Drinking addiction?

Addicted to drinking

Yesterday a man came to see me about drinking. I saw him about eight years previously to stop smoking, and he hadn't touched a cigarette since. He said that he was addicted to drinking and wanted me to help him the same way I'd helped him stop smoking.

I asked him why he thought he was addicted to drinking. He told me that almost every night he had a few drinks, and more than a few at the weekend. He had't had a weekend without drinking since he was a teenager.  I asked him why he drank. He said he drank because he was bored. Also he thought that stress played a role.

He runs a small business with seven employees. His business is outdoors, weather dependent. So there's a lot of downtime, a lot of explaining to clients why he can't get the job done on time, and then he feels bad because he wasn't doing what he said he was going to do. He said he hated being late, for anything.

Drinking through boredom

Now this got me thinking. The word "bored" generally means that the client has anxiety. I was also interested to find out whether it was the having to explain to the clients, or the not living up to what he promised, that was causing the stress.

I pursued the idea of drinking, and asked him to detail when he drank. He actually didn't drink every night, and he had no problem with not drinking. I asked him how he knew when to have a drink. A told me he usually drank at night, when the boredom set in. And really that was the key to his problem.

When people say they do something when they are bored, but they really saying is that they do something when they have a lack of stimulation. In this case, when he got home after a hard day, he would start to think about the jobs, what he hadn't got done, and how he might have to deal with it. This caused anxiety and he drank for something to do to take away the feeling. This was exactly what he had done when he was smoking. When he felt anxious previously it just went outside for another cigarette. Now he was having a drink when he feels stressed. Basically he is self-medicating with alcohol.

No drinking addiction

So he doesn't have an addiction to alcohol. He just doesn't have a way of dealing with stress. We explored this for a while, and confirmed that he had suspected for a long time that he might have depression. We discussed his drinking cycle. When he gets anxious, he does not know what to do, so he takes a drink. That drink leads to another drink, and leads to another, until he has too much. Then he wakes up in the morning feeling bad, feeling guilty, and that adds to his anxiety. And of course the worry about the job hasn't gone away. Alcohol is a depressant, so his drinking is actually making his depression worse. And his depression is making his drinking worse. He is on a downward spiral.

The solution

The answer is to change his lifestyle. We talked for the rest of the session about how you can get more exercise into his life. I taught him  self hypnosis  to reduce his anxiety. We then talked about is drinking at weekends. He said that if he was on his own he would not drink. But every weekend there was a big family gathering at somebody's house. Everyone drinks at the BBQ, and everyone is expected to drink. Social pressure means he just couldn't not drink.

So I got him to think about how he could keep onside with his family but not join in the drinking culture. This is something he had never thought about. He is now happy that he does not have an addiction to alcohol. What he does have is a lack of ways of dealing with stress, and a family that pressures him to drink with them.

Those are things he can do something about.

David Mason

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