For most, drinking is something that is done on occasion, in moderation, and forgotten about in the interim. For others, because of a variety of factors that can include genetics, biology and environment, alcohol becomes more than an accompaniment to life; it becomes the main event.
Facing that reality, however, is tough, especially when the natural reaction when drinking first begins to spin out of control is to stack up all the reasons why cutting back or perhaps even eliminating alcohol altogether isn’t an option.
Those of us who work in addiction treatment hear these reasons often, and much of the process of healing is helping the person recognize them for what they are: excuses. Here are a few of the most common:
- I don’t really have a problem but if I stop or cut down, people will think I do.
Stigma around addiction remains strong, and that can make coming to terms with the possibility that you have a drinking problem doubly disturbing. But here’s the reality: Those around you are probably more aware of your drinking than you realize, and letting them know you are taking a step back from alcohol is more likely to be met with relief than judgment — at least from those who truly have your best interests at heart.
Rather than getting too caught up in what people think or trying to convince yourself that you don’t drink any more than anyone else, allow yourself to take a personal journey to determine if you are one of the people who can moderate or not. If you can set limits and stick with them, great. If not, it’s time to reach out for help.
- My social life will evaporate if I’m not drinking.
No one will invite me to a party. Everyone will feel awkward around me. I’ll be the Debbie Downer in the corner just saying no. We hear such phrases often, but here’s the truth: You set the tone. If you think it’s a big deal, it will be. If you don’t, it won’t. It may take a little work to overcome the unease that so many feel in social situations without a few drinks under their belt, but it will pay off much more to work on any anxiety issues you have than to work on how many shots you can down.
If you do discover your friends really don’t want you around unless you are matching them drink for drink, it’s an indication of a couple of things:
- They’re not really your friends, they’re your drinking buddies, and it’s likely they have problems of their own that they don’t want to face.
- You are better off without them.
- I only drink wine, and that’s healthy.
It’s important to keep this in perspective. Several studies suggest that alcohol — red wine in particular — may benefit the heart and improve cholesterol levels. Other research, however, has challenged these findings. A recent study out of Sweden, for example, noted that it may well be that only people with a certain genetic profile see any improvement. One thing is certain: All of the studies that point to health benefits are talking about alcohol in very moderate amounts. In fact, U.S. health agencies recommend no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women.
If you really want to boost your health, there are many things you can do with much more power to prompt improvement than drink — most notably, exercise.
- If I stop, I’ll never have fun again.
For many, especially the young, alcohol and good times seem synonymous, and a life without drinking seems flat and boring. But what we see again and again is that with continued sobriety comes a growing realization that you can still connect with friends, still laugh, still dance, still flirt, still enjoy yourself. In short, all you’ve lost by limiting or ending your drinking is what’s not fun: waking up feeling sick, wondering what you said and did, and dealing with the sometimes serious consequences.
Most also come to see that not everyone turns to alcohol to try to inject some fun in their lives. They’ve just been surrounding themselves with those who do.
- I need it for stress relief.
We all know that stress can do terrible things to your physical and emotional health. So how can something that seems to take the edge off be bad? The issue is, it’s far too easy for one drink to become two or three or more, and that can prompt more problems that you’re solving. Research also shows that if having a drink normally mellows you out, it can have the opposite effect when you’re stressed. That can lead you to drink more as you chase the feeling you’ve come to expect. Stress and alcohol then feed off each other.
Pay attention when you find yourself saying, “I need a drink,” and if stress is becoming an unmanageable part of your life, reach out for help from a mental health professional, not a bottle.
- I would miss it too much.
Those considering giving up alcohol often assume that even if they are successful, they’ve doomed themselves to a life of feeling sorry for themselves as they long for a drink. Talk to any of the 23 million people in successful addiction recovery and you’re likely to hear a very different story. Far from pining for their past life as a drinker, most come to view giving up alcohol as not much of a sacrifice when the payoff is better health, better relationships with those who are important to them, and the ability to live life to its fullest. Indeed, far from feeling sorry for themselves, they come to experience a much different sensation — gratitude.