Why can't I drink alcohol 'normally'?

Why can’t I drink alcohol ‘normally’?

 

When I am coaching people, they will often tell me that their objective is to be able to drink ‘normally’.

  

What is normal drinking? Is there any such thing?  

Normality is a relative thing – it depends on what we have grown up with, what we are used to, and the habits of people we spend time with. Someone who grows up in a strict Muslim family will see total abstinence from alcohol as normal. A student who plays rugby at a British University will quite possibly see drinking to the point of oblivion as normal.

 

Society divides us into ‘alcoholics’ and ‘normal’ drinkers

 The rugby-playing student would not be defined as an alcoholic, or at least, not in his or her late teens or early twenties. Their drinking is social (in that they drink with other people and not alone) and is likely to be seen as ‘high spirits’, ‘bonding’ and ‘letting off steam’. In other words, it is normalised.

 For many of those young people, the excessive drinking that marked their time as a student is left behind once they settle down and find themselves with responsibilities like a job, a partner, and a mortgage. They may ‘overdo it’ from time to time, but generally speaking, their drinking doesn’t cause them a problem. But for some of us, our drinking gradually moves from being a social activity into something we are increasingly dependent on.

  

Why do some of us become dependent on alcohol, whilst others don’t?

There is a school of thought that the ‘alcoholic’ is a flawed individual, with a disease – once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. I know that I will incur the wrath of everyone who has achieved sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous by saying this, but I do not accept that there is any inherent defect in someone who becomes addicted to alcohol. (By the way, I have great admiration for AA, it has helped millions of people and I have met some amazing people through AA – but it is not the only way to get free of alcohol, and their methods don’t work for everyone)

So if it is not an inherent weakness that leads someone to become addicted to alcohol, what explains why some people become addicted and others don’t?

 

The simple truth is that alcohol is addictive to human beings – all human beings

Anyone who drinks enough alcohol will gradually become addicted to it. Addiction is progressive. No-one is addicted after their first drink. Very few become addicted in their first few years of drinking. And very few of us can identify the moment when we progressed from ‘normal’ or social drinking to being dependent on alcohol. Addiction is insidious. It creeps up on us. By the time we realise we have a problem, it can feel as though it is too late (though it never is.)

 

So what makes some people drink enough to become addicted, and not others?

This is the million dollar question, really, isn’t it? It comes down to the beliefs that we have, and in her book, This Naked Mind, Annie Grace identifies three categories of belief, the three S’s:

  • Substance - Beliefs about alcohol itself (the taste, the effect)
  • Society - Beliefs about alcohol’s role in society (how we socialise, how we celebrate/commiserate with others)
  • Self - Beliefs about ourselves (whether we are ‘good enough’, whether we fit in, how we accept and process our emotions)

 

Emotional pain is what can tip the ‘normal’ drinker into addiction

Any of these beliefs can hold us stuck, but particularly beliefs at the level of self. The reason for this is that these beliefs can be very uncomfortable, connected as they are with our feelings of self-worth, and we find ourselves drinking to numb the pain and discomfort.

In the very short term, alcohol is a remarkably effective numbing agent – it used to be used as an anaesthetic, after all. But the relief from emotional discomfort that we get from drinking is very short-lived, and is replaced by increased anxiety, so we have another drink, and repeat over and over again. It becomes a vicious cycle – feel uncomfortable, have a drink, feel a little better and then feel worse than before, have another drink, feel a little better and then feel worse than before…this is the cycle that leads to addiction. 

It also explains why someone who appears to have their drinking under control can fairly rapidly develop a problem. There is often an underlying trigger event which increases emotional pain. Or it may be the case that long-supressed emotions are bubbling up and can no longer be ignored. Either way, drinking to numb emotional pain is by far the most common reason why we find that we can no longer drink ‘normally’.

 

The good news

Addiction is not a life sentence. As a certified This Naked Mind coach, I work with clients to identify and reframe the beliefs that are holding them stuck, so that they can regain control over alcohol without relying forever more on willpower. If the idea of alcohol being small and irrelevant in your life sounds appealing, get in touch via https://winetowatercoaching.com, and book a FREE Discovery Call with me and let’s see if we would be a good fit. The sooner you start, the sooner you can begin to live the happy and fulfilled life that you deserve.

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