It is time for Prosecco-drinking ladies to take stock
You don't have to be an alcoholic to have a drink issue. Dean Martin once said: "I feel sorry for those folks who don't drink, when they wake up, that's the best they are going to feel for the whole day." But what happens when the joke goes out of drinking? When the fun stops and the denial starts?
Like most psychologists, I have seen a shocking rise in people from all classes and backgrounds with drinking issues. One group that seems to be seeing a massive rise is ladies from the middle class. These middle-earning professionals are starting to seek more and more help over their relationship with alcohol. The Chablis and Prosecco class of drinkers seems to have woken up to the effect drinking is having on their lives and families.
Or maybe it's the awareness campaigns for mental health and alcohol-related issues that are making people look at their lives and drinking a little closer? Maybe it's just time for some people to take a long, hard look in the mirror and realise they don't know the person looking back at them? Especially when they are drunk?
It used to be the case you would see (or smell) a client who you knew had an issue with alcohol, but recently the middle classes are flocking to clinics like mine to talk about their drinking and the worries they have about it. For one lady, it was the glass of wine after dinner that turned into a bottle of wine a night to help her sleep. For another, it was bi-monthly night out that turned her into a completely different person. Or in the extreme, the guy who was about to lose his wife and young family when the few cans at home during the match became a long day's journey into night.
So how we do look at our drinking and ask that question "do I have a problem?" Alcohol is a drug that tends to make those who are happy happier, while for those who are down, it tends to drive them towards depression and anxiety. We know that those who are alcohol-dependent do suffer more from depression and that heavy drinkers have a much higher risk of suicide or attempted suicide than others. So understanding alcohol and your relationship with it is very important for your health, both physical and mental.
Within the field of psychology, one theory is that those who have issues with alcohol or drugs use them as defence mechanisms to cope with painful feelings. It helps them to forget their past or even their present situation but when they sober up the issues are still there. When it comes to drinking, alcohol is like other addictive drugs and increases the activity of the dopminergic neurons of the mesolimbic system. It dampens the nervous system by increasing the activity of GABA, the brain's main inhibitory neurotransmitter and it decreases the activity of glutamate, a major excitatory neurotransmitter. In layman's terms, this means that you feel less inhibited and euphoric.
However, the more you drink, the brain's "control centres" become increasingly disrupted. Doing simple things such as thinking normally and physical co-ordination become disorganised. This leads to risky behaviour in what is called "Alcohol Myopia". This is a shortsightedness in thinking caused by the inability to pay attention as much as you would when you are sober. This often leads to those who have alcohol in their system taking risks such as those related to sexual behaviour, drink-driving and so on.
We have seen a massive rise in people who are drunk even before they leave the house. For some, it's socially acceptable to have a bottle of wine before they even leave the house. For others, it's a financial issue. With supermarkets selling below-cost alcohol and the high prices in bars and clubs, drinking at home with no idea of measures or portions has become the norm.
The thinking behind this seems to be to try to get drunk before going out to save money.
There is one issue with this theory. Once you go out, the alcohol from home kicks in and then with your systems not working at full tilt, you keeping drinking. You want to keep the high and want to take more risks to keep the drunk feeling until, as expected, like a roller-coaster, it all comes to a crashing stop when the combined alcohol from a whole evening hits the brain and body at the same time.
We do have a problem in Ireland with our relationship with alcohol and the issue is getting bigger and spreading. It's time for all of us to take a look at our relationship with alcohol and maybe 2015 is the year for people to finally call time.
Jason O'Callaghan is a psychologist registered with The Psychology Society of Ireland and lead therapist in The D4 Clinic. www.D4Clinic.ie