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12 signs you're drinking too much alcohol

Healthy living 10/07/2015

© Getty Drink-related hospital admissions have doubled in the past decade, and a scarily large number of those with alcohol problems don’t realise there’s an issue until their life takes a turn for the worse. Here are some of the warning signs to look out for.

1. Sleep problems

If you regularly experience disrupted sleep after nights out, it’s worth reassessing your alcohol intake. “Problems with sleep - especially staying asleep – are often a complaint for those with alcohol problems,” says Dr Paul McLaren, a consultant psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital.

“This surprises many drinkers because alcohol is often used mistakenly as a sleep aid.” It’s also worth adding that if you can’t face heading to bed without a nightcap, you’re probably drinking too much.

2. Black outs

Most of us have occasional nights when things got a bit hazy, but if it’s a regular occurrence, it might be time to take a closer look at your drinking habits.

When you have a blackout, your ability to store long term memories simply shuts down, but your short term memory (which lasts around two minutes) continues to function.

For this reason, those prone to blackouts will often repeat themselves after a few minutes have passed. Blackouts are more likely to occur when large quantities of alcohol are drunk in a short amount of time – another warning sign that your drinking habits aren’t normal.

"Alcohol is more likely to cause a blackout when it gets into your body, and therefore your brain, fast,” explains Dr. Aaron White at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “It catches the memory circuits off guard and shuts them down. Doing shots or downing beer, and doing it on an empty stomach, gets the alcohol into your bloodstream quickly."

3. Increased tolerance

Can you drink significantly more than you could a year ago? It’s not necessarily something to be proud of.

“Needing more alcohol for the same effect is another key diagnostic for drinking too much,” says Dr Basch. “Additionally, experiencing withdrawal when alcohol is not in one’s system and experiencing relief from withdrawal when alcohol is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal is a warning sign that you’re drinking too much.”

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4. You drink when you’re alone

Drinking should be a social event, and while most of us have experienced stressful days when we’ve arrived home and headed straight for the fridge and a bottle of vino, the majority of your drinking should be done with family and friends. How often do you enjoy a drink when you’re on your own? Do you ever get drunk by yourself? These could all be symptoms of a bigger problem.

5. Use despite harm

Have you fallen out with friends or relatives as a result of your drinking, but haven’t changed your ways? It might be time to seek professional help. If an alcohol-related injury or illness didn’t slow down your drinking, it’s worth taking a closer look at your alcohol consumption.

“The second major diagnostic tool relates to “use despite harm”,” says Dr Basch. “This phrase describes continued alcohol use despite persistent problems due to alcohol in social life, work life or home life.”

6. Time spent drinking

Alcohol should be an enjoyable occasional treat, not something which is a constant presence. “Another warning sign relates to time,” says Dr Gail Basch. “Warning signs are increased amounts of time spent on activities relating to alcohol, obtaining alcohol, using alcohol and recovering from the side effects. 

"It’s also worth looking at how many social, occupational, or recreational activities are sacrificed as a result of alcohol use.”

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7. Decreased sexual performance

Problems in the sack aren’t always caused by alcohol, but those with drinking problems are unlikely to be fully functioning love machines.

“For men, drinking too much alcohol can result in decreased sexual performance in terms of both impotence and premature ejaculation,” says Lloyds Pharmacy pharmacist Alison Freemantle.

“For both men and women, a sign that you’re drinking too much alcohol includes reduced fertility and problems when it comes to conceiving.”

You’re keeping secrets from friends and family

Are your bottles of wine under the bed rather than in fridge? If you feel the need to keep your alcohol stash hidden from prying eyes, think about why this is the case. If your drinking habits are normal, why are you concerned that others will see your bottles of wine? In reality, you’re probably not just hiding those bottles from your nearest and dearest – you’re subconsciously hiding the problem from yourself, too.

9. You experience occasional numbness in your limbs

Numbness in your limbs can be a major physical warning sign, and one that shouldn’t be ignored. “Some lesser known symptoms include numbness, or changes in sensation in the legs and feet, usually on both sides,” says the Priory’s Dr Paul McLaren. “This is because alcohol is a powerful toxin and it damages the fine sensory nerves, causing what we call peripheral neuropathy.”

© Getty 10. Concerned friends

Let’s be honest. Many of us will have, at some point, done something annoying when we’ve had a little too much to drink.

But if your friends are constantly imploring you to cut down on your alcohol intake, perhaps it’s time to start listening. “You should take note if your closest friends and family are expressing major concerns about your drinking,” says Dr Mclaren.

11. You’ve tried to quit

Have you tried to stop drinking a number of times but failed? Most people enjoy an occasional drink, and while coming to the conclusion that your life is better off without alcohol is by no means a bad thing, failing to stop drinking once you’ve made that decision should be a cause for concern.

12. Cravings

We all have those “I could really do with a drink” moments, but if you struggle to go for a few hours without thinking about your next drink, warning lights should certainly be flashing.

“A very strong desire or urge to drink is now considered a diagnostic sign for issues connected with alcohol,” says Dr Gail M Basch, director of the Rush Addiction Medicine Program at the US-based Rush University Medical Centre.

What next?

If you’ve experienced any of the above issues, it’s worth thinking about precisely how much you’re drinking, and if you struggle to cut down or are concerned you might have a serious problem, there’s plenty of help available.

“The best thing to do is simple, and that’s to stop drinking so much alcohol,” says Lloyds Pharmacy pharmacist Alison Freemantle.

“If you feel like the amount you’re drinking is a problem, and the thought of cutting down on your alcohol consumption or giving up completely makes you feel worried or anxious, or you experience any side effects from not drinking like shaking or sweating, speak to your pharmacist or GP about options to help you.”

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