How do I know if my drinking is becoming a problem?

There’s no easy answer to this question.  What one person deems to be a problem will look different to someone else.  It might be more useful to ask whether the amount you’re drinking is becoming a problem for you. Ron Roizen, an American sociologist, developed a model that is widely used today. Known as the Four L’s model, it identifies four major areas of someone’s life that can be negatively affected by alcohol use:   

  • Liver – issues related to the user’s physical, psychological or emotional health e.g. feeling more depressed than usual
  • Lover – issues in your relationships e.g. fighting with your partner
  • Lifestyle/Livelihood – issues related to your profession, education or hobbies e.g. habitually arriving late to work
  • Legal – problems with the law, either civil or criminal e.g. fines for drink driving

If you’re having problems in one or more of these areas, you may need to seek support.

Can drugs and alcohol cause depression?

Yes they can. Alcohol and drugs can have a major impact on your mental health. People experiencing depression will often use drugs or alcohol to cope – which can be helpful as a short-term strategy but can make things much trickier long term. One of the biggest reasons people drink alcohol or take drugs is to change their mood, but if you felt anxious or depressed before you consumed the substance, chances are you will feel much worse once the effects have worn off. This can have a big impact on people who have depression and other mental health issues.

I’ve read somewhere that some recreational drugs are good for depression. Is this true?

Using recreational drugs to alter your mood may work in the short- term but can create longer-term consequences for your mental health. For example, MDMA (Ecstasy) works by releasing serotonin (sometimes known as a “happy chemical”) you already have in your brain. This makes you feel fantastic in the short-term, but leaves your serotonin depleted in the longer-term, once the effects have worn off. This means that you’re likely to experience a physical and mental crash – something a lot of people find difficult to cope with.

I’m trying to take a break from drugs/alcohol but I don’t know where to start. Any tips?

A good first step can be to track your alcohol or drug use. There are apps that will help you with this – or you can just keep a diary or notes in your phone. At the end of each day, write down the following:

  • Where were you when you drank/used?
  • Who were you with?
  • What were you feeling?
  • What did you drink/use?
  • How much did you drink/use?
  • How did you feel afterwards?

This will give you important information about your alcohol or drug use that you can use to help you. Think about which situations/feelings/people are likely to trigger your urge to drink or use drugs. How can you can do things differently? Plan ahead. And be kind to yourself if you don’t get it right the first time. Like everything, taking a break takes practice – any relapse gives you valuable information that you can use in your next attempt. 
Some people find it useful to get on board with an event like Dry July or Febfast where you raise money for a cause by taking a break for a defined period of time – that way you are accountable to someone other than yourself.

I have a friend/family member with a drug/alcohol problem and I don’t know whether to speak to them about it. What should I do?

Taking the step to talk about things can be scary, but if you don’t talk about it, things probably aren’t going to change in a hurry. Like any important conversation, think about how you’re going to have it. Try to choose a time and place that is calm and quiet. Do your research and get informed about the issue. What self-help or online treatment options are there? What face-to-face options are there? When you have the conversation with the person you’re worried about, let them know exactly what you’ve observed and what has concerned you. Give them information that they can look at. If they’re not receptive, that’s OK – you can always revisit the conversation later.

If you want to talk things through with someone before having the conversation,  you can talk with a trained drug and alcohol counsellor for free here. The website also has the contact details for every state 24/7 drug and alcohol helpline. 

Related reading: Five booze-free activities

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