Do You Drink Too Much? Consider the Warning Signs

The red flags that may mean it's time to slow down.

The holiday season is all about indulgence. We eat more, we shop more, and statistically speaking, we drink more. A lot more. Between office parties, family gatherings and end-of-year celebrations, the weeks leading up to the last hurrah before January are typically some of the booziest. The stress of social expectations—and the inevitable family drama that comes with it—drives many of us to take the edge off with a drink, or three.

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While moderate alcohol consumption (a drink a day for women, two for men under 65) might reduce the risk of heart disease, it's not without risk. It's easy to slide into heavier drinking, especially during times of celebration or stress. The fact is, 40 percent of Americans drink too much, and many don't even know it. And that can take its toll on your body and your life.

So how do you know when it's time to put the brakes on? Consider these red flags that might just mean it's time to take a breather from booze.

If 'Just one drink' never happens

We all know that alcohol is addictive but we don't always recognize the warning signs. For some of us, the problem with having just one drink is that it inevitably leads to more.

"If you find yourself repeatedly going over your self-defined limit, that's a common early sign you're losing control over your drinking," John F. Kelly, PhD, president of the American Psychology Association's Society of Addiction Psychology tells Health Magazine.

About 17 percent of all Americans are considered binge drinkers, meaning they consume 4-5 drinks or more in a night. The problem is, the more intoxicated you get, the easier it is to lose track of how much you've already consumed.

Technology is trying to help. There are several apps, like Step Away which helps set you on a path towards moderation, and Drink Control which helps you clock each drink you have.

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If your tolerance is higher than ever

The more regularly you drink, the more your brain and your body acclimate to the effects of alcohol. If it takes twice as much to feel the same effects—and if you feel better the more you drink, as opposed to worse— these are signs you're drinking more than usual, and it's time to slow your roll.

"The good news about tolerance is that you can decrease it (and the associated health risks) fairly easily," according Lee Weber, of the nonprofit online recovery resource, AddictionBlog. "Tolerance can be reversed gradually through either moderating the quantity and frequency of your drinking, or taking a break from alcohol for a few weeks."

If your memory is suffering

If you've ever "blacked out" from drinking too much, you've experienced the disturbing effect alcohol has on your memory. But even more moderate, regular drinking, can take its toll on both your short and long-term memory. Signs like repeatedly forgetting where you put your keys, or retelling the same stories to the same people might be linked to a key memory "messenger" in your brain called glutamate, which is disrupted by heavy drinking, according to Prevention. The good news is research from the National Institute of Health suggests you can reverse these effects by abstaining from drinking.

If your sleep is disturbed

Ever pass out after a night of partying, only to wake up a few hours later? That's because alcohol interferes with your natural sleep patterns or circadian rhythms. It also may interrupt your deepest REM sleep which means you're not getting the restorative rest your body needs. And that lack of rest can impact your productivity in a major way.


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If you're having trouble focusing

Crippling hangovers are a dead giveaway you drank too much the night before, but sometimes the signs are more subtle. In a recent study, subjects who drank showed lack of focus and lowered ability to multi-task the following day.

If your skin is breaking out

When you drink too much, your brain isn't the only organ that feels it. Your skin reacts too. The more you drink, the thirstier your skin becomes. Excessive drinking doesn't just dehydrate your skin, it causes redness and inflammation too. And those sudden breakouts? Blame the booze. "Alcohol dilates the pores of the skin, leading to blackheads and whiteheads," dermatologist Amy Spizuoco tells GQ. "And if is not properly treated, it can go on to cause inflamed skin papules (lesion-like bumps) and cystic acne."

If you've gained weight for seemingly no reason

It's easy to forget that alcohol is high in calories. The average caloric intake for a woman, depending on age and weight, ranges from 1600 to 2400 calories a day. That means a 150 calorie beer or a 300 calorie holiday drink like eggnog factors into that daily sum. If you're still eating the same amount of food but packing on the drinks, you're likely to also pack on the pounds. If you're going to drink, health experts suggest steering clear of sugary cocktails and even watering down the wine with a little seltzer to cut the calories in half.

If someone remarked on your drinking habit

Sometimes, a little honesty goes a long way. The people who love you the most and know you the best might pick up on a change in your own habits before you do. Just ask one New York Times reader who wrote of a wakeup call his young son gave him. It's OK to feel defensive, but it's also OK to recognize why you might be defensive and whether it's time to change some of your drinking habits before they get the best of you. Some people choose to press the reset button with a stone cold sober month (commonly in January after the holidays are over). Others start setting limits and sticking with them. But if you're struggling, it's worth consulting with your doctor, or reaching out to a resource like the National Substance Abuse Helpline for help and treatment options.