Growth mindset

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

Resilience and the Houstonian

"We did this for you." - Jose Altuve

"We needed this." [insert explosion of emotion] - Houston

I've never been much of a sports fan aside from my Love of community and socially appropriate excuses to yell excitedly about things. I noticed something weird start to happen to me sometime after Hurricane Harvey and the world catching on fire in a hundred different ways. With so much stress swirling in the air, I got this odd desire to watch sports. Outside of my Love for therapy and home, my number of f*cks to give was maxed out. There was too much to process. My natural response to regulate myself was literally, "For the Love of all things holy, I just want to sit here and watch someone throw a ball around." That would make me content. What's awesome is that while this was naturally going on for me, I watched an old video of Astros' Justin Verlander as he was making his transition to Houston. He specifically wanted to give us something to rally for and look forward to during this time of distress. He's not alone in recognizing the challenging times that have gone on in Houston this year. It's no secret that other players have kept photos of Hurricane Harvey devastation in their lockers as a reminder and motivator that kept them going. The game became something much larger than themselves.

Baseball became our city's therapy and source to channel our energy. #HoustonStrong became #HoustonStronger and I'm NERDING OUT over here at every turn. I was absolutely fascinated by this team and how they moved through adversity. Post the most epic game 5 of all time, Alex Bregman shared their mindset: "It was 0-4... we had our backs against the wall so we got together in the dugout and thought, 'why not play loose?.'" WTH DOES THAT MEAN??? I wanted to reach through the TV and grab the interviewers mic so Breg and I could dig into things. While I'm not sure what he meant, I was amazed by this team's capacity to tap into laughter and playfulness throughout the entirety of the World Series. While Kershaw was turning into a ball of tension and grief in the Dodgers' dugout, our 'Stros were getting nailed, refocusing, and recovering quickly. Altuve wasn't beating himself up to death after losing game 6, he was laughing his buns off while singing "ain't nothing but a heartache" to the Backstreet Boys. There was no need to stress anymore, it wouldn't serve them. It was time to let loose, support their bodies, and recharge for the next obstacle.

This, ladies and gentlepeople, is what we call resilience.

Our 'Stros modeled it beautifully for us. They came in grounded and strong as hell with a huge 'WHY' anchoring every powerful move. What they were doing extended beyond themselves and provided a greater meaning every day. They didn't just get up in the morning for themselves. They did it for their team, their fellow Houstonians, and for many, the calling they felt Created for. It brings to mind one of my favorite people to grace this universe, psychiatriast Viktor Frankl, who lived through WWII concentration camps and would often quote Nietzsche: "a [man] with a 'why' can bear almost any 'how.'" When we have a reason to move forward, whether that be family, what we create through our work, or another larger goal, meaning that extends beyond us becomes a powerful force to will us on.

They also seemed to master stress like Buddha meets Latin bro. In psychology, we look at optimal stress levels. Stress isn't a bad thing in itself. It's just a thing that serves a purpose. In many ways, it's actually good. It's our body readying itself for action. Having a negative relationship to it and experiencing too much of it for too long is where we start to run into trouble. We have to be super intentional and attuned to ourselves so we can listen to our stress, honor it, and give ourselves the mental grace we need to breathe and let go when it no longer serves us. The same way someone might train their physical body for the World Series, we can train to withstand adversity as we harness skills in relaxation, body movement, and positive self-talk to get back into that optimal zone.  

They had trust and faith that hardship was temporary and they were stronger than the immediate moment. You could see the look of frustration when Altuve would roar it out like a panther on the field, but he didn't seem to let it eat away at him as a person. This appeared evident in his capacity to flash a genuine smile shortly after. He seemed flustered at the behavior which could be improved, not himself as a faulty person. It reminds me of a model from Martin Seligman, a positive psychologist who breaks down a great model to help us move more effectively through hardship. He says, be mindful of the 3 P's; Personalization, Pervasiveness, and Permanence. Basically, don't internalize this too hard as a personal fault, be careful to not let this feeling spread to a more general feeling of sucking across all areas of your life (you goofed, you're not terrible at life), and remember that this won't follow you around at this acute level forever. Even more importantly, you can grow. As Altuve reiterated, "believe in the process." You might not be where you want to be today, but just take it a day at a time, keep leaning in, and you'll improve. 

When hardship is bringing you down, give yourself some space to let loose as counter-intuitive as it may seem. Take a breather and remember to not get so hard on yourself when the chips are down. Remember that it's only a heartache and remember that you will get through to the other side in time. Also, remember to dance. A good shimmy is always a great idea.

Thank you, boys, for this incredible gift of joy and triumph. We needed it. 

Now let's celebrate our 'Stros and each other for this incredible year of challenge and the spirit we carry within us to overcome always. Houston, I literally Love you.

To the moon and back,

Dr. B