Have you ever told yourself you were going to have only a drink or two at happy hour, and before you knew it you'd downed four? One of the clues that you may be a binge drinker is not knowing your limits—or feeling surprised when you've "suddenly" passed them. Like diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems, drinking problems develop gradually. That's why it's smart to reevaluate your drinking habits regularly by writing down how much you drink and when. That will make it easier to rein yourself in if you're starting to get a little out of control.
Your Memory Temporarily Goes Missing
Alcohol affects everyone differently, depending on your genes, what, if any, medications you're taking, as well as whether you just ate a big meal (food slows the absorption of alcohol in your bloodstream). Still, researchers speculate that heavy drinking interferes with how you remember by disrupting a key brain messenger called glutamate, which is linked to memory. That means if you have ever "forgotten" parts of the night until your drinking buddies reminded you, or have woken up foggy as to how you got home and into bed, you've definitely had one (or three) too many.
You Let Some Responsibilities Slide
"Drinking is a problem when you notice that you've started to neglect things that are important to you for the sake of alcohol," says Keith Humphreys, PhD, of the VA/Stanford University Center for Health Care Evaluation in Palo Alto, California. Maybe you're normally a dedicated parent, but a Saturday night buzz means you have trouble putting the kids to bed. Or you skip your Monday morning spin class because you feel hung-over from the weekend. When drinking is prioritized over your normal day-to-day life, you're probably in the danger zone.
People Close to You Seem Concerned
If your family, friends, or co-workers have hinted (or flat-out vocalized) that they're worried about you, it's time to cut back.
"The first step is to recognize that you're drinking more than you should, and then to set some goals for yourself," says Deidra Roach, MD, of the NIAAA.
Tell your partner or friend what your drinking limit is going to be before you go to an event where alcohol is free flowing. This makes it easier to say no to the next drink, because you're being held accountable by someone else. "And if you're afraid to ask people if you drink too much, that's probably a sign that you're overdoing it, too" says Dr. Humphreys.
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