Do I Have a Drinking Problem?

Hi. I’m Carolyn. I’m the editor in chief of SELF and the host of our wellness advice podcast, Checking In. In this week’s episode, we’re talking about what it means to have a drinking problem, and what it might look like to change your relationship with alcohol.

Today’s question comes from Elise, who is taking a 90-day hiatus from drinking after realizing that her relationship with alcohol isn’t always healthy. But she wants to know what she should do after her 90 days are up. Elise is curious if complete sobriety is the only path forward for her, or if there are other options. She asks: “For someone like me who has a genetic history of alcoholism, who has had a history of not being able to find the kill switch…is there a balance to find, or is it all or nothing?”

New episodes of Checking In come out every Monday. Listen to this week’s episode above, and get more episodes of Checking In on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Elise’s question probably resonates with anyone who may be examining their relationship with alcohol, especially as we set foot into the new year. Having a healthy relationship with drinking means different things to different people, and while there’s a popular view that recovery from alcohol and drug use disorder requires complete sobriety, the reality is a bit more nuanced.

To help Elise understand what some of her options might be, I turned to SELF editor Sarah Jacoby. Sarah is a health journalist who has reported extensively on substance use, as well as harm reduction and recovery.

First, Sarah and I talk about what it even means to have a drinking problem—and how it might not be what you think. “The idea of having to hit rock bottom before you deserve help is a really damaging concept,” Sarah says. Your life doesn’t need to be falling apart before you deserve help. If you’re feeling that you may want to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol, that’s good enough to start thinking about it seriously, regardless of how your life is going.

We also talk about different approaches to recovery from alcohol use disorder (or an otherwise unhealthy relationship with alcohol). Sarah says that there are definite benefits to sobriety, and to programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, especially given that AA is free and pretty much everywhere. But she also says that researchers are beginning to realize that quitting alcohol completely, for the rest of your life, isn’t necessarily the right approach for everyone. “We have a lot of other options now,” Sarah says. “Other people might do better with more of a moderation management type approach. Some people might be able to do that with the help of their therapist that they already see.” The bottom line is that it’s great that Elise is working on this issue with a mental health care professional—acknowledging that you have a problem with drinking and that you want to explore ways to change, with guidance, is a huge and important first step.

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