At the end of a long, stressful day, it might feel natural to reach for a beer or a glass of wine. After all, many people like to let loose and relax with a drink in hand. But at what point does this casual, happy-go-lucky drinking drift towards something a little unhealthy?
Overall, social drinking is typically considered low-risk, as long as you’re imbibing in “moderation.” “People and societies might define ‘social drinking’ very differently, but generally it means drinking within a set of social norms and in a way that does not put someone at risk,” Sheila Specker, M.D., associate professor and addiction psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Minnesota, tells SELF.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sets these limits to no more than one drink per day for people assigned female at birth and no more than two drinks a day for people assigned male at birth, per the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Everyone’s personal relationship with alcohol is a bit different, but in general, when your booze intake starts to exceed these guidelines, then your drinking may start to skew into risky territory—and this can happen more slowly and discreetly than you might realize. “It can creep up on people and that’s the insidious nature of it,” John Kelly, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry in addiction medicine at Harvard Medical School and founder and director of the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells SELF. “People don’t realize they’re running into a problem with drinking until they cross the line into compulsive behavior.”
They can be hard to spot if you’re not looking, but certain warning signs signal a greater drinking problem. Here are the red flags to keep an eye out for—and what to do if you think you or someone you know might need help.
1. People close to you are concerned about your drinking.
Having a friend, family member, or even a colleague confront you about your drinking is one of the first major signs of alcohol misuse. “If you’re finding that people are starting to say things like, ‘I notice you drink a lot,’ or ‘You’re drunk again?’ or there’s concern expressed from those close to you, that’s usually an early warning sign,” Dr. Kelly says.
If you’re approached about your behavior around booze, then it’s likely already interfering with your daily life in a negative way, even if you haven’t realized or accepted it yet. For example, if you tend to get into arguments with your friends or family members when you’ve had one too many cocktails—say, you start losing your temper more easily over something that wouldn’t normally bother you—then you may want to consider how your alcohol consumption is playing a role in those conflicts, Dr. Kelly explains. Another crucial thing to consider: If your loved ones seem worried and you still want to continue drinking or feel like you can’t stop even if you think their fears are valid, that’s a sign your habit is veering toward an alcohol use disorder, according to the American Addiction Centers.
2. You’re starting to worry about your drinking habits, too.
If you start to worry about how much you’re drinking and how it’s affecting your life, then that’s another pretty good sign that something isn’t right. Do questions like ‘Am I drinking too much?’ or ‘When was the last time I went without drinking?’ cross your mind? If so, it’s really important to think about your answers. If you respond with, “Yes, probably” or “I can’t remember,” that’s a major red flag.
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