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Binge Drinking

8 Signs That You’re Drinking Too Much

February 27, 2023
24 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
February 27, 2023
24 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
February 27, 2023
24 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
February 27, 2023
24 min read
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Reframe Content Team
February 27, 2023
24 min read

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. And yet our bodies — and the changing circumstances of our lives — often send us subtle (or not-so-subtle) signs that it might be time to reassess and change course.

When it comes to alcohol, the signs that we might be drinking too much are too important to ignore. Let’s explore 8 of the most common ones in more detail and learn how we can tweak our habits for a healthier, more fulfilling life!

1. Depression: Beyond “The Blues”

One common misconception about alcohol is that it serves as a mood enhancer, or "liquid courage." However, while many people believe a drink might lift their spirits, the reverse is just as likely: as a depressant, alcohol can exacerbate sadness, lethargy, and hopelessness, leading to a vicious cycle with depressive symptoms and booze feeding into one another.

  • Chemical reaction in the brain. Alcohol slows the functions of the central nervous system and alters the levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine — the “feel good” neurotransmitters — leading to shifts in mood.
  • The emotional rollercoaster. While we may initially feel a sense of euphoria or relief, as alcohol wears off, it can cause a significant drop in mood. This dip can be even more severe for those already prone to depression.
  • Impact on sleep. Booze can interfere with our sleep patterns. Lack of quality sleep, in turn, is a known contributor to depression symptoms.
Chronic Drinking and Mental Health 

Regular overconsumption of alcohol can lead to relationship conflicts, work difficulties, or financial troubles, all of which can increase stress and depression. It can also reduce the effectiveness of antidepressants, making it harder for patients to find relief from their symptoms.

2. Frequent Blackouts: When Memories Go Missing

Blackouts — periods of time that seem to be erased from our memory — occur when we consume a large amount of alcohol within a short time. If they happen frequently, they can harm our brain and memory functions. It's alarming how common blackouts are, and how often they're brushed aside — in reality, they are no joke, especially if they happen frequently.

Understanding Blackouts

Contrary to common misconception, blackouts are not the same as passing out from alcohol consumption. A blackout is an episode of amnesia during which a person cannot recall events that happened while they were intoxicated, even though they were awake and functioning during that time. Scientists draw a distinction between two types of blackouts: "en bloc," involving a complete inability to recall events, and "fragmentary," referring to spotty memories that might return with cues.

Blackouts result from alcohol inhibiting the ability of the hippocampus to form new long-term memories. While we might be able to participate in conversations and even perform complex tasks, these events don’t get encoded into long-term memory storage.

Not everyone will experience a blackout at the same level of intoxication. Factors such as drinking on an empty stomach, drinking rapidly, fatigue, and even genetics can play a role. Moreover, it’s a myth that only those with alcohol dependency experience blackouts — even moderate drinkers can have them, especially if they have lots of drinks in a row.

Risky Business

Blackouts put us at risk. From injuries to risky behaviors such as unprotected intimacy or driving, the inability to remember can spell trouble. And it's not just about the immediate risks — consistent blackouts can lead to brain damage and cognitive deficits over time.

Recognizing and accepting the occurrence of frequent blackouts is crucial. These episodes are clear signals from our brain: the way we’re drinking isn't safe!

3. Increased Alcohol Tolerance: When “Holding Your Liquor” Isn’t Something To Brag About

Alcohol tolerance is often worn as a badge of honor in some social circles: "I can drink everyone under the table!" or "It takes a lot to get me buzzed." But what does it really mean to have a high tolerance, and why should we be concerned?

Decoding Alcohol Tolerance 

Alcohol tolerance develops when frequent alcohol consumption leads us to need more alcohol to achieve the same effects we once experienced with smaller quantities. This means, over time, we might find ourselves drinking more to get the same buzz or relaxation that a single drink once provided.

Tolerance develops as the body's way of adapting to regular and heavy alcohol consumption. The liver becomes more efficient at metabolizing alcohol, and the brain adjusts its neurotransmitter activity in response to the frequent presence of alcohol. This doesn’t mean the body is processing alcohol in a healthier way; it’s merely adjusting to the regular intake and putting other important functions on hold.

Dangers of Increased Tolerance

A heightened tolerance can be deceiving. While we might feel less intoxicated or impaired, alcohol's effect on coordination, judgment, and reaction times remains just as real. This discrepancy can lead to dangerous situations: for example, we might think that we’re okay to drive when we’re not. Also, consuming large amounts floods the body with more alcohol, which can accelerate damage to the liver, heart, and other organs.

Finally, increasing tolerance can be a sign of alcohol dependency. As tolerance increases, we might find ourselves drinking more to avoid withdrawal symptoms rather than to get a buzz, which becomes more and more elusive — a clear sign that the body has become dependent on alcohol.

Reversing The Trend

The good news is that cutting back or taking a break from alcohol can help reset our tolerance levels. However, anyone who has developed a strong dependency should proceed with caution, as sudden cessation can lead to severe and possibly dangerous withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures. Experiencing withdrawal is in itself a sign we’ve been drinking too much — one that we’ll explore next.

