Sorting out if you are drinking too much can be complicated. You are unique and your relationship with alcohol is unique. No one has the same combination of life experiences and influences that you do. So even though you and your friend may choose to drink, how and why you use alcohol may be different.
Those of us who drink, seek benefits from alcohol, not difficulties. But sometimes we start using more, and more often, than makes sense. As a general rule, drinking alcohol becomes a problem when it negatively affects our life or the lives of others. Many people imagine this refers to people who consume alcohol “all day every day.” But even drinking too much on a single occasion can lead to a problem, for instance making a poor decision such as driving while impaired.
What’s also important to recognize is the potential for negative consequences related to drinking in various contexts (i.e., places, times and activities) and over time (e.g., coping with chronic problems). You can get personalized feedback related to your pattern of drinking as compared to Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines via the Alcohol Reality Check screening app. This short, simple screen can be used by people of all ages.
All alcohol use involves some risk. The reasons people use alcohol can influence their risk of developing problems. For instance, if a person uses alcohol to enhance special celebrations, only occasional social use may follow. But when a person drinks to cope with a long-term problem such as social anxiety, then more long lasting and intense use may follow.
By reflecting on your pattern of drinking you can manage your risk for immediate injury or death, your chances for long-term health consequences such as cancer or heart disease, and your risk of developing habitual patterns of drinking that may lead to these harms.
Whenever you decide to drink alcohol, it is helpful to know what steps you can take to ensure that your drinking behaviour is the most rewarding and least harmful possible. The following are some useful guidelines to consider.
Not too much. Managing how much you drink on a given occasion helps decrease risky behaviours.
Tip: Drink slowly and alternate between non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages.
Not too often. Drinking in moderation helps to reduce harms to ourselves and others over time.
Tip: Keep less alcohol at home and set limits on how much you are going to drink each week, avoiding drinking on some days.
Only in safe contexts. Making informed decisions about where you drink helps to minimize alcohol-related harm.
Tip: If going to a bar, stay with a group and choose an establishment that is well lit and near safe transportation options.
For information on treatment options and resources throughout BC, call the Alcohol and Drug Information Referral Service at 1-800-663-1441. In Greater Vancouver, call 604-660-9382.
To better understand how substances play a role in your life, visit the You and Substance Use workbook on the HeretoHelp website.
About the author
The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, formerly CARBC, is a member of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information. The institute is dedicated to the study of substance use in support of community-wide efforts aimed at providing all people with access to healthier lives, whether using substances or not. For more, visit www.cisur.ca.
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