Is This the Reason You Drink Too Much?

11/03/2011 08:45 am ET | Updated Jan 03, 2012

Have you noticed that the glass of wine that you use to unwind has suddenly turned into two? Or has your last beer morphed into just the second of three? It's not just your imagination. That's actually happening. And you are not alone.

In my practice I work with many professionals who routinely ask: "Am I drinking too much?" Obviously the answer depends on the person, but unless they are clearly struggling with alcohol abuse or dependence, or are getting into trouble with alcohol, I tend to focus on what may be happening below the surface that may be leading them to the bottle more often or more days than not -- I mean, I am a shrink -- it's an occupational hazard.

For many of my patients the uptick in drinking comes as a response to negative stress. That may not be "press stopping" news, but given the fact that people tend to mix booze and co-workers at holiday time, it may be worth considering other strategies to help you reduce the stress now so that you don't end up spending your holiday party thinking that you can pull off Dave Chappelle's jokes from Season Two of "Chappelle's Show" -- because you can't, even if really you do a spot-on impression of him.

One way to think about alcohol is as a shortcut to play. For those of you out there who have serious jobs, you may find that you are not playing very much at work. If you are not sure if you are playing enough during the day, you're not. If you are still not sure, try looking at your e-mail signature, if your job title has more than two words, five syllables, or if any of the following words grace your business cards: "Finance," "Specialist," "Project," "Coordinator" or "Operations," it's a pretty good bet that you are not playing very much from 9 to 5, or should I say, 8 to 7.

Don't get me wrong, not every job needs to have balloon animals and Play-Doh -- but wouldn't it be great if they did? But if your job is weighted down by seriousness, or you find that all you have room for in your life is work and family, you are missing out on play. Although we are all born with a sense of play, as we wind on down the road to grownupery, it is easy to lose it. It's not just kids that need to play. We all do. The less playing we do, the less alive we feel.

Fade the lights, cue the music and enter the shortcut: Alcohol. Don't get me wrong, drinking can be a good thing, but when it is used as a substitute for playfulness or openness it quickly becomes just an excuse for impulsive behavior and can lead to darker roads.

One way to reduce your need to use alcohol as a social lubricant is to practice play in your daily life. There are plenty of opportunities to bring play into your life, you just need to cultivate them. If you wife calls you lazy for not folding the laundry don't take the bait, soften the exchange with a joke -- ideally not one at her expense. When your co-worker gets that look in his eye because he thinks the world is going to end, see if you can mess with him a little bit. When your 11th blind date turns out to be your boss, don't get angry, laugh. It's funny. There is absurdity all around you. If you look for ways to take things less seriously you can find them. Life is not "South Park" but it doesn't need to be "The Godfather Part II" either. The more you play the less you may need to rely on shortcuts. You will find that play can help you feel more alive and balanced. Your liver will thank you later.