Why can't I stop drinking after three beers?

Jessica Kennedy, Mental Health America

Some people are really good at drinking in moderation. They can sit down and have one glass of wine with dinner, two beers at a picnic, or a cocktail at happy hour and then head home.

And then some of us have issues with what we call impulse control—meaning we can’t always stop even when we want to.

There are many reasons that you can’t stop drinking after three beers:

  • Even though alcohol is technically a depressant, the part that relaxes your inhibitions can make you a little wild and hyper. It makes it easier and easier to make decisions that you wouldn’t make sober (like having that fourth or fifth drink, taking that shot, or getting behind the wheel of a car.) If this is happening every once in a while, like on your birthday or a holiday, that may not be a big deal (although you should never, ever drive after drinking.) If it happens to you regularly, there may be something else going on.

  • Maybe you have an underlying mental health problem, like generalized or social anxiety, and you use alcohol to take the “edge” off or to function with groups of people. We often refer to this as self-medicating. It’s a risky behavior for a number of reasons, especially if you find yourself drinking a lot as a result.

  • It’s possible you have a really hard time with your impulse control. If this is you, you might see that manifest in other ways, like playing video games obsessively or stressing out if you can’t get on Facebook.

  • This behavior may be a sign that you have an addiction to alcohol or that you are a problem drinker.

Regardless of the reason, if being unable to cut back is bothering you—or someone you care about and trust has mentioned it—you should talk to a professional. A great place to start is your primary care physician who you see every day. If you don’t feel comfortable with a medical doctor, there are therapists or counselors who specialize in alcohol or substance use.

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