How to Tell if You Have a Drinking Problem

It’s Way Easier Than You Think

My life so far has been lived soaking wet; years spent drenched in alcohol. The first time I drank alcohol I was about nine years old. I vividly remember my father handing me his beer to have a taste. Nothing about this seems unusual — children are curious and parents are willing to comply I suppose. The first time I got drunk I was fifteen. Like any good suburban girl, I drank Mike’s Hard Lemonade in a friend’s basement while her parents burnt the midnight oil drinking their own spirits above us.

During the years I spent galavanting through New York City, partying, touring with musicians, and frankly being completely unmoored, I wore my ability to drink a fifth of tequila like a badge of honor. Drunk and hot from the liquor coursing through me, I would wax on with pride about my Irish genetics. Cause what’s more original than a drunk pseudo-Irish person bragging about their ability to poison themselves at a faster rate than anyone else around?

So, after all that, I find myself wondering (and perhaps you are too) — how do I know if I have a drinking problem? Turns out, it’s actually quite simple:

  • People who don’t have a drinking problem, probably wouldn’t be asking themselves this question.
  • If you spend any significant time thinking about whether or not you are drinking too much — you probably have a drinking problem. If you are frightfully aware of your pace of drinking as compared to your friends while you’re out — you probably have a drinking problem. If you regret drinking in the morning — you probably have a drinking problem.
  • If the thought of not drinking makes your entire body constrict, causes anxiety to course through you, or otherwise makes you feel like your entire life would fall apart — you probably have a drinking problem.

That’s basically it. Or at least it’s what I know to be true at this moment. We are sold a drinking problem-binary. You are either the Social-Acceptable Drinker — who has absolutely no dependency on alcohol and would never even think to question your drinking habits. Or you are the Town Drunkard — who frequently wakes up in questionable situations, with puke on your shirt, and random men next to you, and 55 missed calls, and your family doesn’t speak to you. But if we’ve learned anything about binaries, we know that they are restrictive, inaccurate, and do not even begin to capture the human experience. So why would drinking be any different?

You don’t need to be in the process of ruining your whole life to realize you have a drinking problem. You may be a most-of-the-time functioning adult with a good job and rich social life and still have a drinking problem. In fact, that job and those friends may very well be built up around your drinking habits.

All things considered though, I am the last person to take sobriety advice from. For many reasons, but mostly because I am not sober, and I don’t even know if I ever want to be completely sober. I drink regularly. By regularly I mean once or twice a week, which is less than I used to, but more than I want to. I often wake up after drinking and regret it, even when I feel fine and nothing of note happens. However, if I’m being completely honest, drinking feels utterly out of sync with my values and sense of Self. But so does eating seafood and I’m still doing that. I’m a work in progress. So, take it or leave it.

What I do know, is that my desire to continue consuming alcohol (read: poisonous ethanol) is born of my desire to have a moment, to have rest, to let go. Because the world demands a great deal from me — that I am put together, charming but not too flirty, appealing but not too sexual; that I do the laundry and the dishes and my hair and make sure no one ever knows just how much coordination and planning is put into this full-time job that is being a human woman in a world that is without guard rails nor substantial support.

This desire for a moment is the exact same reason I smoked cigarettes for so many years. Because when life hurt or bleed or boasted — I wanted to stand moodily by the window and add smoke to the wind. I wanted to romanticize my life. The truth is — there’s nothing romantic about being drunk or smoking cigarettes. It is, at times, fun. But perhaps that’s only because those of us who have been raised as women haven’t been given a permission slip for all the other sorts of play and fun that could be had. After all, play requires that you let your guard down, that you disregard any desire to look good or reasonable (which is to disregard everything society tells us we must be) — play demands vulnerability.

And so we drink alcohol. For fun. Because we are freely handed a permission slip to have fun within the confines of drinking culture — we are supposed to be able to consume it and enjoy it, and we are never supposed to be alcoholics. Unlike any other drug, we are expected to be able to use this one in moderation. Most of the time, I feel like I do. But the amount of constant vigilance it requires is proof alone that I’d be better off without it, never tempted to tangle with it in the first place.

The sheer amount of mental space that is required to be constantly cautious of this slippery slope, would likely be better used elsewhere. No, I know it would be better used on all the other thoughts and feelings and problems I have. Drinking is not my liberation, as the alcohol industry would have me believe. Spending a night out drinking dismantles my liberation — my decision-making, my reaction time, my standards, my values, and my voice. How do I know if I have a drinking problem? It’s easy — I think about it. I ask myself the question. I see clearly that drinking lessens my voice, values, and vitality. What I do with that capital-K Knowing is up to me.

Pastimes include playing with words, using my passport, and eating croissants. A writer of all things gender, culture, and travel.