Saturday, 16 June 2018

How do you know when it's time to stop drinking alcohol?

Since I have stopped drinking, it has been fascinating to see the different effect it has had on my friends, family and people I meet.  

The curious - but why don't you drink?

People are very curious as to my motivation for stopping drinking - maybe silently wondering if I was downing vodka with my morning coffee and squirrelling away cans of Special Brew?  However, I also sense that some people are probing or looking for some guidance as to how I knew when enough was enough with my drinking.

Sometimes I suggest people read my 'Goodbye to alcohol letter' that talks about the deterioration of my relationship with drinking and summarises why it was time to stop.  But generally I explain that alcohol was no longer making me feel good, instead it was making me feel depressed and anxious and since I have stopped drinking my mental health has completely changed for the better.  Some people have responded by saying "Oh, please don't tell me you feel amazing now!" - to which my response is "But I do!" - and I mean it.

The supporters - maybe I could stop too...

A lot of people comment on how great I look now and say that I'm a good advertisement for quitting - adding "maybe I should give up too".  I don't say this in a boastful way - I think it's more a reflection of just how shit I had started to look and feel before I stopped.  When I look back at pictures of me from this time last year I feel sad for the me who was wrestling with considerable inner turmoil, whereas now I see a healthy, happy and positive person.

Me one year ago vs. me now
Other people are unbelievably encouraging and frequently tell me how they admire the choice I've made and follow my journey with interest.  I'm sure that some of them will join the sober revolution too in due course.

The justifiers - I drink because...

One of the other things I have noticed when I'm out socialising is that nine times out of ten, someone will come up to me and justify their drinking in some way, as if I am judging them (I promise I'm not) and they need to explain themselves.  They will tell me how they have cut down on their drinking recently or that they don't drink every day or that they aren't drinking a particular drink.  I suppose my stopping drinking has placed the spotlight on their relationship with alcohol and maybe they are worried about what they see.  Or perhaps now that one of the primary binge drinkers has stopped drinking, they feel slightly more conspicuous at the front of the pack.  I know I used to feel quite uncomfortable when any of my drinking buddies quit for a while.

So, how do you know when it's time to stop drinking?

Regardless of whether people are curious as to why I've stopped drinking, supportive of my choice or justifying their own drinking, maybe some of them are experiencing the same underlying anguish that gnawed away at me for a long time.  The feeling that perhaps you are alcohol dependent or an alcoholic or a problem drinker and your life is starting to be affected negatively by alcohol. But then you undertake one of those online 'Are you an alcoholic?' tests and the results are inconclusive.

Since stopping drinking I have read endless academic research and books on alcohol dependency.  I have discovered that problem drinking comes in many different guises and doesn't just fit into the stereotype of the drunk swigging Special Brew for breakfast.  The danger signs can be much less obvious.  They can be as subtle as persistent feelings of guilt after drinking or relying on a few glasses of wine to unwind each night.

Research has shown that 'there is physical dependency - the need to have alcohol to get through day-to-day life physically. Then there is psychological dependency when someone needs alcohol to cope with the everyday issues of life'. In addition 'there is a tipping point after which problem drinkers can no longer moderate their drinking'.  I believe I am fortunate enough to have caught my drinking before I reached the tipping point and before I developed a physical dependency and this has made it relatively easy for me to quit. 

If you are questioning your relationship with alcohol, then it is probably time you started to evaluate your drinking seriously.  It is important to know that being addicted or dependent on alcohol is not black or white, there are so many shades of grey.  Now as I approach 6 months alcohol free, I realise just how negatively my alcohol consumption was affecting every aspect of my life - so much more than I ever realised or had been prepared to admit.  I am so grateful I had the strength and resolve to go against the social norm and stop drinking before I passed over the tipping point and developed a physical dependency.   I believe I am one of the lucky ones who escaped in the nick of time.

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