Many Australians use alcohol as a means of connection, relaxation and celebration. It can feel like a big part of our culture and one of the “perks” of adulthood. But it’s tricky, because we also know that alcohol is harmful.

Harmful drinking

Drinking is problematic when it becomes crucial to distancing or "protecting" you from your own vulnerable feelings, whether the protection is proactive (drinking to avoid experiencing a feeling in the future) or reactive (excessive drinking in reaction to the appearance of a feeling). It is in these situations that individuals become dependent on drinking, or more prone to episodes of risky drinking.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I use the word "need” when talking about drinking?

  • Have there been times that my drinking has become out of control?

  • Do I become moody or fearful if I can’t drink as planned?

  • Do I use drinking to escape feelings or make situations more bearable?

  • Do I feel ashamed of my drinking?

  • Do I avoid talking about harmful repercussions of drinking with others?

If your answer to one or more of these questions is yes, it’s likely that your relationship with alcohol is problematic at times, and it's worth thinking about changing that. Even if these habits aren't causing too much disruption to your life now, it's likely that their negative impact will increase if left unchecked in the long term.

Making a decision that honours you

What to do from here is your choice. The most important thing is to make a decision that honours you. If drinking is protecting you from vulnerable emotions, the best way to change your problematic drinking in the long term is to change your relationship with your own vulnerable emotions, which might be achieved by seeking therapy. In the shorter term, you could think about the following:

Identify the feelings you're trying to avoid

If your drinking is problematic because you’re using it to numb or distance yourself from your feelings, it can be useful to diversify your strategies for dealing with feelings, so that you don’t become dependent on drinking for emotional regulation. Take a look at our articles, Where is my feeling? and Finding, identifying and responding to feelings to learn to be more aware of the feelings you might be trying to push away.

Change habits

The key is to ensure that you are allowing these feelings to be heard. If it is very uncomfortable for you to be with them, try using some more healthy strategies to regulate: exercise, talk to someone, listen to music, take a nap or tick something off your to-do list. Enjoying a glass of wine or a hard-earned beer after you’ve helped deal with your feelings is not a problem! You’ll find less need to binge drink or feel dependent on alcohol if you have more tools at hand.

Time off

For some people, changing habits to moderate drinking is very difficult if alcohol has been a primary coping strategy. Taking some time off can be helpful – those weeks or months without alcohol as an option often leave no other option than to form different habits, and brings awareness to the fact that we actually can cope without alcohol. Coming back to drinking after a month or more helps provide perspective and can reset unhealthy drinking behaviours.

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Article written by: Kate McLisky

Image credit: Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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