About a year ago, I began to really reflect on my own relationship with alcohol. It’s kind of incredible how much being a new parent can shift your perspective and priorities in life. I began drinking socially in high school and it progressed through college. Although my drinking felt normal, looking back now I can see how unhealthy it was and how things progressed over time. It began with binge drinking on the weekends and then through my 20s I started having a drink or two most week nights as well.
When I became pregnant, it was the first time I had been sober for an extended period of time since my teens. Although there was so much going on with my body, I could feel that I missed booze. And I suddenly realized that maybe my drinking habits weren’t so healthy. After giving birth to my son, I slowly began drinking again and found myself often relying on that drink at the end of the day to wind down. Alarm bells were going off in my head and I knew my relationship with alcohol was not a healthy one.
A year into motherhood and my anxiety and chronic pain was at an all-time high. Something needed to change and I could feel that knowing inside me say, “it’s the alcohol”. I can’t blame it all on the alcohol. But it was definitely a root cause of many of the biggest challenges in my life.
Assessing Your Relationship With Alcohol
One of the biggest realizations I had about my drinking, was the connection of my alcohol consumption and crippling anxiety I was struggling with. I was diagnosed with GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) in my 20s but have suffered from it my whole life. For those with anxiety, alcohol is said to be a root cause and unfortunately can only intensify feelings of anxiety. Unfortunately, the same chemical that can cause the relaxing effect of alcohol so many of us long for, can also trigger a much less appealing feeling of tension and panic when GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is depleted. It may feel as though alcohol is helping to lessen your anxiety initially but over time the effects of this depressant only worsen anxiety.
Last spring, I took a 30-day alcohol detox along with my sister and mom. It was such an eye-opening experience for all of us. We felt the cravings and big emotions that come up when you don’t have something to mask your discomfort. After our 30-day retreat from alcohol, I felt my mindset on alcohol had shifted. I am not sober now. But I feel like I am more mindful about my drinking and in control. I don’t feel controlled by alcohol anymore. And I feel I can have a drink or two every now and again not feel the guilt, shame and anxiety that I used to feel. It is something that I will need to continue to assess and have awareness around. But overall, this shift has brought me so much clarity, freedom and happiness.
What is alcohol?
Alcohol is a complicated substance. We often forget it is a drug and it can be deadly and dangerous. While other drugs are taboo for their addictive and deathly effects, alcohol is often normalized in the media and our society as a fun way to socialize and wind down. Alcohol is a depressant to the central nervous system. Which means it slows down parts of the brain and impairs ones ability to function. This is why it is so dangerous to drink and drive. This is also often why alcohol causes people to get in both physical and verbal fights and make decisions they normally wouldn’t.
Although alcohol gives the initial effect of relaxation, that so many people seek on a day to day basis, it also causes high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, liver disease and digestive problems. Alcohol consumption has also been connected to cancers, a weakened immune system and learning and memory problems. Research shows that alcohol consumption has lead to 140,000 deaths per year in the United States.
Just last week, Canada announced their change in alcohol guidelines from no more than 10 drinks a week for men and 15 for women to 2 drinks a week. Although their message overall is that no amount of drinking is healthy or advised. The change in recommendation is incredibly different from the latter and makes you wonder why it was ever okay to have 15 drinks a week?
The U.S. recommends no more than two drinks a day for men (14 a week) and one drink a day for women (7 a week), while Australia recommends no more than 10 drinks a week and no more than 4 drinks in one day. Britain recommends no more than 6 drinks a week.
The Sober Curious Movement
A new generation of “sober curious” millennials and Gen Zers are taking the world by storm with their responsible drinking ways, a far stretch from what baby boomers and Gen Xers have experienced. This past New Years Eve, was a sober NYE televised event. This rise in mindful drinkers also known as “sober curious” sky-rocketed when Ruby Warrington’s book Sober Curious came out in 2018 and the movement has taken off since. The term “sober curious” was coined by Warrington and has started a movement that supports more consciousness and awareness around drinking and promotes sobriety for personal and wellness reasons, but does not enforce it.
And for those who feel they may have a more serious problem, maybe “Dry January” is not going to solve all your problems. In this article from The Cut, Hear Me Out: Don’t Get Sober on January 1, Ana Marie Cox shares her thoughts on why the Dry January trend isn’t always the most effective way to tackle your drinking problem.
Not sure if you have a problem with alcohol? Maybe consider these prompts:
- Why do you drink alcohol?
- When do you drink alcohol?
- Could you go an extended time without alcohol? Would it be challenging? Why?
- How did your relationship with alcohol begin?
- How does alcohol make you feel while you are consuming it?
- How does alcohol make you feel the next day? Does it affect you days later?
- Is there anything in your life that you are struggling with that could improve without alcohol?
If you are struggling with alcohol and need someone to talk to or help determining your next step, you can contact SAMHA’s National Helpline at: 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Know you are not alone and there are people who can help.
Resources for Sober Curious Folks:
- This Naked Mind: The Alcohol Experiment
- The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray
- When To Consider Being Sober Curious
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