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MumsnetGuestBlogs (MNHQ) Mon 21-Oct-13 10:47:44

Are you a 'problem drinker'? Take our five-point test

Almost half of 10 to 14-year-olds have seen their parents drunk, according to new research - and 29% said they had seen it more than once.

Here Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, explains how she faced up to her dysfunctional relationship with alcohol - and offers five signs that you might be problem drinker.

Do you think that women are drinking more? Tell us what you think about women's relationship with alcohol, on the thread below.

Ann Dowsett Johnston

Author, 'Drink: Women's Intimate Relationship with Alcohol

Posted on: Mon 21-Oct-13 10:47:44


Lead photo

Alcoholism amongst women is on the rise

For years, I was a daily drinker - a busy, sometimes frazzled professional women, with a son, a dog and an ex-husband, who would rush in with the groceries at the end of a long day and yes, sometimes pour myself a glass of wine before my coat was off. Pinot grigio: this was my drink. Icy cold, soothing, in a pretty glass. It made the next shift of chopping vegetables and overseeing homework seem less like drudgery. It made the day go away. It shifted me into the evening mode. One glass to relax, another with dinner. Tea before bed. This was my routine.
Until it shifted. Sometime around the time when my son went off to university, when the house became deathly quiet and the loneliness set in, I began to drink three glasses instead of two. Not always - but occasionally. And yes, over time, it could shift to four: on a Friday or Saturday night, or when something difficult had happened. Over a period of 10 or 12 years, my drinking went from minor to major. Six years ago, I knew I had a problem. Five years ago, I went to rehab. Next month, I will celebrate five years of sobriety.
As a journalist, I decided to use my profession to research just how common my story was. In 2010, I won a major fellowship to investigate women and alcohol use, and spent a year reporting on the subject. The reality? I am far from alone. In the developed world, women are closing the gender gap on risky drinking. In fact, the richer the country, the narrower the gap between women and men. The new face of risky drinking looks like me: professional, well educated. In fact, I am the poster child, just as my mother was in the Sixties: a stay-at-home mum mixing cocktails with Valium.
My fellowship research appeared in 14-part series in Canada’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star - and it elicited overwhelming response. Emails poured in from women across the country, sharing their stories of risky drinking. The only fact I had failed to mention in the series: my own problems with drinking. I kept that a secret after a kindly editor warned me against sharing my story: “Do you need to work after this?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied. “Then don’t reveal you have a drinking problem.”

The first year was hard: I had to deal with the depression and anxiety I was self-medicating with alcohol. But the gains have outstripped the losses: I have won back the respect of my son, the admiration of my sister, the trust of my friends.

I followed my editor’s advice: I kept quiet in that news paper series. But a year later, the story burned inside me. I knew I had to share it. The result is Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Drinking, a book that struck a chord as soon as it was published last week in Canada: it went into reprint the day it was published.
Once again, my inbox is overflowing, with women sharing their stories of drinking and recovery. The question I get asked most often is a simple one: How do I know if I am an alcoholic? How do I know if I have a problem.
For those who want answers, there are numerous online quizzes you can take. I proffer these simple questions for any who have doubts:

* Have you tried to cut back and failed?
* Do you drink to forget, to numb, to not be you?
* Do you find that you want to continue drinking after your friends say they have had enough?

