug, is in fact, just that. A drug. A highly addictive, carcinogenic and toxic drug that we can choose not to consume. Just as we chose to quit smoking when we learned the truth about cigarettes.

If you feel that your life would be better if you didn’t drink, what are you waiting for? Don’t be ashamed to want more out of life and to stand apart from the crowd if that’s what’s best for you. Some people might not understand or support your decision, but eventually you’ll find that you’re an inspiration to others.

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