by Dr. Sandra Hamilton | Featured Contributor
The clock has ticked past midnight into the dawn of 2016. Holiday parties are over, and the time to reflect on how we want to relate to the new year has arrived. January is a time to improve how we live our lives and leave behind what no longer serves us. For some of us, this includes evaluating our relationships and habits; in particular, our connection to alcohol, a relationship that becomes more prominent during the holiday season.
Alcohol is the friend that most people like to hang out with during good times and bad. It is the life of the party at celebrations, a source of comfort at funerals, and motivation to bring people together to “meet for drinks.” Our relationship with alcohol is dysfunctional when it is our significant other — instead of a friend we like to see once in awhile. Like any relationship, being aware of how we treat alcohol, and how alcohol treats us, is a significant part of caring for our physical and emotional health.
Humans are wired for alcohol abuse and addiction due to our biology, and emotional vulnerability to the pursuit of pleasure. Using alcohol stimulates our brain to release substances such as dopamine that are associated with the experience of well-being. When stressful times outweigh the pleasurable activities in our lives, we may be more likely to chase the sense of well-being that dopamine provides.
The irony is that increased use of alcohol disrupts dopamine levels, and may keep our brain from producing adequate amounts of dopamine on its own. This process can be the start of an abusive, dependent, and even addictive relationship. Our best defense against developing a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol is to be brutally honest about our ability to set boundaries with our drinking habits.
It’s time to break up with alcohol if you identify with the following:
- Are you drinking more frequently, or for longer periods of time?
- Do you have to increase your consumption of alcohol to get the desired effect?
- Do you worry about your alcohol use, or wonder if you should cut down your consumption?
- Do you find yourself thinking about having a drink, and how soon you can get one?
- Are you spending more of your leisure time in alcohol-related activities and settings?
- Are you socializing more with people who enjoy getting drunk, rather than those who drink occasionally, or not at all?
- Is your performance at work, school, or home beginning to slip because you are hungover?
- Are you lying to people (and yourself) about how much, and how often you use alcohol?
- Do you receive hints or concerns from others about your alcohol use, or find yourself arguing with them about your drinking?
- Are you isolating yourself to use alcohol?
- Do you use alcohol in situations that are unsafe for you and others?
- Are you continuing to use alcohol even though it’s affecting your health?
- Have you experienced symptoms such as insomnia, nausea, and headache when you take a break from drinking?
Like any dysfunctional relationship, we fool ourselves into thinking that alcohol can give us everything we need while it robs us of everything we have. It’s hard to get through any breakup, much less a break up with an addictive substance. Trying to do it on your own can set you up for a return to a destructive relationship that will only leave you feeling trapped and disempowered.
The new year offers an ideal opportunity to challenge ourselves and face the truth of who we were, and what we need to change. Whether your alcohol consumption is in the beginning stages of abuse or has advanced to addiction, there is no shame in relying on the support of family, friends, and qualified mental health professionals. In the end, alcohol addiction is an abusive relationship. It destroys your health, takes your money, keeps you from your loved ones, and ultimately robs you of your life. Make it a plan to be well in 2016.
Dr. Sandra Hamilton
While taking pre-med classes at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I became so distracted by psychology courses that I changed my major to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. My contributions to She Owns It are drawn from the professional perspective of a clinical psychologist, as well as the personal point of view of a single working mother and entrepreneur. I have maintained an independent psychology practice for over 20 years, taught as an adjunct assistant professor for over a decade, and somehow managed to survive raising two spirited daughters.
My expertise is grounded in years of working with individuals, couples, and families who have worked their way through catastrophic experiences as well as the inevitable demands of adult life. I admire their tenacity each time they schedule another session in the face of painful insights and difficult feelings.
Therapy is not a haircut. It’s not a quick fix, and you don’t always feel better when you leave.