18 Feb Are you Drinking Alone?
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In this age of over-the-counter medication, we are all used to the idea that if we have an ailment, whether that be a headache, indigestion or some other physical gripe, we take a chemical substance to relieve it. But how many of us ever stop to think about our use of non-prescribed substances to manage our psychological pain?
For example, it is a commonly accepted practice among many of us to use alcohol to ‘let our hair down’ on the weekend or even ‘drown our sorrows’ after a difficult experience. When does this behaviour become self-medication – and is there anything wrong with self-medicating anyway?
Alcohol and the Self-Medicating Hypothesis
The Self-Medicating Hypothesis (SMH) draws upon ideas from psychodynamic and behavioural models of psychology and is supported by various studies. It suggests that people choose a certain type of drug to combat their specific symptoms. As a Central Nervous System depressant, one of the symptoms that alcohol can relieve is anxiety.
So when we are polishing off that bottle of wine or downing that gin, what we are often doing is putting a dampener on feelings which would otherwise cause us emotional pain or discomfort. A prime example is having a ‘stiff one’ before going out as a way of feeling more at ease (i.e. reducing social anxiety).
But if you find yourself regularly binge drinking on the night before a day off or are often drinking alone, these are warning signs that alcohol has become more than just a social lubricant in your life, and you could be trapped in a cycle of dependency. Associated symptoms include:
- Mood change or mood swings
- Disturbed sleep
- Compromising yourself socially and/or sexually
These side-effects of self-medicating with alcohol can cause serious problems in our relationships and lead further down the road towards alcoholism.
Unlike popular misconceptions, many people who abuse alcohol in this way are able to look after themselves physically and even hold down respectable positions in society; alcohol knows no class boundaries!
To break the cycle, a therapist can work with you to discover the real reason(s) why you drink. These can often be forgotten to your conscious mind and you may only be aware of feeling generally lousy, low in mood and without hope.