April is Alcohol Awareness Month 

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Are you enjoying alcohol socially or crossing the line?

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, which means many organizations across the nation increase their already significant efforts to educate the public and raise cognizance about alcoholism, its causes, effects, and proper treatment.

Studies have shown that large groups of people believe their drinking is solely social. Research shows that in many cases, social drinking is used as a crutch. 

Professionals under excess stress, such as police officers, have been studied and correlations found between the stress of fitting in socially with coworkers and drinking.

We also know that college drinking can be disastrous for young students away on their journey to a bachelor’s degree. Researchers found that one of four motives for college drinking was the need to conform to social norms.

According to a report published in the academic journal JAMA Psychiatry, almost 33% of adult Americans suffer from an alcohol abuse disorder at some point in their lives. Out of that one-third of Americans, only 20% seek professional help. 

The CDC has also published fact sheets stating that the number of lives lost to alcohol was around 88,000 per year from 2006-2010.

So how do you assess when your drinking is stepping into a danger zone or if your motives for drinking are unhealthy? Washington, D.C Licensed Mental Health Counselor Dr. Joanne Frederick outlines the differences between social and problematic drinking.

Here are five signs that your drinking has become problematic.

1) You feel the need to hide your drinking

Dr. Frederick says, “People who find themselves escalating from social drinking to actual alcoholism attempt to conceal their alcohol consumption from their friends and family.” Dr. Frederick explains that the issue is the cognizance of the drinker that they are taking it to the next level and that those close to them would be alarmed at how much they are drinking.

2) Failing to deliver on your responsibilities

“Alcoholics tend to miss work, meetings, and other responsibilities,” Dr. Joanne Frederick says. “If problematic drinking habits begin in college, students may begin to sacrifice study time and class time in order to recuperate from the previous night’s hangover.” 

3) Not sticking to your limit

Many people set out limits for themselves before going out with friends. “I’ll only have two drinks tonight!’ they profess. However, Dr. Frederick explains that if you can’t stick to your own parameters, you might have binge drinking tendencies. 

“If you are making a deal with yourself and you cannot follow your own rule for the night, you need to observe the reasoning. It might be a case of using alcoholism as a crutch to fit in or have fun. When alcohol becomes a stepping stone for ‘fun’ it becomes a necessity, and this is when you can develop a dependency on it,” she says.

4) Blacking out becomes routine

Blackouts and hangovers happen to everyone at some point. It is part of learning your limits. But if blacking out becomes routine, Dr. Frederick says this might be a sign you are in the red zone for dependency. “If you become nonchalant about repeatedly blacking out throughout the weekend or in extreme cases throughout the week, there is a problem. 

“Modern medicine tells us the effects of constant and consistent episodes of blackouts on your brain can be terrible. If you are dissociating these episodes of memory loss, incoherence, and hangovers from the consequences they can bring down the line it could mean you are trying to numb anxieties or insecurities with alcohol, and you don’t care about the results of such heavy drinking.

5) You need “liquid courage” prior to any new social experience

This is common in college students and recent grads who are trying to navigate the world of adulthood and socializing. “Studies show us that one of the major motives why college students over-drink is the need to fit in. They don’t believe they can do so without alcohol. This is problematic because it creates an urgency for the substance to make friends.”

What to do if you’re not sure you have a problem

Dr. Frederick suggests, “If you are not certain you are an alcoholic, seek the advice of a therapist or counselor. Shadowing an AA meeting and speaking with those who have long-term sobriety can also demystify and destigmatize the notion of seeking help and community.

If you begin to realize that you require more than therapy and counseling to stop drinking, inpatient treatment (rehab) may be the course of action you need to get both the therapy and tools to live a sober life.”

Dr. Joanne Frederick is a licensed professional mental health counselor in Washington, D.C. Find more of her work at www.jflcounseling.org.