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Time to Redefine your Relationship with Booze?

I was recently out with some girlfriends for dinner and drinks. I was intending, as usual, to just have a few drinks. But, for whatever reason that night (I think a bit of stress or tension about something that was on my mind) I overdrank. It wasn’t a huge error; I drank probably two more drinks than I’d planned or wanted to, but it was enough to make me stop and think.

I asked the question, ‘Is alcohol really adding anything to my life at all?’ And it’s a question that I’ve been continually asking over the years.

It Doesn’t Have to be ‘All or Nothing’

You don’t have to be an alcoholic to want to change your relationship with booze. Due to an unhealthy and detrimental culture of drinking in this country, most of us joke about the problem of alcoholism, yet we fail to look at our own drinking.

What’s ‘normal’ and what’s not?

Or what’s healthy and what’s not?

Try not to be tempted by extremes in thinking (which the media just love). Discovering that you want a different relationship with alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean you want, or need, to cut it out altogether. It could mean just cutting it down, switching to lower alcohol options or being wary of a tendency of drinking too much when you want to numb uncomfortable feelings. You could start by asking yourself about your relationship with alcohol.

Here are some questions that may help;

A Relationship Test

–  Do you often drink more than you planned? Although this may not seem important, that may be, again, because we live in a culture where regularly drinking to excess is not seen as problematic. Yet if you feel disappointed that you did it, and you wake up feeling physically and/or mentally low, then it’s time to think about it.

– Do you often wake up – after drinking – feeling awful? Are you tired, lethargic and lacking in concentration? Did you know that even as little as two drinks in the evening can actually affect your REM, which is crucial for good-quality sleep (one of the pillars of good health). Also, if you’re uncomfortable with how much you’ve drunk the night before, try not to ignore those feelings. That’s your instinct telling you that maybe it’s time to cut down.

– Do you drink alcohol on most days of the week? Every-day drinking is not a good idea, but it’s only just a habit that can be broken. Buy in some nice alternatives, such as bottled sparkling water or a nice cordial and add some ice, mint leaves or cucumber to make a nice occasion of it. Have alternatives on hand and then cut out alcohol altogether from Monday-Thursday. Reward yourself with a massage on Friday night and continue striving to have more alcohol-free nights each week.

– Do you often devote a lot of headspace to drinking? This is not just the time actually drinking, but the other times that drinking takes up your headspace. It could include the hangover or the worry after drinking (such as ‘what did I say’? or ‘why did I say that’? etc..) or even the thinking involved in planning a night out – is it simply taking up too much space in your life that you could dedicated to other, more important things?

– Do you often use alcohol to ‘numb’: painful feelings? Can you put down the glass of alcohol and say to yourself ‘This is not going to help’, or think about something else that may help you to you in its place? Read our blog about getting simply pleasures from other sources in your life.

– Do you think alcohol is contributing to your weight problem? If the answer is ‘yes’, then there’s no doubt it’s time to cut down. Alcohol not only provide empty calories, with no beneficial nutrients, but also lead to a spike in the hormone ghrelin, which makes us hungry and often unable to resist foods that compound our weight problem.

– Do you enjoy other activities, besides drinking? Is drinking the only way that you socialise, or do you meet people in other contexts? Do you have any hobbies or leisure pursuits that don’t involve alcohol? If not, it may be time to think about these.

– Do you regularly ‘drop the ball’ in your life? Do you miss deadlines or fail to keep up with the demands of your family life? Do you regularly let people down due to alcohol (either being hungover or too focused on drinking so that you forego other, important events as alcohol is the priority? If so, this could point to a seriously unhealthy relationship with booze.

– Does alcohol affect any of the important relationships you have? Does your drinking cause friction? Or, the day after drinking, does your low or cranky mood affect your partner, children or other relationships?

– Do you ever get physically hurt while drinking? Do you get involved in risky situations or put yourself in harm’s way due to the poor decision-making associated with being drunk? Nothing bad has had to happened for it to be a concern; it’s enough to regret certain decisions that you know were down to being inebriated and that you wouldn’t otherwise do.

– Do you feel under pressure to drink? You don’t have to be a teenager to feel pressures from peers or family. Do certain social situations make you feel under pressure to drink more than you’d like to? If so, maybe try to avoid those situations for a while, until you feel more in control of your drinking habit.

What Could I Gain By Cutting Down

Having gone through the questions above, are you beginning to rethink your relationship with alcohol? Ask anyone that has cut down or even given up alcohol and they’ll tell you about all the positives that have come their way. Improved mental health, better focus/more clarity in day-to-day life, improved sleep quality, more time to focus on hobbies, an improvement in their relationships (often due to feeling less cranky and irritable!) and a better ability to lose or maintain a healthy weight…to name just a few!

Also remember that alcohol is a carcinogen that has been linked to several cancers, including breast cancer and bowel cancer. And not many people know that this risk exists even with fairly low intakes of alcohol. Drinking even one alcoholic drink per day is linked with a 5 per cent increase in the risk of breast cancer, a 17 per cent increase in the risk of oropharyngeal cancer (a cancer of the middle part of the throat) and a 30 per cent increase in the risk of 0esophageal cancer, compared with not drinking, according to a 2013 study.

Heavier drinking is associated with greaters risks. But the good news is that cutting down is going to benefit your health. For me, the thing I’m going to be most wary of is my mood when I go out for a few drinks. If I am happy and  relaxed, I’m much more likely to stick to just one or two, which is about the right level for me. If I’m tense or stressed, I may be tempted to try to numb those uncomfortable feelings with alcohol – and that’s where I need to be extra cautious. That’s when it’s time to connect with myself, name the emotion and try to be kind to myself.

I hope this blog helped you to look at your own relationship with alcohol and that it helped you think about any changes you’d like to make. Please do keep me posted with any interesting feedback by emailing me at: maebh.coyle@motivation.ie

Listen to our informative podcast about alcohol and weight here.

If you are concerned about your relationship with alcohol, contact Alcoholics Anonymous  ; Tel: 01 8420700.

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