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How do I know if I have a drinking problem?

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

Learn how the cycle of overwhelm, followed by a short relief, hooks really smart people into a cycle of alcohol overuse.

Working professionals all around the country are hustling to find connection, success, and ALL of the things people want in this life. These busy days going from home tasks, work meetings, relationship demands, and other random to do's can leave little time for really pausing to take stock of how things are actually going. Getting off of this marry-go-round can feel impossible when the demands are this high.

Many professionals that carry the feeling of overwhelm and stress lean on alcohol as a way to let go, relax, and take the edge off at the end of the day. And this behavior in itself is not a problem. Alcohol itself is not the problem. It is often a result of having "too much" on their plate and not being able to figure out how to manage this overwhelm. People lean on alcohol to give this reprieve in the overwhelm, and it works, until you return to the grind that feels impossible the next day. This cycle of overwhelm, followed by a short relief, hooks really smart people into a cycle of alcohol overuse. And most people never realized it is happening until they get to a place of exhaustion, frustration, hopelessness, or isolation.

What are the signs that alcohol may be impacting my life?

You don't need to be falling over a parties, missing important life events, or driving your car off the road to have a drinking pattern that negatively effects your life and your relationships. Many professionals will notice smaller signs that their drinking has started to disrupt their quality of life or happiness. Here are a few that people talk about:

  • I get home from work and I go right for the fridge before connecting with my partner. A cold IPA just helps me transition home. But lately, my partner has been saying that she feels disconnected from me emotionally. I know I'm not connecting with her but I don't feel like I have emotional energy to give after a long day.

  • Traveling to different conferences and hotels makes alcohol a main feature of my work life. I find that alcohol makes me feel more confident in client events and makes me feel like I'm more fun. But I'm finding that it is difficult to feel good the next day for multi-day events. I hate this feeling. I wish I could just get up and workout and start the day right.

  • Our neighbors invite us over for a few beers sometimes after work or on the weekends. It is fun but I find myself avoiding important tasks at home like putting my kids to bed on time or getting myself to bed at a decent hour. And then our house feels out of control-- we are all exhausted, things are messy, and I have to pick up and keep going. I find myself using drinking as a way to get away.

  • I find that I enjoy wine while cooking dinner and lately it seems that I will finish a bottle of wine before bedtime. It has been a slow increase but I have noticed that I am having to stop by the liquor store more often and this bothers me.

  • My partner goes to bed early during the week to get up for work. I find myself enjoying the time at night to stay up, have a few drinks, and do my own thing. It's my "me time". I'm realizing lately that I don't feel refreshed after having this time alone. I actually feel fatigued, foggy, and unmotivated in the morning.

  • I really enjoy having a few beers on Saturday afternoons when I'm hanging out with my kids in the backyard. I notice that the few beers leads to drinks with dinner and drinks late into the evening. I am embarrassed to say I drink 6-8 beers a day. I'm worried that it might be affecting my kids.

What do I do if I think I am stuck in a negative pattern of alcohol use?
  1. Think about the experience of drinking (retrospectively) and think about times when the outcome is not what you desired. What did you desire? What feeling or experience were you hoping for? What did you actually experience after drinking? By getting clear about this desire, you will be able to more effectively move toward another behavior that could meet this need.

  2. Next time you are moving toward alcohol, pause, even for 30 seconds, and identify what you are really needing or desiring in that moment. Are you tired? Are you bored? Are you overstimulated? Are you having transitioning home? Are you anxious about something? This exercise does not mean you can't have a drink, it just means pause before you do. Give yourself the opportunity to see things clearly before you add alcohol.

  3. Pay attention to patterns of need/desire from steps 1 and 2. Maybe keep a little log of your needs/desires before or after you use alcohol to get your needs met. Most people have clear patterns that come from this process. It takes time to do this so be patient and know that you are moving forward.

  4. After seeing a pattern of need/desire, try to address one of these needs/desires through another behavior. For example, if you always use a beer to transition home and you notice that the need/desire is actually hunger and thirst after a long day of not having time to eat/drink. Try eating a small snack or having a seltzer with juice when you get home and see how you feel. We are not trying to avoid drinking alcohol. We are trying to actually address the need that is being ignored. And all of these ignored needs over time add up to using alcohol as a way to not feel the pressure and overwhelm of mounting needs.

Figuring out the roots of overuse of alcohol can be complicated, but also incredibly rewarding. Therapists at Planting Seeds Recovery in Minneapolis welcome professionals who want to explore what it would look like to unravel the overwhelm and find a new path to travel that feels easier and more fulfilling. Reach out to us at Plantings Seeds Recovery in Minneapolis at or call/text 612-758-0893 for a free consultation. We are here to help you feel better.

About the Author:
Photograph of Julia Murtha

Julia Hess is the founder of Planting Seeds Recovery in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was inspired to design a recovery program built on self-actualization, empowerment, relationships, and mindfulness.

She strongly believes that clients have the ability to increase awareness of patterns of use, explore ways to get their needs met through human connection, and develop a deep mindfulness of their wants/needs as a way to feel grounded in their world. She knows this process doesn't fit perfectly in a box. And that is why Planting Seeds Recovery looks a little different with a more open-ended, flexible experience.

Want to learn more, feel free to email Julia at

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