Problem drinking is often a contributing factor for marital conflict, depression, anxiety and several other issues people face. Don’t get me wrong. By no means am I rallying the troops to make an attempt at prohibition or anything like that. It would be fair to say I am much more anti-chaos than anti-alcohol. But becoming mindful of the role alcohol is playing in your life can be a very useful thing.
What is Problem Drinking?
Well if you think about it as a continuum from use to dependence. On one end is abstinence from alcohol completely. Then you could move up to use. Use could vary anywhere from “yes, I’ve tried it” to “I have alcohol on a regular basis”. Then you move on to excessive or inappropriate use. This includes things like binge drinking, drinking in high risk situations like while driving, certain workplaces, mixing it with medications or purely to self medicate for other conditions. This is the point of the spectrum where alcohol abuse becomes more of a concern. The final stop on the spectrum is alcohol dependence. At this point the person is likely facing physical addiction symptoms in addition to some of the high-risk behaviours noted above.
You will notice I have avoided any references to standard drinks, drinks per sitting, blood alcohol levels etc. This is intentional. Though these are highly effective measuring sticks for researchers and law enforcement they are hard to apply to day to day living for many regular folks. I hear more people express concern about the negative impact of drinking on their lives (or someone close to them) than I do about the fact someone had a few millilitres of wine beyond the moderate drinking limits that are set by the government.
How significant is problem drinking in Singapore?
According to the Singapore Ministry of Health a large number of young people are engaging in high risk drinking behaviours. Overall, 2.6% of Singaporeans regularly consume alcohol. The numbers do rise to 8.7% if you look specifically at binge drinking. However, there is a fair amount of variability in the subgroups on this topic. For example 13.3% of males reported binge drinking. The highest rate of binge drinking was among young adults at 18.7% of the 18-29 year old males and 12.2% of the females. However, this is lower than is reported in other countries. In the USA for example about 34% of 18-22 year olds reported binge drinking (the numbers rise to nearly 38% for those enrolled in university).
It is important to consider the rates at which other countries consume alcohol to get a realistic view of alcohol use in Singapore. This is essential because the rates of alcohol use that are reported by the Singapore Ministry of Health are for Singapore Citizens and Permanent residents only. They do not collect information on the nearly 1/3 of the population of Singapore who are non-residents who live here for work, to study at university or simply to accompany a family member who is here for work etc. Some of the home countries where many expats come from have different consumption rates than those reported for Singapore Citizens.
Tips for dealing with problem drinking.
- Ask yourself this question. Is drinking enhancing my experience of the situation or detracting from it? Essentially are you taking the drink or is the drink taking you? For some having a nice glass of bubbles at a special occasion makes it all the more special. However, the truth is that for others they end up drinking even though it isn’t enjoyable at all to them. It may make them miserable and cause a host of negative consequences in their lives but they drink anyway.
- Eliminate chaos. This involves some reflection on how serious the chaos is. One of the things people often wrestle with is whether they need to stop drinking completely to be able to eliminate the chaos. To answer that you will need to contemplate to what extent there are problems with health, work, relationships, accidents, arrests, emotional wellbeing etc. Then you can create specific plans to address that issue(s). This may involve strengthen that turbulent marriage, or leaving the unsatisfying job.
- Get a grip. Adding some new coping skills will help many people’s drinking behaviour snap back into “normal” range. This may be related to work stress, relationship conflict, managing depression or anxiety symptoms etc. These are the folks who have started using alcohol as a crutch. If you feel that drinking has started to have too many side effects it may be time to expand your assortment of coping mechanisms.
- Cut it out. If cutting back can’t eliminate the chaos cut it out. There are those who are beyond using the Moderation Management or Harm Reduction type approach. Those individuals will need to take stronger measures i.e. abstinence from alcohol either temporarily or permanently.
- Go Social. Identify who your allies are and ask them to support you with some of the changes you are looking to make. Often friends and loved ones are open to making changes that are supportive of you making healthier choices. It may not be a big deal at all for them to meet you for a coffee instead of a cocktail. You may just need to suggest the alternative.
- Perfect the Swap. Explore other ways to socialize and try new hobbies. It doesn’t mean you need to change everything about yourself or what you do. However, you may find some situations make it easier to follow through on your no chaos strategies than others.
- Stick to the plan. Once you decide to make some changes focus on your goals. Whether this is setting a daily drink limit, a certain number of alcohol free nights or a large-scale lifestyle change. You will also need to decide whether you are hoping to make short-term changes to manage a specific situation or life long changes.
It is up to you to decide if occasionally having a big night has become too frequent. However, it is also wise to take into consideration the observations of our colleagues, friends and family when deciding a course of action. If you find it difficult to implement any of the initial steps outlined above that itself is a factor. You may find it helpful to enlist the support of a counsellor or doctor who specialises in these matters to help you sort out a reasonable plan given your specific situation. Best of luck in your pursuit of a chaos free life.
If you are interested in more statistics on the topic check out these links.