Sober for October? Therapists look at causes of alcohol dependence
Updated 22 October 2014
by Sarah Graham
Wednesday 22 October 2014273 13000
Throughout October, thousands of committed fundraisers around the country have been kicking the booze for 31 days to raise money for people with cancer. But would you struggle to give up alcohol? If Macmillan Cancer Support's 'Go Sober for October' initiative has forced you to take stock of your drinking habits, then what better time to think about some of the reasons why you may be excessively turning to alcohol? We asked some RSCPP therapists to explain the common causes of alcohol dependence.
Avoiding difficult feelings
Drinking too much can often be described as self-medicating to avoid some identified, or even unrecognised, cause of pain or uncomfortable feeling. But what else is also going on? Alcohol may seem to help you connect to others and to live life more freely. You may have an underlying need to feel connected with anything other than what is going on in your present life. Unfortunately, the very thing that you are choosing to avoid or deny becomes the very thing you desperately battle with as the alcohol dependency takes hold.
Stress at work
Many people enjoy a glass of wine to help them relax after a hard day at the office. But if you are finding that this is becoming an everyday occurrence - or it is nearer to a bottle of wine than a glass - you may be becoming dependent on alcohol. You may be being asked to take on more responsibilities or work extra hours without the correct training or any increase in pay. This may lead to you arriving home exhausted, frustrated and resentful, and feeling that you need a drink to wind down. Unfortunately, if alcohol is your only strategy for coping with your feelings, you may find that the relaxing effects of one drink are no longer enough to blot out the day's events, or distract you from worrying about tomorrow. You may then find yourself drinking more and more to get back to feeling normal. Unfortunately, then the effects of the alcohol may begin to cause you more stress. You may be late for work, or make mistakes due to feeling tired or hungover, or your increasing alcohol consumption may begin to cause problems in your relationships at home and at work.
Certain personality types
People who develop an alcohol dependence tend generally to have personalities that are anxious, negative, impulsive or thrill seeking. If you are particularly anxious, you may get into the habit of drinking more to reduce your anxiety, so you may develop a dependence on a gradual basis. A life event like losing a job, having a challenging job, or struggling to juggle demands at work and home could all trigger dependence. If you tend to think negatively, you may drink more when your negative thinking is activated. If you always think the worst, then what you perceive as catastrophic - like a negative job review or a relationship break up - could tip your drinking into dependence. If you act impulsively, you may often not think things through and act before reflecting. Or, if you seek thrills and enjoy risk, you may enjoy the thrill of drinking and feel that you need more of it.
Lack of proper coping strategies
Alcohol becomes unhealthy when you cannot tolerate your feelings, thoughts and emotions without it. Coping with life using alcohol can be learnt at an early age through experimenting and peer pressure. You may then never learn how to cope with such life experiences as relationships, social and other anxiety, depression, loss, anger, joy, celebration, failure, rejection, or just how to fill the abyss of boredom, without alcohol to anaesthetise the 'bad', or prolong and enhance the 'good'. Using alcohol as a prop can also be learnt in later life; it becomes the one-time friend, the confidence booster, the magic persona creator. Rather than a temporary prop, this may become a permanent fixture, and the price for this can be high.
Underlying mental health problems
A common factor of alcohol dependence stems from underlying mental health problems. This can include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, as well as depression, anxiety and phobias, among other issues. Whether you have a formal diagnosis or not, you may be using alcohol to simply try and get through the day as best you can. It is likely to have become a method of self-medication. Unfortunately, alcohol can increase your symptoms and ultimately has its own problems in addition to the primary mental health issue.
If you are concerned about Alcohol Dependence then you may like to read about finding the right therapist for you
. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.