For most people, a drink or two can be a way to celebrate an occasion or compliment a nice meal. Others may not enjoy alcohol at all; they don’t like the taste, they don’t like the sensation of being tipsy, or they don’t like feeling out of control. If you happen to fit into these categories, understanding the problem drinker in your life can be very difficult.
At Hanley, we are an organization comprised largely of recovered alcoholics, so we understand all too well why people drink—not only at the beginning of their “drinking careers,” but once addiction has taken hold. In this article, we address a few of the common reasons why non-alcoholics drink, as well as the driving factors in the disease of alcoholism.
The “Effect Produced” by Drinking Alcohol
In the early stages of drinking, people often discover that alcohol produces a range of pleasant effects. These effects are often so elusive that people continue to drink even after their drinking has become “a problem.” Here are a few of those effects noted by both moderate drinkers and alcoholics alike.
For both moderate drinkers and alcoholics, alcohol has wonderful anxiolytic (“anti-anxiety”) properties, meaning it can inhibit anxiety or the feeling of stress. It is a common way for people to unwind after a long day’s work, for example.
Alcoholics often discover this effect early on in their drinking career. As addiction takes hold, the afflicted person continues to drink despite evidence that alcohol is no longer providing any semblance of stress relief. Propelled by the delusion that they can stop after a glass or two, they unsuccessfully chase this feeling of relief.
More often than not for the alcoholic, drinking alcohol exacerbates the very stress they were hoping to avoid.
Peer Pressure and Camaraderie
Many people drink when others around them are drinking. In fact, most non-alcoholics tend to drink in social situations, such as weddings or football games, where alcohol is considered a part of the event itself. Though the term “peer pressure” is often associated with young people, it is not limited to those in junior high, high school, or college. Drinking is prevalent in our culture, socially accepted, and legal. Peer pressure to drink alcohol can exist at any stage of life.
For the alcoholic, the obsession to drink can turn peer pressure into a cleverly disguised excuse for drinking—even when they know they shouldn’t be drinking based upon mounting evidence it’s a problem. Often, alcoholics believe they are drinking to have fun and enjoy time with their friends which is oddly ironic as they frequently drink alone.
To Lose One’s Inhibitions
Let’s face it, there are a lot of shy people out there. Moreover, there are also a lot of situations in which someone doesn’t even necessarily have to be all that shy in order to be intimidated. First dates and large parties filled with strangers are common examples. Whatever the reason, people often drink alcohol to lose their inhibitions in these types of settings. Because of alcohol’s ability to make people feel comfortable in situations where they otherwise would not, it is commonly referred to as “liquid courage.” For many non-alcoholics, it is a wonderful, temporary “social lubricant.”
Binge drinkers may become so uninhibited that they behave in an inappropriate, embarrassing, or obnoxious manner. For alcoholics who have developed an overwhelming obsession to drink, this effect can deteriorate relationships and cause untold horror.
An Act of Rebellion
Certain people will consume alcohol in an act of rebellion, to defy perceived or stated rules and show they are different from others. This is often seen among young adults, particularly teenagers, who are acting out of their adolescence.
Family History of Alcoholism
Heavy drinkers can sometimes pass their issues drinking problems down to their children. Those with a family history of drinking alcohol are at a higher risk of developing a drinking problem themselves.
The Disease of Alcohol Addiction
While there are many reasons that a person may begin to drink, people with the disease of alcoholism will find those initial reasons no longer drive their drinking patterns. At Hanley, through our many years of experience with mental health and addiction treatment programs, we have come to the belief that alcoholism is an illness that influences the mind, body, and spirit.
The Physical Allergy
When the disease of alcoholism has taken hold, the alcoholic will begin to drink more than they intend. Normal drinkers (people without alcoholism) will find that they are easily able to limit the number of drinks that they consume. For the alcoholic, this may seem impossible. They begin to “lose all control of their liquor consumption once they start to drink.” For them, the first drink sets off a craving for more alcohol which can lead to a spree or binge. This can result in consequences that the person may not have otherwise experienced if they had been able to stop after the first drink.
The Mental Obsession
Even after an alcoholic has undergone alcohol detox and alcohol is no longer present in the body, the disease of alcoholism is still at work. This is perhaps the most devious component of the illness as it is difficult to understand, even for the alcoholic. Alcoholics who are trapped in the cycle of addiction continue to return to the very substance that is destroying their life. They may do this despite an overwhelming desire to stop drinking once and for all.
For those facing the illness, willpower alone is not enough to stay sober. They become preoccupied with the belief that they can “control and enjoy” their drinking. Those of us in recovery refer to this strange mental twist as the “mental obsession.”
It’s an obsession to drink normally. An obsession to drink without consequences. An obsession to minimize its destruction. An obsession to drink in secret hoping to fool the family, friends and employers who know exactly what the problem is.
A Spiritual Solution
At our alcohol treatment centers, we believe that freedom from the obsession—and therefore freedom from the allergy—cannot be accomplished by behavioral changes alone. In other words, simply being aware that one can no longer drink effectively will not produce sobriety.
We believe that alcoholics pursuing sobriety must maintain and grow their own connection to a power greater than themselves. This is referred to as the “spiritual solution” often discussed in 12-Step meetings. When the mental, emotional, psychological, and physical influences that exacerbate alcoholism are addressed, people are able to open up to a spiritual awakening that can produce permanent recovery.
Hanley Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for mental illnesses and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting wellness. For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1033.