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Why You Should Know These Warning Signs of Problem Drinking

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Alcohol Dependence » Featured Article

By Jeff Jones LPC, CACIII, DAACS

Jeff Jones LPC, CACIII, DAACS

Maybe you’re not sure if drinking is a problem in your family. Alcohol can be in our lives without it being a problem. But can you tell when it goes from "no problem” to "problem”?

What’s the Cat in the Hat got to do with warning signs of problem drinking?

I remember when the ‘Cat in the Hat’ was at home with the kids when the mom was out. He used the bathtub only to have an unimaginable bathtub ring appear. Do you remember the strategy he used to attempt to remove this bathtub ring? He’d have a "brilliant” idea to remove the bathtub ring, at first the kids were excited with the "brilliant” ideas, but then after each attempt left more of a bathtub ring, the kids got a little more suspicious, concerned, and nervous because their mom may come home and they’d get into trouble. But they went along with it, each time with a little more hesitation.

It’s like the kids saw these warning signs, felt concerned, but because of the fast-talking of the ‘Cat in the Hat’ the kids were hesitant to trust themselves and instead trusted that the ‘Cat in the Hat’ would fix the problem. It’s a funny kids story. But put this logic onto warning signs of problem drinking and the humor wanes.

What’s the point?

  1. The problem will not magically go away like the story of the ‘Cat in the Hat.’

  2. The fast-talking of the ‘Cat in the Hat’ (Problem Drinker) may sway you from trusting your own feelings about warning signs.

  3. You may be so close to the situation that it’s hard to tell if there’s a problem.

  4. It’s important to spot warning signs and take action to solve the problem.

What are the warning signs of problem drinking?

  • Is the drinking causing or exacerbating a persistent or recurring social, work, financial, legal, or health problem?

  • Has the drinker tried to cut down unsuccessfully, or once started drinking he/she sometimes loses control over the amount consumed? (Both are indicators of alcohol dependence).

  • Do they continue drinking when others stop?

  • Do they drink alone?

  • Do they drink before a social engagement?

  • Do they drink to "relax” prior to social engagements?

  • Do they ever drink first thing in the morning as an "eye-opener?”

  • Do you hear statements like, "I can drink a lot without it affecting me”?

  • Do you suspect they use alcohol to cope with life’s problems?

  • Has there been a recent increase in their drinking? (may signal other problem issues).

  • Is there a family history of alcohol abuse?

All of these are warning signs to take seriously. Isolating any one of these alone or as an isolated incident doesn’t signify a problem, however put several of these warning signs together and you have a problem.

From the perspective of a concerned family member:

  • Do you notice a lack of emotional intimacy or connection in the relationship?

  • When you express concern does it lead to arguments?

  • Are you or someone else in the family covering up for the problem drinker?

  • Do you feel controlled by the situation or that your choices have been limited?

Take warning signs seriously!

The sooner you take action to assess a warning sign the better the chances the problem will be resolved. Be the one in the family who reaches out for help to make positive change. Come in for an assessment, reality check, and professional opinion.

Maybe you’ve just been dealing with it and think you’re holding up Okay.

Congratulations! Sounds like you’re connected to your own strength to make positive changes in your family. Realize, if you don’t already, it takes energy and can be draining. What is the cost on your emotions and mental health? What about the cost on the family?

I know the warning signs; I’m just not ready to do anything about it.

Fair enough. Not acting is often rooted in something quite important. The importance could be about a fear – a fear that taking action could lead to something more painful than your current situation. You may well be right; it may need to get worse before it gets better. Even when we think we’re competent and handling it, objective support – Counseling – can support you through the hard parts before it gets better.

You know the drinking is at problem levels but you think you can fix it yourself.

How long have you thought that you can fix the other person’s drinking problem? If this has been going on for a while, I wonder what makes you think that you can still fix this if you’ve been trying for a while and it hasn’t improved. Would outside, confidential feedback be supportive at this time?

Summary

  • Drinking problems will not magically go away.

  • You may be too close to the problem drinker to trust your own feelings about warning signs.

  • Memorize the warning signs to problem drinking.

  • Not acting is often rooted in something quite important.

  • The sooner you take action the better your chances are to resolve the problem.

About the Author...

Jeff Jones is a licensed professional counselor in Lafayette, Colorado.

Last Update: 5/21/2008



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