Excessive drinking is a public health term that describes participation in any form of short-…
Are You in Denial About Your Drinking?
Despite what many people—young professionals, in particular—may assume, just because you can hold down a job doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem with drinking. This lesson is driven home by the story of Lucy Rocca, a white-collar worker from the U.K. who gradually slipped into heavy drinking while still meeting her responsibilities and didn’t even realize she had a problem until she woke up in the hospital with no idea how she got there. The situation prompted her to realize she had a problem and get help, but many drinkers with similar habits never come to that realization. Rocca’s story illustrates how powerful denial about drinking can be, even if, deep down, you know that your drinking isn’t healthy.
Rocca’s Story—Blackout Drunk, but Still On Time for Work Each Day
Rocca worked for a university as a pre-enrollment officer and saw her regular drinking as “just having a good time.” She says that, “When we went out, nine times out of 10 I would be the drunkest, the one texting or ringing the next morning not remembering how I got home and wondering ‘what happened there.’ For a long time it never even occurred to me that what I was doing was abnormal or dangerous.”
She says that she would regularly go to work with a hangover, but that when she came home each day she’d immediately open a bottle of wine. Thinking back to the extent of her drinking, she comments, “I was probably notching up 150 units a week. That’s terrifying, but it’s not unusual, and even the regular blackouts didn’t stop me.”
Everything changed when she woke up one day in the hospital, with no idea how she got there. She later found out that she’d gone outside for a cigarette and just collapsed. “That was my wakeup call,” she says.
“I know how easy it is to trick yourself that you don’t have a problem with drink. You tell yourself that alcoholics are homeless down-and-outs and that’s not you. You have a good job, a nice home, an expensive car, but it’s often just a bit of a mask.”
She got help and made a positive change. After starting up Soberistas, she began hearing stories from women going through similar things—like moms who wait for their kids to go to bed before opening a bottle of wine every night—and the social network gained a huge following. She eventually quit her job and started writing self-help books for people in situations just like hers.
She says, “Pretty much overnight my life changed. While I still go out for meals with friends, it tends to be earlier in the evening and I realized that I not only didn’t like the person I was when I drank, but it wasn’t the real me.”
Young Professionals and Alcoholism
Rocca’s story is an example of a much more widespread issue, in Britain and across the world. In Britain, research shows that almost half of all young professionals say they think it’s acceptable to regularly get drunk on nights out, compared to just over a fifth of the overall population. Over a third of 18- to 24-year-olds said they get so drunk that they can’t remember most of their night out, and just under a fifth said they couldn’t remember how they got home on many occasions. However, the problem isn’t just with young people. Almost a quarter of those aged 35 to 54 saying that they drink alone at home, primarily to relieve stress or relax.
Similar evidence from the U.S. shows that young adults are more likely to both binge drink and drink heavily, and that—despite the reputation of college students for excessive drinking—non-college students are actually more likely to drink every day than college students, with 3.7 percent of college students and 4.5 percent of non-college students reporting daily drinking. Students drink more when they do drink, but non-students drink more regularly.
Are You in Denial About Your Drinking?
The crucial lesson from Rocca’s story is that even if you can attend work each day and keep up with your daily responsibilities, you could still have a problem with alcohol. This is especially true if, like Rocca, you regularly drink to excess and black out during the night, not remembering the majority of what happened. If you find yourself having a drink every day, pretty much as soon as you make it home or otherwise as soon as you have the opportunity, it’s important to ask yourself what’s driving your drinking. Is it really “no problem,” or are you using alcohol as a crutch to help you cope with stress, depression or other issues? Do you struggle to stop drinking once you’ve gotten started?
Other signs of alcoholism in “high-functioning” drinkers include insomnia, shakiness and paranoia, calling in sick at work regularly or missing deadlines, struggling to focus on tasks and skipping social events you’d otherwise attend. It might not be easy to admit to yourself, but thinking hard about whether you drink when it suits your lifestyle or whether you adjust your lifestyle to make room for your drinking—along with these other signs—should give you a good idea of whether you have a problem.
Changing Your Life for the Better
It might not feel like it, but identifying when you have a problem and taking steps to rectify it can really improve your life. Rocca sees her decision as a positive move, even when she finds herself in social situations where most people are drinking.
She says, “A lot of people ask, have I ever thought about having just one glass of wine at Christmas or special occasions, but the truth is I haven’t. Partly that’s because I don’t think I could ever have just one drink, but it’s more than that. I have a better life without alcohol than I ever did with it.”