* Do you sneak extra alcohol when your partner is out of the room?
* Have your partner or friends expressed concern about your drinking?
Personally, I did all of the above. Near the end of my drinking career, I kept a drinking diary, rewarding myself with a sticker each time I was able to keep my promises to myself. The stickers were monkeys—as in, “Let’s get this monkey off my back.” When the stickers failed to accumulate at the rate I knew they should, I knew there was no choice to take more drastic steps.
Five years later, without alcohol in my life, I am a much happier person, free from shame and self-recrimination. I am not alone. Each Thursday night, as I take my seat in a brightly lit church basement, I am surrounded by a sea of professional women: lawyers, teachers, bank executives, all recovering from their dependence on alcohol. There’s a lot of laughter in the room.
There are some downsides to the story. I lost a major love in sobriety. The first year was hard: I had to deal with the depression and anxiety I was self-medicating with alcohol. But the gains have outstripped the losses: I have won back the respect of my son, the admiration of my sister, the trust of my friends. I have started a National Roundtable on Girls, Women and Alcohol. And I have returned to my first love - writing. The rewards of sobriety are daily and rich.
Am I a “grateful alcoholic,” as they say in the rooms? Most days, I am. For several years now, I have begun each morning with a gratitude list, one that lists my challenges as well as my blessings - especially my broken heart, which reminds me how much I loved and was loved.  There is some strange alchemy associated with gratitude. Somewhere along the way of doing these lists, I fell in love with my life again. 
Most of all, I have learned that the addict’s lie is just that: an untruth. It goes like this: “I will always feel this way—therefore, I might as well drink.” And as long as you keep drinking, that lie keeps you stuck. The world does not improve: it’s a self-fulfilling promise. Stop drinking, and there’s no telling what will happen. Stop drinking, and you can begin the process of loving yourself back into being. For some of us, it’s the only route forward. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

By Ann Dowsett Johnston

Twitter: @anndowsettj

SunnyL Mon 21-Oct-13 13:20:29

It was only when I got pregnant last year that i started to notice how much our culture revolves around drink. Had a crap day at work? Have a drink. Had a great day at work? Celebrate with a drink. Want to see your friends? Lets go out for a drink.

I really enjoyed being sober when I was pregnant. At one point I considered not drinking again after i had my baby. It didnt last long. Im not a huge drinker - maybe a bottle of wine a week - but realising I find it hard to do without it without a valid reason is worrying.

Bonkerz Mon 21-Oct-13 13:28:45

At 35 I'm still a binge drinker. I can go months without touching a drop mainly because Im home alone a lot with the children as hubby is working and I need to be able to drive in an emergency. When I do drink it's on a night out and I can drink excessively!
I don't know if this is any better than having a nightly drink to be honest but I don't crave it!

Bonkerz Mon 21-Oct-13 13:29:23

At 35 I'm still a binge drinker. I can go months without touching a drop mainly because Im home alone a lot with the children as hubby is working and I need to be able to drive in an emergency. When I do drink it's on a night out and I can drink excessively!
I don't know if this is any better than having a nightly drink to be honest but I don't crave it!

Thistroudeballeisinfire Mon 21-Oct-13 13:58:58

I was a problem drinker...I have stopped as I can't only have one glass, I'm happier being sober.

Sindarella Mon 21-Oct-13 14:51:43

I'm 28 and have lived with an alcoholic for 5 years, i still am. Before this i would drink socially, you could probably call it binge drinking.
Living with an alcoholic has put me off drinking for life. I haven't touched a drop for 3 years.

Papyrus02 Mon 21-Oct-13 15:58:06

I drank to forget, to cheer myself up and also to cope with social situations. I needed the drink for confidence etc. It often became binge drinking. Tho' not always. I didn't drink for a long time.

I now occasionally drink. However the last time I had a drink, a very small glass of wine, I didn't really like myself or what I said, how I said it, etc. This was about 3 months ago and I'm thinking of going teetotal again.

I do find it hard to socialise with drinkers. Especially if they're really going for it. Not drinking has changed me and my social life.

HowardTJMoon Mon 21-Oct-13 16:39:54

I think the OP's approach of focussing on problematic behaviours rather than quantity of alcohol is a good way of approaching this. I'm not a problem drinker myself but I was in a relationship with an alcoholic for a long time. Things like sneaking drinks, continuing to drink well past the point where everyone else has had enough, trying to cut down and failing etc are all big warning signs.

mrsWast Mon 21-Oct-13 17:16:06

i'm a recovering alcoholic - hitting a meeting every day and sometimes twice a day to work at my sonriety. drinking is insidious - it creeps up and at some point you might find it has you by the throat. if you think you might have a problem, address it now. don't do what i did and keep gambling until everything is lost.

i'm picking up the pieces, one day at a time. there's a long way to go, but i know i'm not alone.

mrsWast Mon 21-Oct-13 17:16:50

*sobriety. i'm not pissed, honest.

