There has been a lot in the media recently around the dangers of drinking to excess. What has come as a surprise to many is that the definition of excess that the experts work from is very easily reached.
Even just a drink or two, everyday, has been shown to have a detrimental effects to our health.
Yet most of us are still drinking.
In the UK we have a long cultural history of drinking to excess and whilst things are changing if we go back a generation or two it wasn’t uncommon for functioning alcoholics to be considered as “a bit of a drinker” no more no less. For those of us in our 30’s and above many of our unconscious associations with alcohol were formed within this kind of culture.
It is important for me to say at this point that for most people there is nothing wrong with having the odd drink here and there as long as it is under our conscious control and we can refrain from it should we choose.
Living within the culture that we do, perhaps influenced by the billions of pounds spent on advertising by the alcohol industry, knowing whether we could refrain from drinking is not always clear to people. Many people simply have no reason to try and it is often only when a reason to take action comes along, perhaps a health scare or nutrition goal that the question comes up at all.
The answer can sometimes be surprising.
Everyone should be able to refrain from drinking should they choose to (or have a good reason) and this is often where the excuses start… “I could if I wanted but…” is the usual form they come in.
Values come into play here and questions need to be asked about what is really important to you. What do you value most? Your health or going out every night? Having a six pack or beer? It is unlikely that you can sustain both for very long if at all.
Do you value fitting in or being true to yourself?
This can be a big one because the social pressure to drink when others around us are can be quite intense for some people. But most people should be able to overcome the “go on have a drink” culture if they choose to shouldn’t they?
All too often the drinking is a tool that masks some form of social anxiety or insecurity. Often nothing major but something just enough to make the thought of going without booze for a period of time just scary enough that we invent plausible enough excuses to convince ourselves it is our choice. We are hard wired to fit in after all and this stuff can often bypass our conscious awareness but the fear is there nevertheless and a drink or two is just enough to take the edge off things. The only problem is that a drink or two is also just enough to inhibit some of the impulse regulation circuitry of the brain which can lead to other problems.
]Another cause for compulsive alcohol dependancy (because let’s not beat around the bush here, if you can’t stop something then it is a compulsion and if you feel that you need to do it then that sounds quite dependant to me) is that you are suffering and you are trying your best to numb it. Self medicating if you like. It doesn’t always feel like that on the outside and sometimes people may have been numbing pain for so long that they can barely remember it at all. But it’s there. The clue is in the behaviour around alcohol.
The thing that unites all of this is that neither approach addresses the root cause of the problem. Whether it’s a few drinks to get through a night out or a few more to get through life, in the morning the problems will still be there, potentially worse. It is by addressing and resolving the underlying issues that make the unconscious drivers of the behaviour fall apart. This can lead to a freedom and choice to live life on your own terms and start making decisions true to your values.
Everyone should be able to refrain from drinking (or doing anything else for that matter) for a period of time if they have the desire to. If you find it difficult, then getting some help to address the causes may help.
Some people just should not drink. At all.
Do I think that the above rules apply? Yes probably.
Do I think that it’s possible for them to sort out their relationship with alcohol? Yes probably.
Are they going to do it? Unlikely.
Would their life be better if they just decide to stop now? Yes.
There are many programs to help with this. A good start may be to look up your local AA meeting.