Someone you know drinking too much?

How to talk about alcohol abuse and find help if it's becoming a problem

Sobriety challenges like Dry January are part of the #x201c;sober curious#x201d; movement, encouraging people to reevalu
Sobriety challenges like Dry January are part of the “sober curious” movement, encouraging people to reevaluate their social drinking habits and realize that “drinking doesn’t have to be a staple of adult life.” (Adobe Stock)

Over the past year, many people have joked about getting through a stressful day or week with a drink or two. But for some people, this common coping mechanism is no joke.

Liquor sales in Iowa were at a record $367.3 million during the fiscal year that ended June 30 — an increase of 8.2 percent over the previous year. Since then, liquor sales have been trending up by as much as 16 percent.

Social distancing due to the pandemic has made it even harder to tell if a friend or family member might be drinking too much.

Renee Schulte, a mental health consultant and coach from Urbandale, said you should trust your gut if you suspect a friend or family member is struggling with alcohol.

“If you think somebody is drinking more, they probably are,” she said.

Schulte said signs that someone is developing a problem might include being late to work, not taking care of responsibilities and being increasingly irritable.


Having a conversation about problematic drinking is tough, but Schulte offered some phrases that can open the door.

She recommends saying, “I’ve noticed something is different. Is there something that’s changed?”

Dr. Scott Eilers, a clinical psychologist with Mercy Family Counseling, also recommends using gentle conversation starters.


“Ask the person if they wish they had more energy in the morning, and what they think would help with that,” he said.

These phrases can avoid making someone feel cornered or attacked, but that’s not the only reason they’re recommended.

Eilers said sustainable change is much more likely if the person you’re concerned about can find their own reasons to cut back. That typically works better than “guilting” someone or being overly blunt.

“Get them to be their own advocate,” he said.

Exactly which friends or family members are at risk of developing substance abuse issues during the pandemic might surprise you.

Recently, Eilers noticed that many of his new clients are people who had active social lives before COVID-19. Granted, these clients sought care for a variety of reasons — not all related to substance abuse — but it’s important to realize anyone might be suffering from pandemic stress.

“The changes in the world due to the pandemic have impacted people who previously weren’t struggling with their mental health,” he said.


If you’re concerned about your own drinking habits, Schulte offered tips for keeping alcohol consumption in check.

She recommends measuring drinks to help you make sure your “one drink a day” is truly one drink.

“Craft beer in Iowa sometimes has an alcohol content as high as 15 percent and is served in a 16-ounce glass,” she said.


That’s a lot more than one standard drink, which for beer is 5 percent alcohol in a 12-ounce glass. The 2020-2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends that if alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation — up to one drink per day for women and two for men.


Schulte also recommends scheduling some alcohol-free days each week, so drinking doesn’t become a daily habit.

Eilers is a proponent of the “sober curious” movement, which is for people who don’t necessarily have a dependency or addiction — or who even plan to give up alcohol permanently altogether — but who want to explore sobriety for personal or wellness reasons.

“Drinking doesn’t have to be a staple of adult life,” Eilers said.

But, as with any lifestyle change, Eilers recommends making small, sustainable adjustments instead of big, sudden changes.

“It’s like exercise,” he said. “If you go from sedentary to working out seven days a week, you’re going to hurt somewhere.”

Once you start making changes, you might find that your behavior will motivate others, Eilers said, and you might be surprised at the impact you can have simply by modeling change.

He cautioned, too, it’s important to protect your own energy while supporting others.

“Being a support person is another area where sustainability is key,” Eilers said.

If someone in your life needs a lot of help trying to quit or cut back on alcohol, you might feel burned out. That’s especially true if you’ve been dealing with your own pandemic struggles.

“Offer support only as often as it feels comfortable for you,” he said. “If you have energy left over, pick up the phone.”


If you or someone you know may need help dealing with alcohol abuse, help is available.

Your Life Iowa offers services for numerous addictions, including alcohol dependency. Its counselors can be reached at (855) 581-8111 or by text at (855) 895-8398.


Al-Anon (and Alateen for younger people) is a program that offers support for family and friends of alcoholics. They can be reached at (888) 425-2666.


09:00AM | Thu, February 04, 2021

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