Most of us have probably had at least one of these thoughts run through our heads at some point in our lives:
“I wonder if drinking like this is normal.”
“Thank goodness, I’m just a normal drinker. Not like that neighbor across the street!”
“I never drink like that! I have no idea why I overdid it last night!”
Or some other chatter along the same vein … when it comes to why and how you drink.
We know that as long as we can check off the boxes that make us a normal drinker vs. someone with a drinking problem, there’s no cause for concern. So we look around us for reassurance that our drinking habits are no worse than or no different from the habits of those around us. Maybe we take an online quiz or assessment. Even so, we continue to have moments when we wonder if our drinking really is “normal” or if it’s time to cut back on the booze a bit.
This may sound strange, but no matter how much, how little, how often, or how rarely you drink, you are a normal drinker.
How is that possible??
It all has to do with our brains and the way they respond to alcohol.
Someone who has never had a sip of alcohol in their lives is a normal drinker because chemically their brain is untouched and unchanged by alcohol. They don’t want it, don’t desire it, and never use it. Alcohol has never rewired anything in their brain to make them think or feel differently. That’s totally normal.
Someone else might drink occasionally — a glass of wine every few months. They get that flush and a warm buzz but never take it any further. Their brain has been slightly reprogrammed and thinks this feeling is normal.
Another someone might drink only on weekends, hitting it hard Friday through Sunday, probably drinking more than the recommended amount during that time but drinking little to nothing during the week. Once again, the brain and body learn from this behavior and are trained to believe this pattern is normal and it should continue.
And, the same holds true for daily drinkers. A bottle of wine a night, maybe two bottles — whatever the amount — the behavior conditions our brains and bodies to not only believe this amount of drinking is normal but to also believe it is necessary.
And our culture takes it a step further. Everywhere we turn we’re bombarded with messages that encourage us to drink.
“Wine is cheaper than therapy!”
“Ain’t nothing that a beer can’t fix.”
“It’s not drinking alone if your dog is home.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Alcohol is the only drug you have to justify not taking. And, normal is relative.
In fact, it’s this belief that we have to have a reason for not drinking that makes us think we’re normal drinkers, regardless of the effects alcohol is having on us.
How much or how little we drink can change in an instant. Having one drink can make us want another, and yet another. That’s just how alcohol works. We build a tolerance to it as we increase our consumption. That’s why so many of the stories we hear start off with, “I was a normal drinker.”
We all are. Until we are not.
But, it’s not about how much we drink; it’s about how our drinking makes us feel. When we question our relationship with alcohol, something changes. We realize normal isn’t defined by a specific amount of alcohol or the number of days we drink per week; it can’t be determined by taking a quiz.
You can drink once every six months and decide that it no longer works for you. Or you can be a two bottles of wine a night drinker like I was and also decide that’s no longer working for you.
A normal drinker is someone who is at peace with their relationship with alcohol. A person who has no shame, no guilt, and no regrets when they look at the role alcohol has in their life. They can take it or leave it with no emotional attachment or any misgivings around it.
Is your drinking normal? Are you a normal drinker? While I can guarantee you are not the only person asking yourself this question, you are the only one who can answer it and decide whether you want to change things.
Exploring your relationship with alcohol doesn’t make you a problem drinker. It doesn’t mean anything needs to change. If you are wondering if your drinking is normal, there is nothing wrong with getting curious, connecting with how you think and feel about alcohol, and then deciding what comes next.