4. Withdrawal Symptoms: Beyond a “Bad Hangover

"Oh, it's just a hangover." This is a phrase we often hear after a night of heavy drinking. But sometimes, what people brush off as a simple hangover could be the early signs of alcohol withdrawal. This distinction is crucial, as withdrawal symptoms are a clear sign of alcohol dependence. It isn’t just about “wanting” a drink — it’s a physiological response indicating that the body needs booze to function normally.

Defining Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal refers to the symptoms that can occur when a person who has regularly been drinking excessive amounts of alcohol suddenly stops or reduces their intake. It happens because the central nervous system becomes hyperexcitable when alcohol is no longer suppressing its activity.

While symptoms vary from person to person, there are several typical ones:

  • Anxiety or nervousness. As a depressant, alcohol relaxes the nervous system. Without it, those who have become dependent can get anxious or jittery.
  • Tremors (shakes). Tremors can start a few hours after the last drink and get worse over 48 to 72 hours.
  • Mood swings. These can range from irritability to extreme agitation.
  • Nausea and vomiting. These symptoms can come with a heightened sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Sweating or rapid heartbeat. This is how the body physically reacts to the sudden removal of a depressant.
  • Headache. Often throbbing and persistent, it is usually more prolonged than a hangover headache.
  • Insomnia. Despite feeling exhausted, many people find it difficult to sleep during withdrawal.
Severe Symptoms

In some cases, we may experience more severe and dangerous symptoms like hallucinations, seizures, and a condition called delirium tremens (characterized by confusion, rapid heartbeat, and fever). Symptoms can start as early as 6 hours after the last drink and can peak around 24-72 hours later. For some, withdrawal symptoms can persist for weeks.

Professional help is key in the case of severe withdrawal symptoms, as they can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Gradual reduction under medical supervision or specific treatments can make the process safer and more comfortable.

Indicators of excessive alcohol consumption

5. Neglecting Responsibilities: Putting Life on the Back Burner

Whether it's commitments at work, household chores, or maintaining social relationships, there's always something on our to-do list. However, when alcohol starts creeping into daily routines, we might find ourselves dropping the ball in some of those areas. Work tasks piling up? No time for events or hobbies we once loved? Alcohol might be taking more control of our lives than we realize.

The shift can often be subtle — perhaps a hangover makes us call in sick for work or skip an important family event. Over time, however, these isolated incidents can morph into a pattern as alcohol consumption or its aftereffects consistently interfere with daily tasks and responsibilities

Chronic alcohol consumption often leads to problems at work:

  • Decreased productivity. Feeling lethargic or mentally foggy the day after can slow us down.
  • Increased absenteeism. Whether it's due to hangovers or spending more time drinking, absenteeism can spike.
  • Missed deadlines. Alcohol can mess with our ability to manage time efficiently, leading to delays and missed commitments.
  • Damaged professional relationships. If colleagues or superiors notice the trend, it can strain workplace relationships.

As for home life and relationships, there are several common patterns here as well:

  • Household neglect. Regular chores like cleaning, paying bills, or even grocery shopping might take a back seat.
  • Strained family relationships. Missing family events, forgetting important dates, or not being present for loved ones can strain ties.
  • Parenting concerns. For those with kids, excessive drinking might mean missing school events, not helping with homework, or being less emotionally available.
  • Social commitments. Prioritizing drinking or recovering from its effects can lead to declining invitations, missing social gatherings, or forgetting commitments made to friends.

These signs are a wake-up call. If the scales seem tipped towards alcohol more often than not, it might be time to reassess our drinking habits before our relationships, careers, and personal growth take a serious hit.

6. Sleep Disturbances: Rhythm Disrupted

Contrary to popular belief, a nightcap isn’t a ticket to dreamland, and feeling tired in spite of clocking in 8 or more hours can be a sign that our drinking habits might be getting out of hand.

  • Disruptor in disguise. Alcohol can, indeed, reduce the time it takes to nod off due to its sedative properties. However, this is just the beginning of the story — science shows that alcohol has negative effects on sleep.
  • Deep sleep and REM. Sleep is broadly divided into two categories — non-REM (deep sleep) and REM (rapid eye movement) that involves dreaming and is restorative for the body and mind. While alcohol can increase deep sleep in the first half of the night, it dramatically reduces the REM stage that typically occurs later, leading to disrupted, fragmented sleep and fewer dreams due to more frequent awakenings and a harder time getting back to sleep.
  • Exacerbation of sleep disorders. By relaxing the muscles of the throat, alcohol can worsen conditions such as sleep apnea (in which breathing stops and starts during the night). It leads to more frequent and prolonged breathing interruptions.
The Cycle of Sleep Disturbance

Over time, sleep that has been disrupted by booze can lead to increased stress and anxiety, making us turn to alcohol again for relief and creating a vicious cycle. And while sleep disturbances might seem minor compared to other signs of excessive drinking, they can lead to more significant health problems, including weakened immunity, weight gain, and increased risk of chronic diseases.

