When drinking doesn't feel OK anymore
“I don’t drink every day”, “I don’t have to have a drink when I wake up in the morning”, “I’m holding down a job”, “No one would know there’s an issue”, “It’s not so different to everyone else at the pub”, “I’m not an alcoholic… but…” These are phrases I hear all the time in my practice.
In our minds, we often have two categories of people – ‘normal’ drinkers, and alcoholics. We have so many ideas about what an alcoholic is – someone who has to drink every day, someone who’s really ill, someone whose life is completely taken over by drinking, someone for whom recovery means never drinking again, and more.
There are all sorts of judgements and ideas we may hold about alcoholics, or maybe an image in our head of what an alcoholic is like. So it’s incredibly confusing when we don’t relate to the word “alcoholic” and find that idea terrifying but, at the same time, our relationship with alcohol isn’t where we’d like it to be.
It can feel hard to know what ‘normal’ and ‘OK’ is when it comes to alcohol. Drinking is everywhere – part of many social occasions, part of many celebrations, something that accompanies food, something that we associate with certain events or moods or times of day. If we look to the NHS or government guidelines, they advise no more than 14 units a week. But, when we translate that into bottles of wine or pints of beer, that’s more than many people we know drink, even in one night! And not all of those people are ‘alcoholics’ are they?! So it gets very confusing.
There are lots of reasons people become concerned about their alcohol use. Maybe you’ve noticed they’re drinking more and more. Maybe you can’t imagine navigating certain events or emotions without a drink. Maybe you’ve behaved in ways when drunk that they’re not happy about. Maybe it’s just a creeping sense that you’re less in control of your drinking than you feel comfortable with.
How can counselling help?
This is a point at which counselling can help, particularly with a therapist trained in alcohol use. Therapy provides a safe and non-judgmental space to explore your current relationship with alcohol, and how you’d like it to be different.
You can examine what pattern your drinking takes, what your reasons for drinking are, and what routines and habits are built around alcohol. You can explore the wider context of your life and mental well-being, and how alcohol is associated with this.
You can identify which emotions are associated with drinking, and how alcohol transforms your feelings, and consider different ways of responding to emotions. You and your therapist can work together to set manageable and achievable goals to help you reach a healthier relationship with alcohol.
Struggling with alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean that absolute abstinence is the only answer. There are lots of different approaches to gaining control, including strategies for moderation, a break from drinking, or full abstinence. What this process looks like is a very individual thing and what works for one person may not work for another.