Alcohol and Mental Health
For those who struggle with their relationship with alcohol, I recommend a book called Jason Vale- Kick the Drink Easily!
You don’t need to go the full ‘tea total’ as he does, but what you can take from this book is a greater understanding of what Alcohol does to us and to understand your own relationship with alcohol.
Some people drink to relax, some claim they like the taste, some drink out of habit and some cannot enjoy socialising without it. Whatever your reason for drinking is, we need to make sure our relationship with the booze is a controlled one. This is because alcohol is a dangerous drug directly responsible for 9000 deaths per year and indirectly much more.
‘Every time you wake up after drinking, you are mentally, emotionally, socially and financially worse off than if you had not taken the drug in the first place.’ (Vale, 2011)
We drink to enhance our enjoyment while socialising and make us feel more confident and enthusiastic when talking to people. This stimulant costs us a fortune and the alcohol industry has us right where they need us.
‘The need for alcohol is caused by alcohol.’ (Vale, 2011)
For many, fixating on calories is unhelpful and denying ourselves of the things we enjoy can do us more harm than good. While calories are not that simple, I consider alcohol to be one of the worst types of calories. They are simple carbohydrates that play havoc with our blood sugar levels making us hungry and moody. Alcohol sends our blood sugar too high, causing insulin to send it back down, meaning our blood sugar is too low, so what do we do? We either drink more to bring it up again, or we eat the wrong things to try and help our headaches. And the cycle has started again.
The alcohol will also dehydrate us and make us thirsty, so what do we do? We need to hydrate ourselves. We could hydrate with a pint of water, but many of us turn instead to the next alcoholic drink.…and the cycle has started again. It would be difficult to get through as many pints of water as you can get through beer, which can then facilitate binge drinking.
‘Alcohol is a depressant. The longer you take a depressant the more depressed you become.’ (Vale, 2011)
If we are generally healthy and don’t drink all the time then I like to think our bodies can, to an extent, recover from alcohol. However, drinking to an extreme means our risk of suffering from depression is more likely. For after all, only so much positive thinking can fight the chemical imbalances in the brain. For many, there is an overriding fear of not being able to enjoy a sober evening. Will you be tempted to join in when your friends start doing shots?
The condition of our day-to-day existence will vary throughout our lives. We will have challenging times and happier times, and for some of us, our relationship with drink will vary with this. If we are unhappy in our relationship, or lack of relationship, or our jobs or in our living situation, it could be that we turn to drink as a temporary escape. But at some point, we need to return to our reality, but we will be returning in a heightened state of depression, anxiety and maybe a headache or some nausea (or all of the above).
‘The reality is not that alcohol makes you happy; it’s that you are miserable without it.’ (Vale, 2011)
I recommend to anyone who is themselves or knows someone who is struggling with addiction of any kind, to watch the Russel Brand interview with Gabor Mate on YouTube.
Their interview provides insightful reasons for the difficulties we have with finding control over alcohol or other substances/behaviours. For many people suffering from addiction, this problem has often formed as a result of trauma in our past. In other words, the problem was there long before it began to surface. For those of us who have experienced severe trauma in our lives or have had difficult upbringings, I recommend that when you are ready to address this, consider therapy. I also recommend working with a therapist that you are comfortable with, as there will unfortunately be therapists that don’t necessarily have the right knowledge or understanding of addiction to best support you. there are lots of different theoretical approaches that could be helpful for you, I like to use Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) techniques to address some of the trauma and emotions that lead to/come as a result of alcohol consumption, but one size does not fit all. I never believe just ‘giving up’ drinking isn’t going to be the answer, it might take a bit more work than this.
Some great charities offer support and some of these will work for you and some won’t. Open Road offer support groups alongside counselling, and this is something I recommend as a therapist. While groups offer fantastic support, they won’t always give you the necessary space to explore your deeper issues. The therapists that work for these charities should have the right training to support you, but again if you don’t think it’s working, please don’t give up, is there another therapist there that can help you? No two therapists are the same and at the end of the day they are human and so are you, and we won’t naturally be able to open up to everyone!