7. Increased Risky Behavior: “I Can’t Believe I Did That!”

From selecting a breakfast cereal to choosing a career path, our decision-making process is grounded in a mix of logic, experience, and intuition. However, excessive drinking can throw a wrench into this process, leading to risky behavior. If we find ourselves taking unnecessary risks — whether that’s driving under the influence or engaging in other dangerous activities — it's a red flag!

The Brain on Booze

Alcohol affects the brain's frontal lobes, which are responsible for decision-making, judgment, impulse control, and reasoning. When these functions are impaired, the chances of making risky choices skyrocket.

While there’s no end to the variety of risky behaviors, these common ones often show up when alcohol runs the show:

  • Driving under the influence. The slowed reaction times and impaired judgment can have catastrophic outcomes, not just for the driver but for everyone else on the road.
  • Unprotected sex. Impaired decision-making can lead to unprotected encounters, increasing the risk of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
  • Physical altercations. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and increases aggression, leading to fights or confrontations that we might typically avoid.
  • Financial impulsivity. Going on a shopping binge or gambling can seem more enticing when under the influence.
The Domino Effect

The consequences of risky behaviors aren’t just about immediate outcomes, and one risky behavior can set off a chain of events with long-term implications for personal relationships, mental health, and overall life trajectory. For instance, a DUI could lead to legal troubles, loss of a driver's license, or job loss.

If we find that our nights of drinking often culminate in stories of "I can't believe I did that!" it's worth pausing and considering the role alcohol plays in these choices. While stories can be retold and laughed off, the consequences of risky behaviors are no joke.

8. Physical Health Issues: When the Body Says “Enough Is Enough”

The human body is a remarkable, intricate machine that can heal tiny cuts, fend off invaders, and even grow new life. But just like any piece of intricate machinery, it can suffer damage if not treated right.

Excessive drinking can lead to a slew of health issues, all of which serve as red flags that it’s time to reassess our drinking habits: 

Action Steps: Take Control!

It's never too late to tune into these signals and take proactive steps! The body is extremely resilient, and even small changes make a difference.

  • Daily reflections. Take a few minutes each day to jot down how you felt after drinking. Over time, patterns will emerge. The self-awareness developed this way can be a powerful tool in understanding your habits.
  • Alcohol-free days. Designate certain days of the week as alcohol-free. These breaks can both reduce consumption and give your body a well-needed rest.
  • Mindful drinking. When you choose to drink, do so mindfully. Sip slowly, savor the taste, and be present. This helps reduce the quantity consumed.
  • Replace the habit. Find a new activity to edge out the booze. Maybe it’s picking up a hobby, joining a class, or even just taking a walk.
  • Reach out. If you're feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone. Whether it's a friend, family member, support group, or professional, a supportive ear can make a difference.
  • Stay informed. Educate yourself on the effects of alcohol. Knowing the science and the potential harms can be a great motivator.
  • Download Reframe. For science-backed methods and support at your fingertips, consider using the Reframe app! A structured program can provide the guidance and resources you need.

Taking Charge

Taking the first step to recognize and understand your relationship with alcohol is monumental. Every journey begins with that single step, and you've already taken the first one by being here. In the end, it’s all about tapping into your own intuition to recognize when it’s time for a shift. After all, in the words of writer and entrepreneur Jim Rohn, “Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live.”

Summary FAQs

1. What are some emotional signs that I might be drinking excessively?

Depression is a notable emotional sign. Regular heavy drinking can disrupt neurotransmitters in the brain, which can lead to feelings of sadness, lethargy, and hopelessness.

2. Can excessive alcohol cause memory gaps?

Yes, frequent blackouts or episodes where you can't recall events while drinking can be a sign of excessive alcohol consumption. It indicates a level of intoxication that affects the brain's ability to form new memories.

3. How can I tell if I'm building a tolerance to alcohol?

If you find yourself needing to drink more to achieve the same effects or feeling less intoxicated with the same amount, it indicates an increased tolerance, which can be a sign of drinking too much.

4. Are there physical signs when I suddenly stop drinking after consistent heavy consumption?

Absolutely. Withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, shaky hands, nausea, and even severe symptoms like seizures can occur after sudden cessation, indicating alcohol dependence.

5. How might excessive drinking affect my day-to-day responsibilities?

Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home is a significant indicator. If tasks and commitments start slipping regularly due to alcohol, it's a clear sign to reassess consumption.

6. Can alcohol impact my sleep patterns?

Yes, while alcohol might initially make you feel drowsy, it disrupts the sleep cycle leading to fragmented sleep, insomnia, or other sleep disturbances over time.

7. Does drinking more lead to riskier decisions?

It can. Excessive alcohol impairs judgment and can increase the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, from driving under the influence to unprotected intimacy.

Thinking about Changing Your Relationship With Alcohol This January — and Beyond? Reframe Is Here To Help!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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