John Crawford - Anxiety Solutions Therapist & Author
Alcohol And Anxiety
Are you drinking too much? Has alcohol become a problem for you?
It’s quite possible that you are using alcohol as a medicine for your anxiety or depression, a practice known as self-medication.
If that’s the case, then you might benefit from tackling your anxiety and/or depression as a strategy to stop drinking in harmful amounts.
Our common cultural conception of an "alcoholic" is someone who needs half a bottle of vodka to get going in the morning or maybe the guy laying in the gutter at 5am on Sunday morning in town.
Most of us are aware however that England has seen a dramatic increase in the rate of drink-related problems over the last twenty years. We do live in a binge drinking culture and our idea of what is acceptable as "normal" behaviour has changed greatly over the years.
As a result, many more people are running into trouble with drinking because friends and peers are much less likely to give you the sideways glance when you sink 16 vodkas/10 beers (or more) on a Friday night. Twenty years ago, that might have earned you the label of the "drunk". Today it's not that unusual, and your friends may well be keeping up with you on the rounds. Those with social anxiety may be particularly prone to drinking too much on a night out in an effort to soothe those social nerves.
We can easily have a drinking problem and think it's "normal" behaviour. Your liver might not agree though. Your friends, family, employer, or partner might also be concerned.
I'm not a fan of labels. I don't like the terms "drug addict" or "alcoholic, "depressive" etc, simply because they put someone in a box and create an unhealthy identity for that person. I prefer to think of us all as human beings...some of us with difficulties!
There's not much sitting on the fence when it comes to the issue of addiction. The helping community is pretty much split into two camps. One camp holds that people can be responsible for their own lives. The other camp says no...people are "victims" of an "illness" and addictions are a "medical" illness. With a few exceptions, I'm with camp number one. If that suits you, read on...
Here's the immediate exception. There are different levels of alcoholism. The half a bottle of vodka for breakfast and another bottle for lunch person would be best advised to seek "medical" treatment. There are detox schemes available through your doctor (GP), or your local social services which can support you safely through your withdrawal from alcohol, often supplemented with medication to minimise withdrawal symptoms.
If you are drinking that heavily every day, there are physical withdrawal considerations and you may need to seek medical support via a recognised detox scheme to withdraw safely.
You will only ever do what you want to do, so it's up to you to decide where you want to set your boundaries. You're effectively asking yourself how you would like things to be, and of course what you can reasonably live comfortably with.
For some people, the idea of never having another glass of wine, a few beers or shots is awful.....and unrealistic. If we believe our only choice is to quit completely or do nothing, then we're likely to do nothing. Therefore, I am not a fan of the all or nothing approach. Neither, thankfully, do we need to be. It's basically flawed.
Alcoholism mythology tells us "Once an alcoholic always an alcoholic". As soon as you have a single drink you are back to step one! The research shows however that many people ARE able to reform their bad drinking habits and go on to be able to once again drink sensibly and safely. Not everyone can do this, but many people can.
With this in mind, you can ask yourself how would you like it to be? What's too much?
What's okay? What can you comfortably live with? What's reasonable to expect from yourself? Once you know what you want, and what you can live with, then you can go about making it so.
Now it is true that some people are better than others at "control". Some people are able to simply cut down the amount they drink...others aren't (or believe they aren't) built to do it that way, so it may be that you have to quit altogether for a period of time to establish control.
Then, later you can slowly re-introduce sensible drinking (only if you want to) in a CONTROLLED way. It's frequently true though that with a little application and mindfulness people are quite easily able to reduce their drinking levels once the right understanding is in place.
That understanding includes (but is certainly not limited to):
Understanding of the brain and its chemistry (Serotonin and the effects of alcohol)
The biology of belief (how our biology is affected by our belief systems)
The psychology of taking control - showing that we have absolute control when we understand the rules!
Reducing stress and anxiety, and how this returns control to the "executive" brain - the frontal lobe.
Understanding the nature of the emotional mind (limbic system) as a childlike mind which can be "needy" and how to feed that mind positively.
Ensuring that our "needs" are met in our lives adequately so that we don't have to use alcohol to fill an empty space.
Ensuring that we deal with emotional issues that alcohol might be acting as an anaesthetic/ anti-depressant for.
Adjusting what's working/what's not working sensibly instead of marking setbacks up as a failure (using feedback).
We can see that problems with alcohol can range from the very simple to the very complicated. Some people will need just a little help because they are drinking more than they want to but everything is basically okay in their lives. At this level, we keep things simple.
For other people who are more deeply involved with an alcohol dependency, we may well need to look at other areas too. It's a psychological truism that if you are giving up drinking you should stay away from the pub. If, however, all your friends are big drinkers, it’s wise to find a way, initially at least, of staying out of that kind of environment. That means taking a look at environmental factors and finding solutions to these obstacles.
Also, we need to make sure that life is in basic order. If you are depressed, lonely, or lacking self-esteem (a big factor for many drinkers) then that needs to be improved too for a permanent sense of control to be established. Of course, taking control of your drinking will be the biggest boost of all here!
Dealing with any painful issues that might be causing you to need the anaesthetic effect of alcohol will be a massive help too. Failure to address the issues that have caused you to become a drinker in the first place will only leave room for drinking to become a problem again.
A long-term solution, therefore, requires a change of life. That requires that your life and your relationship with yourself is in order. A life in good order with plenty of activity, self-esteem, and positivity can and will support a healthy lifestyle. Life in a mess will not and cannot.
So, dealing with an alcohol problem is a therapy and it is often a journey. It will take time, diligence, patience and determination. There aren't I'm afraid any overnight cures.
You may not have considered how much anxiety or depression might be playing a major role in your difficulties with alcohol, but I can tell you as a therapist with fifteen years of experience that it matters. You may wonder then what a book about anxiety could have to do with your problem?
Well, I wrote Anxiety Relief as a guide to overall well-being. It’s about learning to control your own mind and get your life into good shape. If you’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to take control of your drinking, you might just find that this solution focussed gem has the answers you’ve been looking for.
These problems don’t exist in isolation. They are always part of a bigger picture. Anxiety Relief will give you the tools you need to take back control where it counts…in your mind.
Get Anxiety Relief today. An expert book from an experienced therapist. It could be the surprise solution you hadn’t yet considered!