‘Why would you want to gain control over something that does nothing for you? Why would you want to control a disease instead of getting rid of it?’ (Vale, 2011)
Jason Vale’s approach won’t work for everyone, but he makes some good points. He makes bold statements about how ‘cutting down’ just isn’t good enough, that there is “No such thing as an alcoholic” and “we are all dependent on alcohol, just not everyone is aware of it.” (Vale, 2011) He explains that anyone who drinks has some level of alcohol dependence, whether we need that glass of wine on a Saturday or whether we need to drink to feel confident at a party. The NHS make it clear to us that there’s no ‘healthy amount’ of alcohol you can consume, but when we deny ourselves anything, it often makes the substance more appealing to us.
Vale takes every situation that we associate with drinking and shows us why the pleasure we think we gain from drinking isn’t actually from the alcohol itself. For instance, have you ever been to a really bad party? Yes, of course you have. Did you ever feel the need to drink more in the hope it would make the evening better? This can go one of two ways, the alcohol could make the guests more talkative and you can discover even more about how boring they are, as they are less aware of the boredom you have to endure while you listen to them. Meanwhile, the alcohol is making everything appear more interesting to you. Or the second scenario, some more interesting people will turn up, which of course has nothing to do with the extra drink you consumed whilst waiting for them. This demonstrates a reliance on alcohol, perhaps not a severe example, but a reliance, nevertheless.
‘We never needed alcohol before we started drinking’. (Vale, 2011)
My 18th birthday party was fantastic. I hired out a ballpark where my friends and I were able to run wildly like children climbing on the equipment and inflatables. We didn’t drink. This is one of my favourite memories because A) I can remember it so clearly due to the fact alcohol didn’t distort my memory. B) No one was experiencing heightened emotions, behaving violently or being sick. C) I was surrounded by all my friends and that was enough in itself. D) Everyone had permission to have fun and run around without judgement, which is a rare thing in ‘sober’ adult life. I don’t believe the key to a great party is ever the booze, but the people. I notice that the better time I am having; the less I drink.
Running around a ballpark like we were children taught me something, I didn’t need to drink when I was young and running around a ballpark… so had my life become more boring? Not necessarily, adult life is an exciting but difficult time, full of highs and lows. Alcohol can appear to be the one consistent, yet there is nothing consistent about the heightened and irregular emotions we experience in our ‘drunken’ state. We have times where drink makes us feel better and times where it makes us feel worse…which doesn’t feel very consistent to me. Think of yourself, see if you need to get drunk to take part in such childlike activities to enjoy them. If you do, have a think about what worries you? Often it can be other people’s judgement, but I’ve never cared too much about what boring or judgemental people think of me anyway.
So, after a long stressful day, how about drinking to relax…
‘Alcohol causes low blood sugar, drains the body of water, overworks the liver, pancreas and kidneys and leaches oxygen from the brain. That doesn’t sound very relaxing to me.’ (Vale, 2011)
Vale also points out reasons why people drink to relax. He notes that if the first thing you do when you get in from work is to pour out a glass of wine and run a hot bath, it is not the wine that is relaxing you, it is the hot bath. If anything, your body is working extra hard to deal with the poison you’re consuming. From a psychological point of view, our brains have linked the wine with feeling better, therefore it can take some time to unlearn this unhelpful association.
‘There is no need to feel embarrassed about the fact that you no longer want or have to drink.’ (Vale, 2011)
Alcohol is the only drug we have to justify NOT taking. No one ever asks you why you don’t take heroin, or why you don’t smoke cannabis, yet these things are statistically responsible for fewer overall health problems in the country. You may have felt on occasion that you needed to come up with an excuse to not drink. The only reason someone is going to ask you why you’re not drinking is to justify their own drinking habits. It’s time to take ownership over your relationship with alcohol and think about what it’s masking rather than accepting it as essential in our culture. And more so, it’s time to stop demonising people that fall on the ‘alcoholism’ side of dependence when there are many hidden alcohol-dependent drinkers among us.
Russell Brand & Gabor Mate | Damaged Leaders Rule The World: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-mJnYmdVmQ&t=4890s
Link to list of Charity Mind’s Recommended charities: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/addiction-and-dependency/addiction-and-dependency-resources/
Open Road Drug and Alcohol recovery service: https://www.openroad.org.uk/
Mate, G. (2019, July 28). Russell Brand & Gabor Mate | Damaged Leaders Rule The World. (R. Brand, Interviewer) Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-mJnYmdVmQ&t=4890s
Vale, J. (2011). Kick the Drink...Easily! UK: Crown House Publishing.