When drinking gets out of hand
Drinking is at the heart of social life for many people, but those few drinks with friends can sometimes escalate into regular weekends of binging. Since binge drinking doesn’t happen every day (for most people) and is socially tolerated, it can go ignored for a long time. Yet it’s still a very real problem.
To be clear, what we’re talking about here is heavy drinking on an intermittent but regular basis. That’s more than three drinks a day or seven a week for women, or over four drinks in one day to fourteen over the course of a week for men.
Over time, this kind of drinking can have all kinds of negative physical effects; including liver disease, pancreatitis, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and dementia. There are also effects on behaviour which may be equally worrying. Because alcohol reduces inhibitions, it can make someone more outspoken, aggressive or even violent. It can lead them into risky situations or to indulge in sexual behaviour which they regret the next day, including having unsafe sex.
So why do some people binge drink?
People who are shy or introverted, or who don’t have the social life or relationship that they want can slip into using alcohol to oil the wheels of social activity. If life feels empty, alcohol and the good feelings it temporarily produces, can seem like a ‘friend’ or a crutch that’s always there when needed. Sometimes if life is very stressful or pressured, drinking can be a way to let off steam and get away from painful thoughts or feelings.
What to do if you are worried
If you are concerned about any specific physical symptoms, talk to your doctor. A doctor may also advise you on the possible benefits of medication such as anti-depressants. It can also help to talk to friends or family so that your drinking isn't a shameful secret. Alternatively, if that isn't possible for you, talk to a counsellor.
How can a counsellor help
A counsellor will help you get real and clear about whether your drinking is excessive. Next, a counsellor can help you identify the triggers that send you reaching for the bottle and to find new ways to cope with these triggers.
You will also explore the deeper reasons for your drinking, which may include loneliness, unresolved trauma, ongoing stress at work or unhappy relationships. This isn’t quick-fix work; recovery from binge drinking is not going to happen overnight.
On a more practical level, a counsellor can help you formulate a plan for reducing or cutting out your binge drinking. This plan might include the following:
- Setting clear drinking limits in terms of units of alcohol, days you can drink, places to drink (perhaps only in certain pubs and not at home) and what type of alcohol you can drink.
- Creating more of a social life that doesn’t revolve around drinking.
- Taking up exercise.
- Drinking water between alcoholic drinks.
- Taking only cash to the pub so that you can’t over-indulge.
A good place to start is by keeping a ‘drinking journal’. Record how much you drank, where and when, who you were with and how you felt before and after drinking. This will help you become aware of whether your drinking really is excessive. It will also provide clues to the deeper emotional reasons that perhaps led to your drinking to get out of hand.
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About Stephen Davy
Stephen Davy is a BACP accredited counsellor in East London. He specialises in helping people who are going through times of stress, anxiety, or depression, or who who seek longer-term psychotherapy. Stephen's approach is person-centred, but where necessary he draws on tools from other schools, including CBT, Mindfulness and Focusing.