Beyond Dry January: 6 telltale signs you may have a hidden drinking problem

So, maybe you’ve vowed to attempt Dry January – but what happens the rest of the time? Do you hit the bottle with a vengeance every weekend? Party hard, or feel like you’re endlessly on countdown for Wine O’Clock?

Ex-advertising executive and mother-of-three Clare Pooley, who started the hit blog ‘Mummy Was A Secret Drinker’ under the pseudonym ‘Sober Mummy’ as therapy for herself when she gave up drinking, knows only too well the telltale signs of alcohol addiction.

Clare Pooley (Caroline Firth/PA)

She was a woman who does what so many of us do – often without thinking twice – open a bottle of wine to relieve stress, be sociable, get into party mode…

”It crept up gradually but by the end, during the week, I was drinking a bottle of wine a night, and at the weekend I could easily drink two bottles, especially when I was going out to a party. If I added that all up – which I tried very hard not to do for years – it was about 10 bottles of wine a week,” she reflects.

The Sober Diaries (Coronet/PA)

After finally facing up to the reality of her own drinking habits – and making some big changes – Clare has now charted her first year of sobriety in her new book, The Sober Diaries. Here, based on her own experiences, the blogger and author shares six telltale signs that you may have a drinking problem…

1. Breaking rules

Clare enjoying a drink in her younger days (Clare Pooley/PA)

Before accepting her drinking habits needed to change, Clare had always set herself a number of ‘markers’: You were not an alcoholic if you didn’t drink in the morning; if you didn’t drink vodka; if you didn’t throw up in front of your children.

“One day, I woke up after my birthday with a terrible hangover and ended up pouring myself the dregs of a bottle of red wine from the night before into a mug, and drank it at about 11 in the morning. That was breaking one of the cardinal rules I had set myself,” she says. “If you decide you are going to do Dry January and you only get half way, or you decide you are only going to drink at weekends and not in the week – but you can’t stick to that, or you decide you are not going to drink more than two glasses of wine on any one day and you can’t stick to it, that’s one of the key signs.”

2. When it becomes an obsession

Find yourself thinking about booze much of the time? (Thinkstock/PA)

“When you are thinking about booze quite a lot of the time – when you are next going to drink, what you are going to drink, how much you are going to drink – and it starts taking up too much space in your head, again that’s a big warning sign,” says Clare.

3. When you can’t relax without it

Is a drink an essential ingredient for enjoyment/relaxation/fun? (Laura Lean/PA)

You may use wine to wind down, rev up, celebrate and socialise – but when you realise you can’t do any of those things without wine any more, it may be time to re-assess. If you believe that without booze you are timid and boring, think about why you are really drinking.

4. When the kids’ bedtime gets shorter

Clare recalls: “Because of that glass of wine, and its many friends, I skipped over endless pages of the children’s picture books, and wrapped up years of precious bedtime routines as early as possible.”

5. When it shows physically

Clare was two stone heavier before she quit booze (Clare Pooley/PA)

“Aside from the obvious hangovers, you’re likely to put on weight, particularly around the middle – what looks like a beer belly or a muffin top. Alcohol tends to stick around your stomach. You also tend to get a pasty, puffy complexion and broken veins,” says Clare, who says she feels slimmer, healthier and far more energetic since curbing the booze.

“You don’t sleep well. Often drinkers can get to sleep very easily, because the alcohol anaesthetises you into sleep, but you wake up at about 3am tossing and turning and can’t get back to sleep again.”

6. And mentally

Alcohol fuels depression (Thinkstock/PA)

“Alcohol is a mild depressant over time, but it also tends to cause anxiety, which is counter-intuitive because a lot of people think that alcohol takes the edge off anxiety, but it’s alcohol which is causing the anxiety in the first place,” says Clare. “Big drinkers will often find they are depressed and anxious simultaneously.”

You get better sleep without alcohol (Thinkstock/PA)

Clare knows firsthand how much better you can feel once you’ve broken the cycle: “You’ll sleep better, you’ll look younger, and you’ll get your sense of taste and smell back. Your skin will look better. Being sober is the new Botox!”

You are also likely to lose weight – Clare lost two stones after giving up drinking and noticed that, as well as looking younger, her hair became more lustrous.

She no longer snapped at the children, took up exercise and meditation, and started to feel more energised than ever – and is still the life and soul of the party.

The Sober Diaries: How One Woman Stopped Drinking And Started Living by Clare Pooley is published by Coronet. Available now.


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