These are stressful times.
The pandemic, the summer of protests, and a divisive national election have most of us on edge. Most of us wish we could go back to a time before all this started.
But we know that’s an irrational wish.
We know the only way out is through. We have to get through the pandemic, define a sustainable relationship to the social upheaval in our country, and as far as the election, well. All we can do is choose our candidate and cast a vote that reflects our beliefs.
That’s the balanced approach.
However, we also need to realize that all this stress and uncertainty – combined with the effects of isolation and social distancing – might push some people off balance. It might lead to excessive drinking, binge drinking, or alcohol addiction, a.k.a. alcohol use disorder.
We’re being realistic: many people handle stress and anxiety by self-medicating with alcohol.
That can work for short period of time, but eventually, heavy drinking takes its toll. It causes physical damage to the body and brain. It causes emotional and psychological damage to the person drinking and their friends and loved ones. Heavy drinking also degrades friendships and primary family relationships.
If you’re worried a friend or loved one is drinking too much, here are the top five things to watch for:
Five Signs a Loved One is Drinking Too Much
1. Lying and Hiding
People who drink too much usually know it – but won’t admit it to anyone. To keep from facing the facts themselves, and to avoid uncomfortable conversations about drinking, they may lie about how much they drink and hide the fact they drink at all. If you raise the subject with them, they may deny they’ve been drinking, even when you know they have been, because you witnessed it. This is a red flag. Another red flag is finding empty bottles in strange places: in the closet, under the bed, or anywhere they don’t belong.
2. Impaired Work or School Performance
If a loved one suddenly has problems at work or school, such as not showing up for work or a rapid drop in grades, then alcohol might be the cause. Intoxication and hangovers both negatively affect cognitive function. Impaired cognitive function may result in poor work or school achievement, and may also result in prioritizing alcohol over work or school: in both cases, both work and school suffer.
3. Withdrawal, Family, Friends, and Favorite Activities
When a person with an alcohol use disorder is in active addiction, they may not want to do anything but drink. They may stop participating in activities they used to love. They may stop socializing with friends or stop spending time with family. These are red flags for excessive alcohol consumption, and may indicate alcohol addiction.
4. Anger, Irritability, or Moodiness
If a loved one displays extremes of emotion that are unusual for them, it may be a sign of stress, or it may be a symptom of a developing addiction and/or escalating alcohol use. Anger or lashing out can be a symptom of intoxication, or it can be a symptom of withdrawal. The same is true for excessive sadness or anxiety. They may be signs of excess drinking, or they may be a sign that someone who drinks too much is going into alcohol withdrawal. Both are red flags for excess alcohol consumption.
5. Risky Behavior
Impaired cognitive function due to intoxication or long-term alcohol use can cause people to engage in unsafe behavior. This may mean drinking and driving, it may mean disobeying social distancing rules or stay-at-home orders, or it may mean experimenting with drugs or practicing unsafe sex. All are dangerous, and all may indicate that drinking is becoming a problem.
If you think a friend or loved one needs help with problem drinking, it’s important to know that treatment works. The sooner they get treatment and support, the better their chance of achieving and maintaining sustained sobriety.