4 Red Flags That May Indicate You Have a Problem with Alcohol

By Beth Leipholtz 02/07/18

Our drinking often hurts the people we care about. If we acknowledge it soon enough, these relationships are probably salvageable.

Woman with head down, holding drink
The warning signs are usually there, it's often just a matter of whether you heed them or not.

It’s very rare that someone in recovery looks back at their time spent drinking and can say there were no red flags indicating that they had a problem or were headed down a slippery slope. The truth is that when these red flags present themselves, you may prefer to look the other way or make excuses. Acknowledging such red flags may mean finally admitting you have a problem with drinking, which can be scary and confusing. It may seem easier to continue denying that problem exists. But eventually, writing off those red flags will likely catch up with you.

Rather than prolong the inevitable, you may find that it helps to start paying attention to the warning signs that come up in your life and determine what they may mean about your drinking habits. There are numerous red flags I wish I had paid more attention to when I was drinking, and I think they’re fairly common ones. Here are just a few.

  1. You often black out while drinking. Despite what you tell yourself, blacking out while drinking is not normal. For those who are unaware, blacking out means that there are periods of time while you were under the influence that you cannot recall. This is because your ability to create new memories is affected when you drink too much alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “These periods of amnesia are primarily ‘anterograde,’ meaning that alcohol impairs the ability to form new memories while the person is intoxicated, but does not typically erase memories formed before intoxication.” When I was drinking, I often blacked out or had significant periods of the night I could not recall. I always told myself it would not happen again, yet it always did. Blacking out frequently indicates that you are drinking heavily and past the point of what your body can handle. In short, blackouts may be a sign that you cannot moderate your drinking.

  1. You tell yourself you're only going to have ___ drinks, but never seem able to stick to that number. Setting limits is often one of the first steps people take when working to moderate their drinking, either because a) someone implied they may have a problem or b) because they’ve begun to realize it on their own and want to convince themselves they can cut back if they try. In my experience, this usually doesn’t work. I often told myself I would go out and only have one or two drinks, but after those one or two I lost the ability to say no to additional drinks. This isn’t an issue for normal drinkers. Such people are able to stick to a single drink without craving more. They likely do not have to set limits for themselves. If you find yourself setting limits and failing to keep them, it may be time to take a step back and fully consider why your drinking behavior does not seem to be under your control.

  1. You often find yourself in conflict with friends and/or family over your drinking habits. This was perhaps the biggest red flag of all for me, and the one I most often ignored or made into the other person’s problem. In retrospect, my friends and family had every right to be upset with me and concerned about me. If someone you love confronts you about your drinking, either in a concerned or angry manner, it may be time to do some thinking. If the way you drink often leads to verbal or physical disagreements with the people you care about, there is likely a problem. As people who care about you, it’s not easy for your friends and family to see how drinking affects you. It’s likely even harder for them to actually bring up the issue to you. So if they make the effort to do so, it’s probably something they have given a good amount of thought to. Rather than become defensive or confrontational, try to stop and consider whether their points are valid and what that could mean for you. Really try to look at it from their point of view. Our drinking often hurts the people we care about. If we acknowledge it soon enough, these relationships are probably salvageable. But the more time that passes and the more tension that arises, the less likely these things can be repaired. Pay attention to the signs your loved ones are giving you.

  1. You don’t feel like you can enjoy events without alcohol. When I was drinking, I often dreaded events where there wouldn’t be alcohol. As such, I often drank beforehand, snuck in my own alcohol, or kept a bottle in the trunk of my car. More often than not, I didn’t do so subtly. If you think you need alcohol in order to have fun and let loose, you should stop and consider why this may be. For me, it was because I felt that alcohol made me a more enjoyable person and it eased any social anxiety I may have faced without it. It made it easy to talk to people and make new friends. But relying on alcohol for that was not healthy, and deep down I knew that. Alcohol should not be the motivating factor to attend an event. You should want to attend because you’ll like the company or because it’s something you’re interested in. If you find yourself thinking about whether there will be alcohol before you think about any other aspect of the event, I encourage you to step back and think about why that is your first thought and what that could potentially mean about your relationship with alcohol.

While everyone’s rock bottom is different, the truth is that many of the red flags are the same. If you find yourself ignoring, brushing aside or making excuses for the red flags that do pop up as a result of drinking, it’s time to do some true self-examination when it comes to your relationship with alcohol. In retrospect, you’ll be glad you paid attention to the signs.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.