Alcohol: Keys to overcoming dependency and abuse
In developed countries, ‘having a drink or two’ to relax and unwind is ingrained into our national psyche.
There is a common association between drinking alcoholic beverages, socialising and having a good time. However, there is also a dark side to this seemingly benign national past time.
Today, many suffer from a culture of ‘binge drinking’, 'getting wasted' and even 'alcohol dependency'.
We know that drinking to excess can lead to anti-social behaviours, domestic violence and other problems, but it also leads to dependency and heightens depression in certain individuals.
There are some things we need to realise about alcohol so we can address the topic of safe, happy alcohol consumption.
Not all alcohol is created equalThere are TWO types of alcoholic beverages:
1. Non-Distilled: Low alcohol-content, produced by fermentation of sugar or starch-containing whole foods or grains, considered by the ancients to be 'sacred ferments' or 'sacraments', which include:
For the most part, provided they’re naturally-fermented and free of chemical nasties such as preservatives, artificial colouring and flavours, non-distilled alcoholic drinks have beneficial health effects when consumed responsibly and in moderation.
Distilled alcoholic drinks, however, are a different story.
They make people get drunk much quicker, place great stress on the body and brain in even small quantities, and lack the nutritional and health-promoting benefits of the non-distilled variety.
In my opinion, distilled alcohol, hard liquors and spirits have a place in mouthwashes, cleaning wounds and bathing skin. They shouldn’t be used for internal consumption as they also create chaos in the brain.
When discussing alcoholism and alcohol abuse, hard alcohol tends to be the culprit 9 times out of 10.
For thousands of years, naturally fermented beers and wines (no chemicals added) were relied upon for both physical and mental health benefits, so if we're going to consume alcohol, these are the types we should be embracing.
What is alcohol dependency/alcoholism?Alcoholism considered a psychological disease, can broadly be defined as an ‘addiction’ to alcohol. Alcoholics tend to experience these symptoms:
- Craving: A strong need, or urge to drink alcohol
- Loss of control: Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun
- Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness and anxiety after stopping drinking
- Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get “high.”
Like many other diseases, alcoholism can be chronic.
This means that it will continue throughout the duration of a person’s lifetime. Lifestyle and genes definitely play a part and can increase the risk for developing alcoholism. Other risk factors include friends, stress and how readily available alcohol is.
Negative consequencesMany times alcohol results in a loss of inhibitions since it suppresses the part of the brain that controls judgment. Alcohol also affects physical coordination, causing blurred vision, slurred speech and loss of balance. Binge drinking, or drinking a very large amount of hard alcohol at one time, can lead to unconsciousness, coma and even death!
Some of the problems linked to alcohol abuse include:
- Not being able to meet work, school or family responsibilities
- Drunk-driving arrests and car crashes
- Drinking-related medical conditions
- During pregnancy
- When taking certain medications
Long-term health effectsAlcohol is like anything. If you do to much of it, it can be a dangerous. Drinking too much of the wrong type of alcohol will also cause physical damage, increase the risk of getting some diseases and make other diseases worse.
Excessive drinking over time is associated with:
- Certain types of cancer
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure (which can lead to stroke)
- Irritated stomach lining and bleeding from stomach ulcers
- Liver failure
- Loss of brain cells
- Mood swings
- Nerve damage
- Sleeping problem
- Inflammation of the pancreas
- Muscle disease
- Sexual problems
- Skin problems
- Vitamin deficiency
Seek help and support
It’s essential to address the underlying psychological, situational and environmental factors that contribute to alcohol abuse.
Admitting that there is a problem and getting professional help is the first step for those who consistently experience any of the symptoms listed above. Support groups such as ‘Alcoholic Anonymous’ and ‘Lifeline’ are a good place to start if you can't rely on support from a spouse, friend or loved one.
Alcohol is just a 'thing'.
And like any enjoyable 'thing', too much of it can do you no good, so the key is to find ways to replace the 'thing' so that there becomes less dependency and you still feel fulfilled - without the harmful side-effects.
If you think you might be drinking too much, try keeping a “drinking diary.”
This “diary” should record how much alcohol you drink each week. It will reveal whether you are drinking within safe guidelines and help you identify the situations that you need to avoid to cut down your drinking.
Other tips include:
- Buy beers and wines with lower alcohol content, and keep a supply of non-alcoholic drinks at home;
- Do something other than going to the pub;
- Drink more slowly or have non-alcoholic drinks between alcoholic ones;
- Find other ways to relax that light you up;
- Go out later, so you start drinking later;
- Have at least two alcohol-free days a week;
- Replace your “usual” drink with one containing less alcohol;
- Set yourself a limit of. For example, three to four glasses (men) or two to three (women) for any one occasion;
- Skip the “quick drink” after work or replace it with non-alcoholic cider or other.
The #1 thing, is to be able to find the strength and support to identify another 'outlet' to replace your alcohol dependency that brings you ongoing emotional fulfilment and joy.