Are You Hiding Behind Your Weekend Drinking Problem?

So maybe you overdo it from time to time -- okay, a lot of the time, but you only drink on the weekends and an occasional weekday, so it’s no problem, right? Just because you don’t drink everyday doesn’t mean you’re safe from alcohol dependence and addiction. In fact, if you’re over the recommendations for moderate drinking -- no more than seven drinks a week for women and 14 drinks a week for men -- you’ve crossed the line into heavy drinking or binge drinking. Of the 136 million Americans who use alcohol, more than 47% are binge drinkers according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Are you one of them? Here’s some warning signs.

#1 You Have Trouble Remembering Details

Do you sometimes find yourself nodding absentmindedly when people reference conversations or events that happened while you were weekend drinking? That’s a blackout, and about half of drinkers experience them according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Research shows that the severity of blackouts may vary by people’s individual make-up and that these alcohol-induced memory lapses can jumpstart long-term neurobiological abnormalities and psychiatric symptoms.

#2 You Can’t Quit After a Couple Cocktails

You rarely, if ever have just one drink. What’s the point if you’re not going to get sauced or catch a good, steady buzz? And when you do set out to drink just one or two, four or five drinks later your best intentions seem to always go awry.  Research shows that alcohol abuse may impact neurons in the brain’s reward center that give the “go” signal to consume more after just one drink. This can make it feel near impossible to stick to moderate drinking once the gauntlet -- or rather, goblet -- has been thrown down if you regularly binge drink.

#3 You’re Drowning Your Blues in Booze

Depression and addiction are inextricably linked. Depressed people drink to self-medicate their symptoms and people who abuse alcohol can experience depression due to brain changes brought about by drinking. Furthermore, if you’re taking antidepressants, your binge-drinking behaviors are likely decreasing their effectiveness. Alcohol is a depressant, making your antidepressant work overtime. Mixing weekend drinking and antidepressants like SSRIs may worsen side effects of the medications. Combining alcohol with MAOIs may have health consequences like spikes in blood pressure, putting you at risk for stroke.

#4 You Hide How Much You Drink

Being dishonest about how much you drink is a sure sign of potential alcoholism. Whether dishonesty comes in the form of stashing bottles of alcohol around the house, taking out the trash before your family finds evidence of your binge drinking, lying about the number of drinks you’ve had, or regularly drinking alone to the point of intoxication, take a step back and ask yourself why you feel the need to hide your alcohol use.

#5 You “Pre-Game” or “Pre-Party”

Pre-gaming, pre-partying, pre-loading -- whatever you prefer to call it, drinking before an event can spell trouble. A 2012 study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health found when college students pre-gamed before going out they drank twice as much. They were also more likely to experience alcohol poisoning, hangovers, blackouts, and work and school absences. If you need alcohol to get through a non-alcohol event or you kick back a few before going to an event where you’ll be drinking even more, alcohol is a central character in your life, and not a very healthy one.

#6 You Can’t Quit

Alcoholism is a chronic disease. People who abuse alcohol can develop a psychological and physical dependence on it. Alcoholism changes the brain over time, even sending you into physical withdrawal when you go too long without it. Add a genetic predisposition to alcoholism to the mix and you’re chances of developing an alcohol problem go up by 50%. If you’ve tried to quit or cut back on your own without success, you may have more than a weekend drinking problem, you could be an alcoholic. Like all chronic diseases, addiction requires medical and psychological treatment to get better.

#7 You Take “Drinking Breaks”

These days, a popular trend is to take a month off of alcohol to reassure oneself they’re still in control or attempt to “reset” a mounting alcohol tolerance. While a booze break may seem commendable, if you’re drinking so much you feel the need to take a timeout to “check yourself,” consider re-examining your drinking habits altogether. And while some preliminary research suggests taking a month off from drinking can decrease liver fat by up to 20%, lower blood glucose levels by 16% and blood cholesterol by 5%, these benefits don’t come near to reversing the negative effects of binge-drinking the other 11 months of the year.

#8 You Use Alcohol as a Reward

If you find yourself fantasizing about weekend drinking  during the work or school week, it’s become a concerning preoccupation. Same goes for using alcohol to reward yourself after a stressful day or completing a difficult task. If nothing quite lives up to the prize of a glass of wine, frosty beer, good bottle of scotch -- or all of the above, it’s time to find out why and get help learning healthier ways to reward yourself.

#9 You Keep Upping the Alcohol Ante

It used to take a couple beers for a nice buzz. Then, you moved to three or four beers. Next, you started throwing in a shot of whiskey for good measure -- and that’s just pregaming. If this sounds familiar, you’ve developed a tolerance to alcohol or alcohol dependence. It’s a sign of alcohol abuse.

And a word to the wise, if you think an upside of your tolerance is the ability to still handle everyday tasks like driving while under the influence, think again. Research shows that regular, heavy drinkers show no difference than light drinkers when it came to fine motor skills, short-term memory and cognitive processing while imbibing, but they had confidence that they did -- a lethal combination.

#10 You Think You Have a Problem

If you’re questioning your alcohol use, chances are you’re overdoing it. Any type of behavior you continue to engage in despite negative consequences indicates a problem. If binge-drinking is affecting your work, school, family and social commitments, it’s time to take a closer look. Shame and regret about how much you drink or things you do or say when you drink are also red lights. If you find yourself relating to this blog all too well, it could be time to consider specialized addiction treatment or spending some time in alcohol rehab before your weekend drinking problem gets any worse.

Posted on June 12th, 2018

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