Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Why binge drinking is not an effective quick fix

I have always suffered from being a chronic worrier.  Even as a child I was overwhelmed with worries, lying awake at night fretting about the house burning down, or being kidnapped or my parents dying or other similarly far-fetched melodramatic situations.  Much of my early childhood was punctuated with the words, "Mummy, I'm worried".  Worrying followed me into my teenage years and started to morph into overthinking.  For most of my life I have fretted over and overthought pretty much everything, from my appearance, my studies and my career, to my family, my friendships, my relationships and my health.  I believe this has contributed to my anxiety, my raised stress levels, my tendency to be over-sensitive and my mood swings. 

Thirteen year old worrier me
This assumption is backed-up in the book 'Women who think too much' by Nolen-Hoeksema, who goes on to discuss how "Women are twice as likely as men to become severely depressed or anxious, and our tendency to overthink appears to be one of the reasons why".  We live in a society where we are constantly seeking out a quick fix for when we are feeling anxious, unhappy, upset, stressed etc. and research has shown that overthinkers are twice as likely as non-overthinkers to binge on alcohol on a regular basis.  Now that I am clear-headed, it is blatantly apparent that up until 2018, one of my quick fixes to a plethora of different emotional ailments has been binge drinking.  Although binge drinking has invariably dulled the problem and provided a momentary escape, it does in fact exacerbate the problem.  Nolen-Hoeksema, stresses that "alcohol may actually narrow [overthinkers] attention on their worries" and research by Steele & Josephs talks about alcohol myopia whereby alcohol actually heightens awareness and perception of worries and magnifies them so they become bigger and worse than before.  Therefore for the past couple of decades I have been in a slowly descending vortex of worrying, overthinking, self-medicating with alcohol, worrying, overthinking, self-medicating with alcohol and so on.


When I look at it like this, it is hardly surprising that my mental health has improved so dramatically over the past six months since I have removed alcohol from the equation.  Before I stopped drinking, I had what Buddhists have referred to as 'monkey mind' - an unsettled, restless, confused mind filled with fretting monkeys clamouring for attention and pointing out all the negative consequences of just about everything.  Now that alcohol has been extracted, my head has quietened and calmed and I am capable of thinking far more rationally.  Of course, I still worry about things - I am a natural born worrier - but I can now apply logic and gain a more balanced perspective.

It has taken me far too many years to realise that alcohol is not the answer to any of my problems and it is in fact the foundation of many of them.  Over the past few months I have been stunned by just how much my life has changed for the better since I gave up drinking and equally how my allegiance to the bottle has been completely shattered along the way.  The positivity, confidence and fortitude that I feel on an almost daily basis now far outweighs the desire to drink ever again.

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