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A person resting their arms on the table while holding their face in their hand with an alcoholic drink sitting in from of them.

A Guide to Reflect on Your Relationship with Alcohol

Having a healthy or unhealthy relationship with alcohol may feel like a strange concept at first. Many of us think of relationships in terms of our family and friends, and the bonds we share with our loved ones. But we can also have relationship-like bonds and attachments to different rituals or habits that become a part of our everyday lives. From time to time, it is helpful to take a step back and reflect on these relationships, and how they may be having a positive or negative impact on your wellbeing.

Everyone has a relationship with alcohol — even if you are a nondrinker, or only have a cocktail with friends every once in a while. Below is a brief example of a framework to help you reflect on your feelings about alcohol, or the experiences of a loved one you may be concerned about.

If this reflection causes you to experience feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt or hopelessness, please reach out to a professional using the resources identified at the bottom of the page.

Four Different Types of Relationships with Alcohol:

Non-drinkers (25%)

One in four of us are non-drinkers, or 25% of the general population. Those who do not drink can have any number of reasons, ranging from personal preference, medical conditions, religious beliefs or living in recovery. Nondrinkers may or may not feel comfortable being around alcohol.

Recreational Drinkers (50%)

The largest group of individuals are recreational drinkers. For example, this could refer to someone who has a beer at the ballgame, or attends an occasional social gathering centered on drinking, such as happy hour after work.

There typically is not a specific pattern of consumption among recreational drinkers, nor is it problematic. Do note “problematic” is used loosely as any drinking event can lead to a negative outcome, whether a bar fight or driving under the influence.

Harmful Use of Alcohol (25%)

Things start to take a turn when we move beyond casual, social or recreational drinking. At this point, a person is drinking in a way that puts themselves at-risk of injury or using alcohol for relief to cope with life in some form or fashion. This is considered harmful use of alcohol or problem drinking.

  • Sub-Category: Alcohol Use Disorder (5%)
    Within the 25% of the population who is using alcohol harmfully, 5% will meet criteria for a substance use disorder, commonly referred to as alcoholism.It is important to know that not all persons who use alcohol harmfully are alcoholics. Like our personal relationships, our experiences with alcohol are all very different and can respond to different types of treatment and support.

Do You Think You Might Be in a Toxic Relationship?

Which of the groups named above do you identify with? The challenge here is to take an honest look at the relationship you or a loved one have with alcohol.

Below are some additional thoughts and reflections for those who identify in the category of harmful alcohol use:

It is easy to tell yourself everything is okay with your drinking when it helps in some way. You may rationalize drinking as a way to cope with life’s troubles, painful memories or workplace stress, without realizing how drinking may be contributing to those struggles.

Instead of feeling supported and in control, you are in a love/hate relationship. 

Maybe you have tried to regain your original feelings or relationship with alcohol — modifying habits or falling in and out of sobriety, in an attempt to reestablish the honeymoon phase where, in the beginning, alcohol brings joy and comfort. Then, at some point, you realize the magic is gone. The warmth and excitement are only a distant memory, and you may feel unsure how to move forward.

Maybe you don’t know how to make the change, or you cannot imagine a life without alcohol. This can be a hopeless, confusing and even helpless feeling. But there IS hope.

Support can help: by providing someone to talk to, someone to help you explore your relationship with alcohol and someone who can help you begin to imagine a life without it. One where you make the choices, instead of your partner, alcohol.

Get Help for Substance Use at Places for People in St. Louis

The team of compassionate substance use specialists at Places for People can help you regain control of your life and relationships whether you are unsure how to define your relationship with alcohol, unsure how to move forward, or need help making a permanent breakup. Our team at Places for People in St. Louis can help.

Places for People uses both individual and group therapy to help provide the resources and support you need to achieve peaceful, fulfilling life. We also have a fully operational pharmacy at our outpatient treatment facility in Soulard. This allows our team to support individuals who are living with a mental illness and a co-occurring substance use concern.

Read more about our St. Louis substance use treatment program. To speak directly and confidentially with a member of our substance use treatment team, please call Places for People at (314) 615-2119.

If you or a loved one are in crisis and need after-hours support, please call 1 (800) 811-4760 for a 24-hour Crisis Support Hotline.

This article is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from a licensed health care professional. Always seek the advice of a licensed professional for any questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health, or the health of a loved one.