TooMuchIKnow Mon 21-Oct-13 19:36:22

I have a problem. It hasn't exactly crept up on me, I have always had to keep an eye on my drinking and have been quite a heavy drinker even with that awareness. This last year tho something has changed. I now drink three quarters of a bottle of wine a night. And I no longer seem to be able to take a night off. In the past this was one of my controls, to have 2 or so booze free nights a week. I can't do it now.The thought panics me. I can't comprehend not drinking. I seem to have lost control.

Yes to all 5 signs unsurprisingly.

Not sure what to do. GP was no help. And I dont want to give up. Yet can't seem to cut down.

Doshusallie Mon 21-Oct-13 20:22:06

I tick one of the 5...the first. None of the others. In fact I usually stop drinking long before my friends/husband do/does.

But I do drink every day. During the week it's 2 drinks a night, usually gin, weekends it's wine, 3-4 glasses. If I am out I drink wine first then spirits.

I never get so drunk I am sick/fall over/embarrass myself. But I am very conscious of the insidious nature of alcohol, my dependence on it, and my inability to go a night without it. It is my treat, my relaxation, I look forward to it, I savour every sip.

GladToBeSilver Mon 21-Oct-13 20:24:38

If you are worried about your drinking pop over to the brave babes thread on the Relationsips board.

They may help you, and you may well help them.

evelynj Mon 21-Oct-13 23:06:31

Excessive drinking is such an easy habit to fall into. I was a heavyish drinker & when I fell pregnant with 2nd child, again had no trouble not drinking when pregnant or breastfeeding (had the very odd glass).

When my dd was 5 weeks old couldn't breastfeed anymore & 2 weeks later had stopped expressing & my milk dried up. 6 weeks later & I could easily now drink a bottle of wine a night. My dh has a beer most nights so there's not the judgement that I would find useful but probably also resent. I try not to drink weeknights but usually only do Mon-wed, (don't you know Thursday is the new Friday?)

I'm aiming for a sober November but maybe the odd glass on a Saturday only as I love it. Wish I didnt-my friend of 20 years has a problem & recently crashed while drinking, (nobody hurt). A couple of months before me & another friend tried to discuss her drinking with her to say we'd support her if she ever wanted to seek help & she basically hasn't bothered with me since which makes me very sad & also I'm not sure how I should behave around her now as we always only ever really went to bars so she probably would find it weird me suggesting/doing something else.

So, although my answers to the questions are no, I don't think I'm home free as I do drink too much - this is supposed to be a non drinking day but there was some left in the bottle from last night as I was too tired to finish It then. When I poured the rest of last nights bottle out it was a teeny glass & I was disappointed so have opened another bottle. Not too good.

babytigerno1 Mon 21-Oct-13 23:48:55

i dont drink everyday. i only drink when i feel really upset or stress out with my relationship. And when i drink, i drink whole bottle, wine, vodka with mixture, or anything i can quick grab from shop, but i dont drink beer though, need something bite strong. then i can fall asleep better instead be awake the whole night.

SetFiretotheRain Tue 22-Oct-13 00:07:35

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

HalloSoloHowYouWeen Tue 22-Oct-13 01:03:24

I'm not a drinker, though I do like an occasional glass of alcohol.
Last year though, I did drink one night on holiday. Someone who shall remain nameless kept filling my glass and I kept children saw me falling down drunk, my Ds had to get me out of the bath as I couldn't stand up (thought a shower would help). That's the only time they've ever seen me drunk and it will be the last. I don't even like being drunk...that feeling of...ugh!
I am ashamed that my children saw that though.

EeTraceyluv Tue 22-Oct-13 10:40:50

I recently read a book about getting sober in a secular rather than AA manner, and questions like these really have been discredited. They can make anyone feel as though they have a 'problem' to be honest. And I did have a very serious problem when my eldest dd was younger. Am very ashamed and can't bring those years back, but I don't think such questions wold have helped me at that time.

