How much drinking is too much drinking?

Written by: Phil Landry

As a therapist, I hear the struggle to determine this line often. According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, there are research-backed levels of drinking that predict whether someone is low- or high-risk for having or developing a problem with alcohol.  For women, low-risk drinking is having no more than 7 drinks per week and no more than 3 drinks on any day. For men, low-risk drinking is having no more than 14 drinks per week and no more than 4 drinks on any day.  If someone drinks more than the single day or weekly drinking limits, then they have a 25% chance of already struggling with medically significant alcohol problems. For some perspective, 9% of American adults drink more than both the single-day and weekly limits, and 19% of American adults drink more than either the single-day or weekly limits.  

Oftentimes, clients are surprised when I share these numbers with them. 

They can see that their drinking puts them in the high-risk category, but they have never considered that their drinking may be causing them problems worth checking into.  For others, these numbers give them permission to accept what they have suspected deep down - that their drinking is at a problematic level. I have seen this statistic motivate people to stop drinking, at least temporarily, ON THE SPOT.  I love the power of sharing research with my clients!

If you are thinking about whether it may be worth addressing your alcohol use and you are curious if psychotherapy could help, I want you to consider whether you relate to the following statements:

- you seem to only get in fights with your partner when you have been drinking

- you feel a creeping sensation to hide the amount you drink from your partner/family/friends

- you binge drink (even just a few times a year) even though you intend not to or blackout

- you are worried about how often you go to work hungover

- you engage in other behaviors like infidelity, drug use, or riskier actions only when you drink

- you feel an underlying, chronically blue sensation and have always wondered if your drinking contributes

- you drink and drive even though you know you should not

- you feel most motivated to hang out with people if drinking is involved

- you no longer engage in other activities you enjoy outside of drinking

- you have tried to cut back on your drinking before and you always seem to increase your drinking again, or you have had symptoms such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure when you stop drinking.

How many of these did you resonate with? 2? 3? 5? It is normal to feel afraid of talking about alcohol use with a therapist, but with all the benefits that come with it, I encourage you to push through and do so anyway!  On the other side of addressing a negative relationship with alcohol can be new levels of energy, a deepened sense of meaning and purpose, improved intimacy in relationships, increased physical health, and rediscovery of parts of yourself that have been numbed by alcohol.  I am inspired over and over by the courage of my clients who come in to address their alcohol use and the look of pride they develop after they do the work to understand why their relationship with alcohol has become problematic.

In my view, walking into a therapist's office in the midst of a culture absolutely saturated with glamorization of distraction and numbness through alcohol use, is a tremendous act of self-love.  You are worth it.


Read more on our work with alcohol, addiction(ish), and escapism and see how to get in contact with us here