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Ask A Therapist: How Can You Tell If Your Drinking is Actually A Problem?

Personal Growth, Crisis, Ask a Therapist
4 min read

Dear Therapist: How do you know if you have a drinking "problem"? Like what's the difference between active ‘social drinking’ vs ‘problem drinking’?

Frame Community Therapist Maribel Dugas weighs in…
Ok so who doesn’t want to unwind with a glass of wine or something now and then.  I think for many of us we use alcohol to socialize, unwind, and relax.  It can reduce our social anxiety and help us to take the edge off.  With all this, many people turn to a drink for self-soothing purposes and in the short term it can help.  But let’s face it, it can be a slippery slope and sometimes before we realize it, we can go down a rabbit hole when our drinking becomes problematic. 

First of all, it is important to understand the prevalence of alcohol abuse, according to SAMHSA’s website (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) in 2020 44.4% of current drinkers were classified as binge drinkers and 12.8% of current drinkers were classified as heavy drinkers.

Alcohol can be used as a tool for “self-soothing”.   In the short term it can help people to relax and “forget” about things that might be happening in our lives.  But prolonged/ excessive use of alcohol can impact your liver functioning, your mood, your metabolism, and your ability to “cope” without relying on alcohol.

Something that starts out relatively innocuous and helpful initially could turn into something that causes more problems down the line.  So how do we know when we should start to consider addressing how much we are drinking?  There are a variety of screening tools available to therapists to help us determine when alcohol or substance abuse is a problem.  Some examples of the considerations that will help us determine that include the following:

  •         Has someone close to you mentioned the drinking as problematic?
  •         Does alcoholism run in your family?
  •         Do I tend to have addictive tendencies?
  •         Does drinking impact your relationships, work, your health, or your ability to fulfill your obligations?
  •         Has my tolerance for alcohol increased to where it takes much more for me to feel “buzzed”?
  •         Is the drinking contributing to you making choices that you would not otherwise make, increased risky behaviors etc.
  •         Is drinking affecting your emotional stability?

These are some things to consider if you are wondering to what extent your drinking is impacting your life.  So now what if it is?  What do you do now?

First of all, recognize that you are not alone, we all have our struggles and the first step is to recognize that we have a problem and be willing to address it.  A tried-and-true intervention for alcohol abuse is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  The website to find out more is You can reach out to a therapist in your area to address the underlying triggers to your drinking so that through your healing, the need to drink diminishes.  The goal would be to transition from “self-soothing” coping strategies to “self-care” and figuring out healthier and more adaptive ways to address our pain and problems.

About the author: Maribel Munguia Dugas, LCSW, CIMHP provides individual counseling in Granada Hills (the Los Angeles area) and is certified in incorporating holistic lifestyle and functional medicine principles into symptom reduction and healing. Learn more, or get in touch by viewing Maribel's Frame profile here. 

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