The role of alcohol in your life
Think about it carefully and you should be able to recognise alcohol as a tool. We often talk about “drug users” and this word “use” is an important one because you were (or perhaps still are) using alcohol as a tool to achieve something. For example:
• I drink to relax
• I drink to avoid feeling anxious (or sad, or lonely, or whatever)
• I drink to make the evening more fun
• I drink to make myself more sociable or outgoing (change your character)
• I drink to feel a part of the group (to feel a sense of belonging)
• I drink to ‘get off my face’ -- in other words to lose all sense of responsibility
So first of all then, think about those situations where you are using alcohol and ask yourself “what am I using it for?” And remember, there are always alternative tools to achieve what it is you want to achieve in a particular situation. As Abraham Maslow said “if you only have a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it is a nail”. For example, if you drink to relax at the end of the working day, have you considered trying to relax using tools other than alcohol? You might consider exercise, yoga or simply walking the dog. Yes, alcohol relaxes you quickly and often many of us are short of time. However, if you are looking at the bigger picture you might need to consider why you are short of time and make other, bigger, changes. As I said at the begining, changing your relationship with alcohol means more than just cutting down on consumption.
Similarly, if you’re using alcohol to avoid anxiety, do you need to tackle the causes of anxiety? Same thing with loneliness. Again, consider the bigger picture. Moreover, in the case of anxiety, drinking will actually make anxiety worse in the long run, so it’s especially important to address the causes, rather than simply treat the symptoms. If your evenings need alcohol to make them fun, maybe you need to look critically at what you’re doing and with whom you are doing it. Be prepared to challenge assumptions like needing alcohol to make something okay or tolerable. There’s more about this when it comes to looking at your assumptions, later on in this series of pages on alcohol.
In many of these cases you may need additional help to address problems that sit behind excessive or out-of-control drinking. For example, shyness or social anxiety can be addressed by counselling. And feeling that you need to lose a sense of responsibility might mean discussing the burden of those responsibilities with a loved one or someone at work, again, rather than simply responding to the consequences of the problem by using alcohol. If you are already in therapy with me, we can do some work around these issues as we consider the role of alcohol in your life.
Drink makes people sociable but it also makes them isolated and lonely. Illustration by Hugh McMahon. See his website for some thought-provoking ideas about alcohol, its use and abuse, its origins and its prevalence in the Irish culture.
Dr Alan Priest, UKCP Registered Psychotherapist provides therapy for problem drinking and alcohol dependency in Huddersfield and Halifax. Contact Me.
Page created 26 March 2013. Thanks Hugh for permission to use your work.