Sunday, November 13, 2011

Shot of Reality

When we are no longer able to change a situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves.” -Viktor Frankl


November 2011 As soon as the first sighting is made of a red paper cup covered with snowflakes, filled with one of Starbucks’s espresso concoctions, there is one thing that is clear: the holiday season is here. There is probably a long list of things that remind you of this time of year…chestnuts, gingerbread lattes, snowmen, cranberry sauce, presents, candles, apple cider, cinnamon, etc. But there is one item that may not come to mind when creating that list, even though it plays a huge part during the holidays: alcohol. It may surprise you to learn that of all the holidays in the year, Thanksgiving has the highest rate of drunk driving related accidents.

The reason for this statistic may simply be that the holiday is focused on food. Being surrounded by family and friends while enjoying a meal with wine or drinks is a given for many.

Having wine with dinner, enjoying the newest fancy cocktails, joining friends for happy hour, or going scotch tasting can all be fun and enjoyable social activities. And during the holidays, drinking may be a part of the tradition. But if you’ve already decided to pop open that bottle of champagne on Thanksgiving because your family is impossible to deal with sober, or if you are anxious about taking your new boyfriend to meet your family for the holidays because he may get “out-of-control” after a few drinks, the “fun” of alcohol is removed and its use has turned unhealthy. 

Having a problem with alcohol doesn’t have to fit into the media-depicted image of an “alcoholic.” You don’t have to be sneaking shots of vodka between work breaks or in the middle of the night to have a problem with alcohol.  Sure, there are major signs of problematic drinking, but not all the blatant signs have to be there to indicate that a problem exists. If you notice that you or someone you love seems to have conflicts or issues that arise when alcohol is added into the mix, there is a problem with alcohol. It is as simple as that.

For instance, Albert finds that when his wife Kate has a few drinks, she begins to treat him differently. She is often condescending towards him. This is unusual for Kate, as she is not typically like this unless she drinks. When Albert discusses this with Kate the next day, she laughs and states that she has no recollection of it. Albert often dreads occasions involving alcohol, and is not looking forward to the holidays.

Or take the case of Zach. When Zach drinks he seems to have a lot of regrets the next day. Often, his friends and family tell him that he is not friendly or fun to be around and that he is an “angry drunk.” Zach has alienated friends and lovers in the past because of his hurtful behaviors when drinking.

And then there is Sandra. Sandra loves to have a glass of wine when she comes home from work. Lately, things have been pretty stressful, so sometimes she treats herself to more than one glass. Sandra’s boyfriend has complained that she is “different” when she drinks. Sandra often sends text messages that are out of character and she also seems to be bolder around people. Sandra doesn’t see why it’s a problem; in fact, she is happy to have a little “liquid courage” inside her.

Now that the holidays are here, it may be a good time for all of us to look at what role alcohol takes in our lives. Is being around family and friends at holiday events already making you think about what your drink of choice is going to be? Are you worried about how Uncle Frank or cousin Rachael (who are always drunk at family gatherings) are going to act or say when you see them?

Or, consider the following questions when it comes to drinking  in general for you: Do you find yourself always needing a drink to feel comfortable when out on a date or around new company? Have you ever had a glass of wine or a shot of tequila before a public appearance to calm your nerves? Do you feel like you can’t have a good time without alcohol being involved? Have you hurt someone by saying or doing something when drinking that you later regretted? Have you ever gotten a credit card bill with a bunch of charges from bars that made you cringe that you spent so much on alcohol? If you find yourself guilty of any of the above, alcohol is playing a negative role in your life. Even if it was just one time, it is important to recognize the negative impact and make the conscious decision to regulate your alcohol intake and really face the problem before it becomes a bigger problem.

If you are pulled towards a drink when you’re feeling sad or angry, or you drink to deal with other feelings, this can be dangerous. Many incorrectly believe that if they are functioning and that they drink only every once in a while, it’s not a problem. But it is not just the frequency or the level of functionality that defines alcohol as a problem. It is the effect it is having on your life and the reason it is being used.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that alcohol plays a huge factor into relationship issues and divorce. In one recent study, 53% of adults in the US stated that one or more of their close relatives have a drinking problem.

Sometimes it may feel like we have things under control when we really don’t. Turning to something like alcohol as a coping mechanism, instead of facing problems using healthy methods, can prove to be detrimental.  Confronting feelings and circumstances that lead to unhealthy drinking patterns and making the decision to change them may be challenging, but may also be the solution you should really be looking for. *