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Do I have a problem with alcohol?

Many people at some point in their lives will ask themselves this difficult question, and this has become a particularly common concern in recent years. In a post-pandemic world, it can be difficult to determine what is “normal” when it comes to drinking alcohol.  Recent research studies indicate 25% of people reported an increase in alcohol use during the pandemic, and alcohol sales increased more during the pandemic than they had in the previous 50 years. Increased stress, worry, social isolation, and boredom were among the most important factors accounting for these increases (National Institutes of Health, July 2023). 

Consider Tammy, a 38-year-old mother of two who works full-time as an elementary school teacher. At the beginning of the pandemic, Tammy began drinking a glass of wine on Friday and Saturday evenings to unwind from long, stressful work weeks. She gradually increased her use to two glasses each weekend evening, considering it a reward for getting through yet another week of on-line learning and parenting. When Tammy and her children returned to in-person learning she noticed she would often think about wine during the day, counting down the hours and minutes until she could have a glass with dinner. Tammy was mildly concerned about  her increase to daily drinking, but told herself it was only one glass of wine to relax in the evenings. Now, two years later, Tammy finds it’s more difficult than she ever expected to get through the evening without a couple of glasses of wine. She feels anxious if she thinks she won’t make it to the store before it closes, and she is irritated that she continues to spend money on wine when she tells herself each week she will cut down. She feels increasingly embarrassed and ashamed, asking herself, “Am I an alcoholic?”.

 If anything about Tammy’s story hits home and you’ve been thinking about making a change, here are some ideas to get started:

1. Consider the full context of your alcohol use.

When do you crave alcohol? What is happening when you drink? Asking these questions can help to answer the understandable and valid reasons why you drink. Does it help you to relax faster? Does it make social gatherings less anxiety provoking? Does it help quiet your worries and stressful thoughts?

2. Why change now?

What seems important about changing now? Is alcohol impacting your health? Your relationships? Your goals? What do you hope would change if your relationship with alcohol were different?

3. Clarify your long-term goal.

Imagine your ideal self five years from now. How often would you drink alcohol? How much would you drink? Under what circumstances?

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4. Find the wiggle room now.

What can you do now to get closer to your long-term goal? Could three glasses of wine become two? Could you wait a bit longer to have a first drink? Could you limit alcohol use to certain days of the week, or remove extra alcohol from the house?

Talking to friends about alcohol problem

5. Be compassionate with yourself.

Change is tough. Resist the urge to criticize yourself. Instead, speak to yourself as you would to a close friend and remind yourself why this change was important to you.

6. Monitor your progress.

Imagine your ideal self five years from now. How often would you drink alcohol? How much would you drink? Under what circumstances?

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7. Reward yourself at regular intervals

This may seem unnecessary or silly, but small rewards go a long way toward maintaining motivation and building self-efficacy. Don’t be afraid to change the reward as you go, adjusting it to keep it relevant and meaningful.

8. Cultivate support.

Accountability helps initiate and maintain change. A support system can provide a different perspective on your situation and your progress. Consider talking to someone close to you about your goal or seeking professional support. 

Alcoholic in therapy

If you’ve been considering taking a closer look at your relationship with alcohol, or would like to talk with someone about where to start, please consider reaching out to us at The Mindful Living Centre.

Thumbnail headshot of Abid Azam

Dr. Anya Moon

Director of Clinical Training

Please note: this article is for informational purposes only, and is not intended as a substitute for therapy or advice from a qualified professional.