Are You Self-Medicating With Alcohol?

Avatar photo Staff April 12, 2018

You may be eating a balanced diet, exercising, and seeing the doctor regularly, but did you know that if you are consuming too much alcohol, you could still be facing serious health risks?

Many people assume that if they’re not falling down drunk every weekend, they don’t have a problem with alcohol. But the truth is, drinking even a small amount over a long period of time can lead to a myriad of health problems including an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, liver disease, memory loss, dementia, gout, gastrointestinal problems, depression, anxiety and suicide.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States, and one in 12 adults suffer from either alcohol abuse or dependence, and even more regularly drink too much at one time, which can lead to alcohol problems.

Daniel Levi, LCPC, a therapist at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says drinkers tend to fall into two categories: those with an alcohol addiction and those who are using alcohol to self-medicate to avoid negative feelings.

“With addicts, the drinking generally progresses,” Levi explains. “You will need more and more alcohol to get the same fix, and the drinking tends to escalate, leading to more and more isolation.”

He says those who use alcohol to self-medicate may drink the same amount every week for years without major consequences, like loss of a job or a DUI. “Even though it’s coming at a cost, it’s working for them,” Levi says. “They say, ‘I know it’s bad, but what are you going to do?’”

Unfortunately, both types of drinking can lead to health problems.

So how do you know if the amount you drink is too much? According to the National Institute for Health, “at-risk” is defined as men who drink more than four drinks in a day or more than 14 drinks a week, or women who drink more than three drinks in a day or more than seven drinks a week.

But other experts say having a problem with alcohol has less to do with how much you drink, and more to do with your relationship to the alcohol.

To determine if you have a drinking problem, Levi suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you drink to unwind or settle down?
  • Do you drink in private when things are just “too much”?
  • Do you drink to take the edge off?

Levi says if you answered yes to any of these questions – even if you drinking doesn’t qualify as “at-risk” — you may be using alcohol to self-medicate, which may cause harm to you both physically and emotionally over time.

For example, Levi says drinking just one glass of alcohol a night can lead to depression. “It adds fuel to the fire of depression over time,” Levi says, adding that people can become increasingly emotional and moody.

If you think you have a problem with alcohol and you’d like to stop, Levi says you should contact a qualified addiction specialist or seek out a recovery program such as Alcoholics Anonymous for help.

Or, if you’re not sure if your drinking qualifies as a problem, he suggests coming in for an overall wellness check-up to see how you are doing emotionally.