Missgiraffe1 Tue 22-Oct-13 11:35:10

My mum was an alcoholic. Found AA and enjoyed an amazing period of sobriety. Went to conferences in the UK and Europe and was heavily involved in the group she ran. She was then prescribed diazepam for anxiety, and took her first drink in almost 10years just 2months after starring diazepam. She then took her own life less than 3years later.

As a result, I am probably hyper vigilant about how much I drink. I have at least 3nights off per week, and approx 2out of 5 I will drink 1small glass of wine (I use a measure) or 1beer, and the other 2 nights around double that. If I am out, I will drink more than that.

I do, however, regularly think about having another. Sometimes I go to pour one and chastise myself and don't. Occasionally, I will pour another but feel guilty whilst pouring and drinking it. I'm not sure if I feel this way as I think I might have a problem (or could have in the future) or whether it's an anxiety relating to my family's experience.

I don't think I necessarily have any problem with the amount I drink, but I do wonder whether what I've written in the 3rd paragraph point towards a problem. I drink way less than most of my friends (mostly young professionals with young families, and most of whom drink every night) but I think I worry about it more!

Honesttodog Wed 23-Oct-13 10:46:59

Any suggestions on helping a parent (DC Grandmother) to cut back? She has drunk slightly too much for so long now I just don't know how to persuade her. She finds it boring not to drink and I am sometimes embarrassed by the way she is when she has had a glass too many. But our relationship is complicated, I drink far less now that I have a child and i find it much easier to say no - I can't cope with childcare and a hangover and I'm really sensitive to alcohol. She complains about various health issues and I often wonder if her body just needs a break from having a few glasses of wine almost every night. Any thoughts?

iwantanafternoonnap Wed 23-Oct-13 10:49:57

I would say that I probably drink more than some of my friends at weekends but less than a lot of them! However, I can never open a bottle of wine and only have one glass I will always finish the bottle and probably start on a second or at least want a second. Which I find worrying especially when I really took the time to work our how many units it was!!
I used to party really hard and now I am kept in check by being a single parent with no support form ex, my job and lack of money. However, I would really like to be tea total as I know I use alcohol to forget, to relax, to not be me, for confidence and to celebrate.
I have just bought the book Ann wrote and will be very interested in what she has to say and hope it will help me from drinking.
I think its the social side I find hard as nearly everyone I know drinks and I am easily swayed.

evelynj Wed 23-Oct-13 14:18:40

Honest to dog-it's hard to help someone who drinks too much as it's often obvious that we're trying to stop them drinking. I think being honest is the best thing (in a sensitive manner) but other than asking the, to do non drinking things-go swimming, walking or to coffee shop, any social situation with a bar it's up to them to make their own choices. Only thing you can do is be prepared for when she gets 'embarrassing' & remove yourself from the situation.

I attended al-anon for a while and their ethos is as an onlooker all you can do is make the right choices for you and not enable their behaviour.

Good luck smile

CaseyAdams Wed 23-Oct-13 23:37:16

So, what's the difference between men and women as far as alcohol is concerned? Why write a book specifically about women's use/abuse of Alcohol?

Tailtwister Tue 14-Jan-14 09:07:51

I became concerned about the amount I was drinking towards the end of last year. I needed to have a glass of wine to wind down and if there wasn't any I would feel irritable and end up having something from the drinks cabinet which I didn't even particularly like. I would often sneak a drink before my husband got home so he wouldn't know that what he thought was my first was actually my second.

So, I have stopped completely since the beginning of the year. Obviously it's early days (14 to be exact), but it hasn't been as hard as I thought it would be. DH has continued to have his 2 or 3 glasses of wine a week and short of the odd wistful glance towards his glass I haven't been tempted. I certainly feel a lot better and I hope I can continue to the end of the month and perhaps beyond.

Will I stop completely? I don't know, but I do worry that I will become dependent again if I do. I find it difficult to find the middle ground.

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