Smarter Alcohol Consumption – Understanding WHY & the importance of WHEN we drink
Health practitioners are likely to advise you to reduce your alcohol intake in order to achieve a greater state of wellbeing. Alcohol consumption is connected to a plethora of ailments, illnesses and chronic diseases. In excessive amounts, alcohol can negatively affect your skin, joints, bones and organs, as well as the possibility of negative financial and social consequences.
Stopping is easier said than done. There are many factors to consider in regards to what influences alcohol consumption, as well as what is involved with enabling the formation of habit-related drinking.
You & your body
Not everyone likes alcohol and can tolerate it, therefore protection against it’s harmful affects can be simply not wanting to drink. However, it’s not that easy for most people. You would think nature’s way to stop excess consumption would be the horrible consequences of drinking too much. Unfortunately, bad hangovers have been found not to be protective against long term sobriety. There might the intent to stop when one tells their friends “I’m never drinking again!”, but the painful state you are in today will be long forgotten tomorrow. Biological urges overtake common sense.
Additionally, those pesky cravings for a frothy beer don’t help us abstain. The body’s physiological functions along with psychological processes are responsible for throwing us this motivating factor.
Our first experiences with alcohol are usually influenced by our environment. Parents, friends or older siblings are likely to factor into when and how exposure to alcohol begins. Peer pressure may be involved during your initiation to alcohol and may still be a significant influence well into adulthood. Studies on people with social anxiety revealed that drinking meant blending in and not attracting attention. I’d say there’d be a fair few people with a similar approach to social situations.
Now think about broader influences. Imagine if you didn’t live near a bottle shop or a pub or had no transport to purchase alcohol. Does your neighbourhood have places where you can drink in public? Are you exposed to anti-drug campaign advertisements? Does the media promote or discourage drinking? Do your friends and family encourage your choice to abstain and praise your healthy lifestyle? Are you aware of the health risks involved in regular alcohol consumption?
Your answer to the questions above might have a significant influence on the initiation or perpetuation of drinking habits which are beyond your immediate control.
Many of us link alcohol to happiness, celebrations, good times with friends and social events. This sort of association is where enjoyment usually outweighs any worries about negative health associations. Whether this is a helpful connection or not depends on an individual’s psychological state, including emotional resilience and general demeanor.
Heavy alcohol consumption has a strong link to a negative emotional state. High stress levels are a significant influencer when it comes to regular drinking (and I’m not JUST pulling that from personal experience – the research also confirms this :p).
Drinking when unhappy or following unfavourable life events means having a beverage becomes associated with feeling better and reducing what’s called “physiological arousal”. In other words, it can calm down that feeling of being highly strung and thinking too much about what’s going on in your world that you don’t like. The positive cognitive changes experienced can be responsible for drinking becoming habit-forming.
To sum it up, there is a clear association between stress levels (including emotional stress) and alcohol consumption. It is likely that consumption and frequency grows in accordance with stress levels experienced. And as a nasty consequence, frequent alcohol consumption increases our sensitivity to stressors. A vicious circle can easily be created and at the same time, any underlying issues are not being addressed.
If you’re considering cutting back on alcohol consumption or giving it a rest for a bit, here are some things to consider:
Your friends and family should support short term or long-term sobriety
Find ways to relieve stress that don’t involve alcohol - find another outlet such as exercise, getting your feet in the grass, playing or listening to music etc.
Avoid drinking when stressed or emotional – see above
Calculate how much money you are saving by not drinking each week/month. Use that money to save up for a holiday or something equally awesome
Schedule gaps when you will stay alcohol free – use the time to manage stress and work on emotional resilience
Consume smaller amounts at a time. Alternate with non-alcoholic drinks if this helps
When drinking, go at your own pace. No need to keep up with your sip-happy friends
Alcoholism in your family doesn’t mean you are bound for the same fate. Biological factors are not the strongest constituent to influence drinking habits. As discussed, there is much more involved.
If you require alcohol as “social lubricant” consider why you need this. Challenge yourself to go without
Know what social activities you can do with friends that don’t involve drinking
Use your social network – Having strong social ties are protective against harmful alcohol use.
Talk about your problems – To supportive friends, to a therapist or write them down. Studies have shown the health benefits of this can prevent overuse of substances.
Remember that substance abuse hotlines are available in Australia 24 hours 7 days a week if you are concerned about yourself or someone close to you:
National Alcohol and other Drug hotline: 1800 250 015
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