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When Is Drinking Too Much Drinking?

Is There a Drinking Problem?

Drinking alcohol is very prevalent in our culture, and unfortunately, so is its overuse making unhealthy or excessive drinking difficult to recognize.  What is too much?  Instead of trying to create a rigid and arbitrary standard based on numbers of drinks in a setting or days you drink out of the week, I think the better question to ask is, “Is my drinking harming me?”.  I’d be hard pressed to find people who would say it’s good to harm themselves.  So, I’m going to get away from numbers and look at effects.  Here is a very reliable self assessments to help determine whether you or someone you care about is engaging in unhealthy drinking behaviors .

MAST (Michagan Alcoholism Screening Test) Assessment

The biggest problem I encounter as a San Diego therapist while working with people who have an alcohol problem is their resistance to recognizing the problem.  Usually, people who engage in harmful drinking are the last persons to admit they drink too much.  As the old saying goes, they have to “hit bottom” before they are ready to address their relationship with alcohol.  Responses are usually, “I have a job”, “I haven’t gone to jail”, “I don’t drink every day”, “I don’t drink alone”, etc.  People don’t get destitute overnight and their drinking patterns often are in place for years before it’s glaringly obvious someone is an alcoholic.  My hope is to intercept that cycle and have the person in question recognize their unhealthy drinking much earlier in order to avoid a lot of pain and hardship.  Usually, friends and family start worrying and seeing a “problem”, and their significant other starts to notice a “sober partner” they enjoy and a “drinking partner” they start to dread.  Friends of the alcoholic start pulling back and the drinker is left with friends just as steeped in an alcohol problem as they are so nobody will be present to confront them about their behavior.

Ways to Approach a Drinking Problem

What does someone do if they determine they have problematic drinking behaviors?  There are several routes.  AA is a popular program and is free and available to everyone.  While it is the most popular program, many people do not want to participate in it and don’t’ like its format.  It is good to point out, though, that the 12 step model has the highest rate of success compared to all other recovery models.

The Harm Reduction method is another program and philosophy available which doesn’t press abstinence, but reducing the harm in life from whatever substance the person is overusing.  They believe many people can continue to drink, but must learn how to control their use so as not to bring about harm in their life.  To read more about the Harm Reduction method, click HERE.

Some people go to counseling and address their overuse of alcohol with a therapist.  In my San Diego therapy practice, I have worked with many people overcoming alcohol problems and have seen good success for many.  There are many trained and experienced therapists in San Diego capable of working with people who struggle with alcoholism.

Regardless of a person’s approach to cut out harmful drinking, most people are going to need to do some soul searching.  I’ve never met anyone who drank harmfully “just because”.  There are undoubtedly underlying causes that lead to alcoholism.  It may be depression, family issues, abuse issues, anxiety, poor self esteem, etc.  The list is not short but until someone addresses the underlying cause, they run the risk of reverting back to old drinking behaviors or at best live as a “dry drunk” which means they have removed alcohol from their life, but the alcoholic behaviors and characteristics remain in tact.

Sylvia Flanagan, MFT is a San Diego therapist with a private practice in Mission Valley.  For more information, feel free to call or email her.
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