Months before I actually admitted that I had a drinking problem and needed help, I knew that something was wrong. In the years leading up to recovery, I’d seen my drinking steadily increase and the way I behaved when I drank become more erratic. Yet, I couldn’t admit what I saw, plain as day: I had developed a drinking problem and I was terrified it would soon overtake my life.
Still, like so many, I talked myself out of truly seeing my drinking for what it was and seeking help for it. I reasoned that it wasn’t “that bad.” I told myself my drinking wasn’t like the alcoholics depicted on television and in movies. But the truth is that every person with an drinking problem is different. I was pretty high-functioning (until I wasn’t), and, luckily, I finally sought help before I did things that I couldn’t undo.
But it still took a long time to fully recognize the behaviors that were leading me to drink to the point that I desperately needed help. These are seven ways that I knew my drinking problem had become unmanageable.
1. I Was Drinking to “Relax” or Calm My Anxiety
I grew up in an immigrant family, and drinking was never really a big deal. My parents drank on occasion and, when I was a teen, they’d let me try things in the safety and comfort of my home.
I think that’s why I didn’t feel the need to rebel and drink during high school or college. Sure, I drank in college, but very rarely; I didn’t see the point of wasting my money on a fake ID.
Eventually, when I began to drink, it was for fun and socializing. But as years passed and my career stress and anxiety increased, I started to drink in order to relax. Pretty quickly, I went from drinking to enjoy my time with friends to drinking because I was stressed out and needed to “turn off my brain.” When my drinking became more about avoiding feelings than celebrating, it started to become a problem.
2. I Started to Drink Home Alone More Often Than Not
Many people begin drinking in a social setting. That’s definitely how my story started, too. I started by going to parties in college and socializing or networking in early adulthood. I never had that much, maybe one or two drinks, but would occasionally get drunk with friends and enjoy myself.
But I noticed that my drinking was getting in the way of living my life when I started to drink home alone. A lot. It began innocently enough at first. I’d have friends over for dinner and ask them to bring a bottle of wine. Whatever we didn’t finish during dinner, I would make sure to polish off after they left.
Eventually, I began to buy myself a bottle of wine on the way home from work once in a while. And then it became almost every night of the week.
3. I Spent More Nights Out Partying Than I Cared to Admit
I never felt that my drinking with friends was anything I needed to examine about myself. It was the drinking alone that got to me. Still, turning away from the ways I was medicating myself—and who I was doing it with— was a way for me to frame the way I drank as normal before I sought help.
In reality, after years of drinking “normally” around friends, I started to party more. I went out with anyone I could find, made new friends with people specifically because they wanted to drink a lot too, and had entire weekends where I couldn’t get out of bed because of how hungover I was.
And, eventually, I even began to skip work or show up late because of the partying I had done the night before. After losing my job because of too many days where I’d partied harder than I could handle, I knew I had developed a drinking problem—but yet I still couldn’t stop.
4. I Excused My Behavior Whenever Someone Expressed Concern
As I’ve come to learn about others who drank like me, I thought that how much I really drank was a total secret. I only drank problematically when I was home alone, right? And partying with friends wasn’t a big deal… right?
But people started to comment once in a while. A friend suggested that maybe we shouldn’t order a third round of wine at dinner. Another friend asked me if I was okay after blacking out two weekends in a row. My family was concerned about what was going on with my job. Still, I excused the behavior and pretended like it was a fluke. I wasn’t telling anyone about my drinking at home, so it wasn’t really a big deal. I kept myself fooled for a long time.
Once friends and family began to notice, though, it was harder to ignore what was really going on.
5. I Began to Isolate Myself From My Loved Ones
What happens to a person with an addiction when their friends and family start to express concerns about drinking? Well, for me, it was cause enough to begin to isolate myself. I had already been doing a pretty good job of isolating myself away when drinking at home, but I started to burrow away even more.
It was really easy to do because it was winter, so I simply avoided making any social plans. A lot of my friends were busy with their own stuff, so I justified it by saying that I was busy, too. But busy with what? Really, I was mostly busy drinking and continuing to drink because I was scared of what it would mean if I admitted that all of this drinking was causing me harm.
I was caught in a paradox: Because I was lonely, I drank more; and then I was hungover so I didn’t make any plans with friends so that they wouldn’t see what was really happening. The cycle just continued until it kept spinning out of control.
6. I Didn’t Tell Anyone About My Drinking Problem
Along with isolating myself from my friends and denying that I was struggling with my drinking, I also never told anyone about the things that were hurting and stressing me. This actually began long before my drinking became problematic.
I started to notice that, although I was sharing some of the stresses of my life with my friends, I wasn’t opening up about the things that were truly worrying me—like my very stressful job. Instead of relying on my loved ones for support like I used to, I started to rely on alcohol. This caused me to isolate and made me want to drink in order to quell my anxiety.
I wasn’t able to be honest about my problems and how I was suffering.
7. I Couldn’t Fall Asleep Without a “Nightcap”
Ultimately, I knew that I could no longer control my drinking when I couldn’t do something as simple as fall asleep without alcohol. My dependency had gotten to the point that I preferred blacking out from alcohol—my “nightcap” was never just one drink—to falling asleep normally.
The alcohol never kept me asleep for very long, though, and I’d often wake up in the middle of the night and have another. And another. And another, until I was blacked out again.
It became a vicious cycle that I didn’t know how to get out of on my own. It wasn’t until I sought help, and went to rehab, that I recognized how unmanageable this behavior had become. A nightcap, when you depend on it to fall asleep, is never easy or fun. When it became something I desperately needed, I knew my drinking had become a serious issue.
When it came down to my drinking problem, I knew I needed help long before I was ready to admit it. And I know that I am not alone in feeling this. For many of us, questions of “am I drinking too much?” arise weeks and months and sometimes years before we utter the words “I am an alcoholic” (or whatever language is or isn’t part of your recovery).
I wish I had known back then, when I isolated myself with yet another bottle of wine after work, what I know now about how slowly alcohol issues can creep up. I can’t help but wonder sometimes: If I had spoken up earlier, if I had recognized these signs sooner, would I have been able to avoid some of the repercussions I faced due to my drinking? I can’t know that, but what I can do is take those lessons into the future. Isolating myself and ignoring my issues is no longer an option, just as drinking is no longer an option for me. Today, if I am feeling extra stress or anxiety, I make sure to share that with my partner or a close friend. And I don’t use.