Alcohol — Is it a problem?

I read a great article entitled “We Need to Talk (About Our Drinking)” in the Globe and Mail on Sunday June 29, 2014:

It reminded me that I have been meaning to write a blog post on alcohol in our culture, but I haven’t been brave enough.  So here it goes . . .

I believe alcoholism is a widespread problem in normal, functioning, hard working people.  There.  I said it.  I’m not sure if I will lose half of my practice because of the outrage this statement will cause, or if it will double because of the relief it brings of being spoken out loud.

This is only my opinion, of course, but I will attempt to give you my rationale based on my own experience and what I see around me.  I would also like to mention that I come from an alcoholic family, so I’m sure my early childhood experiences also shape the way I think and how I see things.

OVER ACHIEVERS – When you live in a community of high-functioning, over achievers, there is a common theme and problem that exists:  how do busy, hard-working professionals “come down”?  A drink will do it.

What I see around me (both in my personal life and in my practice) is that many people work very hard to keep things afloat (did you know that to own a home in Vancouver a household must earn at least $150,000 per year?).  I know a lot of successful individuals who love what they do and they are good at it, but at what price?  It is great to work hard, but then finding ways to kick down the rpm’s also becomes important.  Many things will do it: meditation, exercise, activities, outside time, sleep, sex … to name a few.  But none will do it quicker than that first few sips of a beer or a glass of wine.  It is almost instant.  I’m not completely sure if it is a chemical reaction, or a psychosomatic association, or a combination of the two, but it works.  The problem, however, is that if it becomes the only way we know how to come down from our income-earning high, it can become a dependency.  The only way we know how.

Suggestion:  If you don’t want to be caught in this trap, ensure that you are always drawing from a variety of ways that you use to come down from your work high or your work stress.  Balance is the key.

SOCIALLY EXPECTED – Notice I said expected, not accepted!

Social gatherings and celebrations are largely oriented around drinking alcohol.  If you don’t believe me, try not drinking and showing up at the restaurant, the dinner party, the birthday party, or God forbid, the pub to go dancing with your friends.  My husband and I quit drinking for a year once, and the responses we got from people at these events was anything from funny to annoying:  “Why not?  What’s wrong? Are you sure?  Just one?” Or another phenomena my husband pointed out is that people get offended or their responses instantly become personal.  It seems that when you decline to have a drink, others often respond by defending their own drinking habits when they clearly weren’t in question: “I was thinking of quitting. I don’t drink that often.  I’m cutting down.  I only drink on weekends.”  You get the general idea.  One of the funniest and annoying responses I have had was from someone in a pub that I was just meeting for the first time.  He asked me why, and I responded that I was not drinking for money and health reasons.  He then proceeded to tell me how dumb that was, that the non-alcoholic beer I was drinking was just as expensive as regular beer, and how regular beer was better for you with less preservatives, fillers, bad stuff, etc.  It was hilarious!  As I was about to engage in a conversation and defend the benefits of not drinking, I stopped myself and moved along to a new conversation.

Suggestion:  Be strong in the face of social pressure.  It doesn’t only happen to our teenagers!

SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?  It’s a quick way to come down and relax, it’s legal and a social norm, and it’s fun.

I see regular alcohol consumption as a potential problem for health (read the Globe and Mail article noted above), relationships and the pocket book.  With regards to health, whether we are talking about your liver, brain damage, cancer, depression or anxiety, alcohol can contribute to these health issues. With regards to relationships, discussions under the influence can often go sideways or be unnecessarily inflamed. Alcohol use may also change priorities and choices, which can have adverse effects on relationships as well. And finally, the pocket book.  Drinking is expensive.  You can cross border shop or make your own, but the costs both directly and indirectly still add up.  Look at your restaurant bill without drinking — eating out is cheap!  Or the associated indirect costs:  let’s have one more; I don’t feel like making dinner, let’s go out; I don’t feel like going for that walk, let’s have another; I’ve got this one (credit card comes out)…you get it.

Suggestion: perhaps give yourself a drinking budget.  Or even before you try that, don’t change your consumption and add up all of your drinking dollars for three months.  You may be surprised how much you are spending and may want to re-evaluate. Or another suggestion is take a break for a month and see how your choices of activities change.  They may become healthier and cheaper.

I hope you have found this blog helpful in assessing your own alcohol consumption, as well as to make changes in the event that you feel it might be a problem. If you do decide that you would like to change your habits, moderate your drinking, or quit altogether, Hello Sunday Morning might be for you. It is a website, with an App you can download, that supports any goals you might have for yourself. They also have great videos, blogs, online conversations and much more.  Check it out!