A glass of wine after a long day at the office can be wonderful—no doubt—and hitting happy hour with friends or co-workers can also be a welcome activity to blow off some steam. But if you’re consistently relying on alcohol to give you social energy, it could be a sign that something’s up and you need to cut back.
It can be tricky to determine if you are in fact using alcohol as a social crutch when you’re out and about. Yet, there are a few clear signs that might indicate so. Here’s what to look for.
You are craving alcohol
When you notice yourself yearning for alcohol, particularly as a social crutch, it can be an indication that the use has become problematic. That desire and need is definitely worrisome, as it shows you cannot enjoy social situations without it.
“A simple way to balance this is to find another replacement that is less harmful,” says Lauren Cook, MMFT and therapist. “Perhaps a diet soda, a cookie, or another treat in a social setting can be a way to still feel like you’re celebrating without imbibing too much,” she says.
Drinking hurts your relationships
If people have given you feedback that you may have a drinking problem or they are concerned about your use, this is something to listen closely to, says Cook.
“We often get defensive when others give us this feedback but it’s ultimately coming from a place of care. If you find yourself still choosing to drink instead of working to repair your relationships, that’s another indicator that you are struggling,” she says.
Invest in your relationships and spend meaningful time together to show them that you are working to improve and that you value their support—sans the booze.
Your next day is a wreck
“If you are drinking so much that your next day suffers, it’s a sign that you may be relying on alcohol too much,” Cook says. You shouldn’t feel bad after waking up. You should have a fresh start to the day.
“When you feel tempted to drink, roll the tape through to the next day and remember how awful it feels to be hungover. This will likely help you resist as you recall how physically uncomfortable it feels to be hungover,” she says.
You need it to socialize
We totally get that for an introvert, socializing can be mentally exhausting (been there, pal). But if you find it easier to be social if you’re drinking, it might mean you’re abusing booze too much and relying on it to function when out.
“Many introverts get overwhelmed when they have to be social for a long time. Alcohol is a social lubricant and can make socializing easier for introverts,” says Dr. Brian Wind Ph.D., Chief Clinical Executive at JourneyPure. “However, this is bad for a person’s mental health because the person isn’t addressing the real issue – the fact that they need self-care, and for some, self-care means some quality alone time,” he says.
To fix this, say no when you don’t feel like socializing and spend some time taking care of your own needs.
Your boozing is unpredictable
“If you lose control of how much you drink, or go out intending to only have one or two drinks but end up having far more, you may be using alcohol in a poor manner,” says Wind. If you frequently can’t control how much you drink, you might have a serious problem with alcohol and should definitely seek help to address the issue. Too much booze isn’t good for your health long-term.
You’re pre-gaming alone
Okay, a good old pre-game can be fun, and yes, you save some cash. Yet, if you’re drinking alone before going out, then drinking more when you join your friends, you could be using booze as a social crutch.
“If you feel like you have to be intoxicated before going to the bar or going to socialize, then plan to drink more, this is a dangerous drinking pattern. It could increase the likelihood that you drive drunk or are coping with emotions using alcohol,” says Wind.
If you can’t go out until you have already had a few drinks in your body, you may have a problem with alcohol and should speak to a rehab specialist at a treatment center near you, he advises. Or at least try and work on cutting back (maybe joining the sober curious movement) or speak to a therapist for help!