Dear Dr. Faizal,

I’m a female in my early 20s and I’m having a really hard time “knowing my limit” when it comes to alcohol. I’m not an alcoholic because I don’t crave it and I probably only consume alcohol once a month, but when I do, I always go overboard. It seems impossible for me to drink “casually” or just have one beverage… but I want to be able to socially drink with my friends! How can I learn to stop before I become completely inebriated?

– One is too many

Dear One,

Alcoholism, generally speaking, is a chronic condition that typically includes a history of excessive drinking, a strong craving for alcohol, continued drinking despite repeated issues arising from alcohol abuse, and being unable to control drinking. This is a disease, which it doesn’t appear you have.

What you do describe, however, is an equally-dangerous condition called binge-drinking. Binge drinking, according to experts, is defined for women as having four or more drinking on any one occasion; for men, it’s having five or more drinks on any one occasion. You sensing that there’s a problem and wanting to stop such excessive drinking is a positive beginning.

To solve a problem – or heal from a debilitating condition – you should reflect on the triggers that push you to drink. Ask yourself, “What makes me want to continue drinking?” “Does a particular event, a person (or people), or emotion lead me to get ‘completely inebriated?’”

From my clinical practice, I’ve noticed that peer pressure is one of the strongest triggers for binge-drinking, especially among younger adults. Some find it tempting to drink to ‘fit in’ with their group of friends, who may, albeit innocently, encourage you to “have just one more.” Sometimes in pleasing our friends, we sacrifice what’s good for us, causing us more stress.

Stress and boredom are other triggers that lead people to drink excessively. If you are struggling at home, at work, with your romantic partner, etc., – and are feeling generally unfulfilled in your life, you could be using alcohol to escape your emotional stressors, even if it is for “once a month.”

So, what can be done? You can take the medical route and consult with your family doctor, who would be able to help you determine what would be the safest way, medically, for you to reduce or stop your binge-drinking. Your health-care provider could also refer you to an alcohol specialist and/or a psychiatrist (to help you address some potential emotional issues), someone who has experience in dealing with the medical ways to assist you.

In overcoming this condition, you would also require help from loved ones. Admit to your family that you have a problem and that you want to make a change. Their support, encouragement, and validation will serve as your strength in your healing journey. More specifically, tell your drinking friends that you are concerned that your drinking has developed into a problem for you. Let them know that you are not judging them or asking them to change their behaviour, and that you still want to “socially drink” with them, but that you have chosen to cut back on alcohol for a while and are now going to have Cokes (for example) instead of cocktails.

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