Good questions to ask about drinking a.k.a. Laura McKowen reflection The false binary of problematic drinking

05/09/2023, 20:53:00 – Laura McKowen thinks and shares what the healthy way how to look at drinking is. Much better questions to ask ourselves.....And at the end of the day it comes to a simple yet critical paradigm: Freedom.

Laura McKowen: The false binary of problematic drinking

8 Important Reminders About Alcohol

  • Alcohol is a drug. No matter how pretty the bottles, cool the labels, “clean” the ingredients, low the calories, classy the store, trendy the restaurant, colorful the mix, or fun the glass you put it in: it is a drug. No matter if you on a plane, at a barbeque, with your family, at a funeral, at a wedding, on a Wednesday or a Saturday, at home, or in another country: still a drug.

  • Drugs impact the brain and body. When we (you, me, anyone) ingest them, they affect how we talk, act, think, feel, and function. This is biology. When people drink too much, have a hard time stopping at one or two, or do stupid shit when they drink, it’s because the drug is doing what a drug does when you ingest a drug. There is no morality here.

  • Alcohol is both the deadliest AND most accessible and socially acceptable drug. This is an incredibly fucked up cultural anomaly.

  • The amount of alcohol that’s safe to drink is none.¹

  • Alcohol Use Disorder falls on a spectrum from mild to severe. Severe AUD is what we commonly call alcoholism, but drinking doesn’t need to be severe for it to be (very) problematic, and one does not need to call themselves an alcoholic in order to stop drinking. You can really stop drinking just because…you want to.

  • In other words, as Cheryl Strayed wrote about her own experience quitting drinking, there can be a problem without a problem.

  • Some people can genuinely take or leave drinking. But many cannot. Again, it’s science, nor morality.

  • Trauma, genetics, mental health disorders (ADHD, for example) exposure at a young age, and family drinking habits all increase the chances of alcohol use disorder.² But also, you can come from a loving, addiction-free family, not touch a drink until you’re forty-five, never have struggled with depression, and still end up struggling with alcohol. Because alcohol is a drug.

  • 33 Better Questions to Ask About Drinking

    I found the common questions used to assess whether alcohol is a problem too narrow, so in Push Off from HereI provided my own list.

    There’s no official number of yes answers that will tell you if this is your thing. It may be that only one yes is enough, or it may be twenty. Again, the only person who gets to say what’s true for you is you. These questions are based on my own experience and the experience of sitting with, talking to, and connecting to thousands of others who’ve struggled with this thing.

    1. Have you made promises to yourself about drinking less or not drinking at all?

    2. Have you found it difficult or impossible to keep those promises?

    3. Does alcohol factor heavily into the plans you make? For example, do you avoid making plans in places where you won’t be able to drink? Or do you specifically plan things where alcohol won’t be involved to keep yourself from drinking?

    4. Do you prefer spending time with people who drink or won’t judge your drinking?

    5. Do you monitor how much you and others are drinking when you’re in a social situation?

    6. Have you justified the consequences of your drinking more than once?

    7. Is alcohol one of the first things you reach for when you’re uncomfortable, bored, lonely, angry, hungry, excited, happy, overwhelmed, sad, or tired?

    8. Do celebrations feel incomplete without alcohol?

    9. Have you looked for proof that your drinking isn’t that bad—for example, found other people with bigger or worse consequences?

    10. Have you done a Google search about problematic drinking, how you know you’re an alcoholic, or what sobriety is like?

    11. Do you have a hard time focusing in conversations or social situations unless you have a drink in your hand or know when the next one is coming

    12. Have you worried about how much you like to drink?

    13. Do you plan around your hangovers—for example, not scheduling work meetings early in the morning?

    14. Do you truly enjoy doing things where alcohol isn’t involved?

    15. Are you anxious, irritable, and agitated if you can’t drink when you want to?

    16. Do you rush through making dinner, bedtime routines with your kids (if you have them), or other activities so you can get to the part where you can drink?

    17. Does almost everyone you know drink?

    18. Do you feel like you’d lose your social life if you stopped drinking?

    19. Is drinking a major part of your significant adult relationships?

    20. Do you feel like life would be far less exciting, fun, or tolerable without alcohol?

    21. Do you rely on alcohol to “come down” from your day (even if it’s not every day or most days of the week)?

    22. Do you rely on alcohol to get to sleep?

    23. Do you feel like certain experiences, such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, vacations, promotions, or weekends, aren’t “complete” unless you drink?

    24. Do you have difficulty being intimate or having sex without some alcohol in your system?

    25. When was the last time you’ve gone thirty days or more without consuming alcohol?

    26. When you consider going more than thirty days without drinking, do you feel anxious, uneasy, or scared?

    27. Do you feel a palpable sense of relief when you know it’s almost time to drink?

    28. Have you hidden how much you drink from people around you?

    29. Have you ever snuck drinks when nobody was looking?

    30. Do you make extra efforts to hide your drinking or act like it’s not a big deal for you?

    31. Do you post, share, or like memes about drinking to normalize it?

    32. When other people laugh about their escapades, make jokes about drinking a lot, or encourage overdrinking, do you feel relieved?

    Okay, now, if you’re still wavering and unsure after all that, then ditch all those questions and focus on one. Because behind all the calculating and thinking and justifying and denying and weighing and comparing—whether you’ve never suffered a single consequence, or you’ve lost every single thing that matters to you—this is the one question none of us can escape:

    Are you free?

    Read it again.

    Are you free?

    I’m not talking about freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want. I’m not talking about being able-bodied or a certain size or never feeling the strong pull to eat more, sleep more, drink more, laugh more, cry more, work more, or fuck more than you know is good for you. I’m not talking about having the dream job, a job you even mildly like, or any job at all. I’m not talking about never feeling sad, or angry, or jealous.

    What I’m talking about is not the kind of freedom anyone else can grant us or take away: not our partners, our parents, our children, our friends, our bosses, our communities, or our governments. What I’m talking about is an internal, intractable freedom. It’s the freedom of not being owned by an addiction, and thus, having access to what’s best in you. It’s being able to actively respond to life instead of just reacting out of fear, shame, or regret. It’s being able to trust yourself to follow through when you make promises and plans. It’s knowing your word actually means something, and moving through your days with some dignity. It’s showing up instead of hiding and telling the truth instead of lying. It’s having command over how you spend your energy, your heart, your life.

    Ask yourself, does alcohol own your attention even a little bit more than you want it to? Does the pull to escape, to heighten, to numb, or to otherwise alter the direct experience of life win out more often than not? When it comes to drinking, are you genuinely able to choose? In this way, are you free? When I was drinking, I could have wiggled my way out of answering yes to most of the above questions, could have used them to convince myself I wasn’t bad enough to have to stop, even right up to the very end when I was shaking and sick all the time. But this question? Am I free? This one hits differently. This one is hard to hide from. I was never free when it came to alcohol; it owned some sacred part of me from the start. I knew by the way I loved it: a little too much. A possessive, obsessive love. A love that felt like need. Drinking took away more and more of my freedom, and above all else, this is what made it my thing.

    Stay curious. Stay open. Ask better questions. Listen to the small voice inside you; it knows.


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