Monday 22 January 2018

Dear Mary: A case of in vino veritas, or what we're like when we are inebriated

Many of us are in denial about the real damage drinking is doing to our lives and relationships, writes sex therapist Mary O'Connor

Illustration: Tom Halliday.
Illustration: Tom Halliday.

Mary O'Connor

Even the most cursory research on the Internet will reveal if one has a problem with alcohol and where to go to get help. So rather than discuss the dangers of alcohol addiction or heavy reliance on alcohol, I thought it would be worthwhile to look at areas in our lives where alcohol may have a detrimental effect without us being necessarily aware of it.

When too much alcohol has been consumed then resistance is lowered, whether it be resistance to eating foods that are not good, cigarettes that have been given up, or the attractiveness of a person other than the partner.

In all these instances the outcome will have a far greater risk of being negative than if alcohol were not involved.

÷'Don't Drink and Dial' is a really good maxim. A friend told me that after a particularly heavy night she reluctantly pressed the redial button on her phone and discovered that she had indeed called an old flame before going to sleep.

She was mortified, particularly as she couldn't remember the conversation. The same can be said for texting - don't tipple and text.

÷ In vino veritas - in wine there is truth - can lead to conflict. For instance, telling your partner that you really don't like their mother/expanding waistline/new haircut may not be a good idea and is probably a sentiment you would not have shared were it not for the alcohol loosening your tongue.

÷ Over many years in the counselling room, one of the most common themes was alcoholic parents. My clients often spoke of the effects that having an alcoholic mother or father had on them.

Stories of shame, violence and marital conflict abounded, with abuse of alcohol at the centre of them all. It must indeed be terrifying for a small child to witness a parent out of control to such a degree that they physically abuse their partner and/or the children.

It is so very wrong to allow children see either parent under the influence of alcohol. At the same time it is important to teach them to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, especially if it is part of the parents' lives.

The French allow their children have a little wine with meals from a fairly young age so that there is no element of forbidden fruit, which seems to work very well.

÷ Apart from driving or operating machinery, which is definitely not allowed, our judgement can be impaired when we drink too much.

So somebody prone to jealousy will find that emotion even more pronounced and may accuse their partner of flirting or indeed having an affair when this is not the case, which will obviously then lead to problems in the relationship.

÷ Money is a big factor - when too much money is being spent on alcohol then the family finances will inevitably suffer, unless there is lots of money in the bank. This then causes stress in the relationship with a lot of blame being attached to the drinker leading to more conflict.

÷ I was part of a group of women recently who were discussing what they had given up for Lent. Only one or two were Catholic and the conversation became more generalised as to what the women could not do without. Almost all of the women said they would not be able to give up - or at least were not prepared to give up - wine, and then one younger woman admitted that she would not be able to do without sex.

That was pretty much a conversation stopper, to the point where she became embarrassed and blushed, until finally one of the women said to her: 'Well, you are much younger than the rest of us, dear, give it time and you will change your mind!'

÷ Sexually, it is important to get the balance right. While alcohol can be a stimulant and a relaxant, when a person drinks more than the body can handle then it becomes a depressant.

In men this can cause the famous 'Brewer's Droop', or erectile dysfunction to give it the correct name; and in women, reduced lubrication and either less intense orgasms than usual or in some cases no orgasms at all.

Also, with the loss of inhibition due to alcohol intake comes failure to take adequate precautions. As a result of carelessness with regard to condom use, an unwanted pregnancy may occur, or in cases of sex with a new partner a sexually transmitted disease may be the gift that keeps on giving. It can be quite a big turn-off when one half of a couple has had a lot to drink and the other one hasn't been drinking at all, especially when the drinker has sex on his or her mind and the partner just wants to go to sleep.

÷ Given that alcohol is so much a part of our culture, if I could change one thing about people's drinking habits it would be that any alcohol consumption be accompanied if not by a meal, then by snacks of some sort.

Unlike our continental counterparts, we Irish do not always have food with alcohol.

There should always be some sort of to help absorb the alcohol. Americans serve cheese with their pre-dinner drinks and while this may seem strange to us, it has the desired effect.

÷ Like most of my friends, I enjoy wine, and it is hard to beat the experience of sitting around a table with friends sharing good food, wine and conversation.

It is also hard to beat the experience of being the designated driver, for quite different reasons!

Listening to the vocal volume rise among the drinkers in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol being consumed, together with being told the same (not very funny !!) stories again and again, is not very stimulating.

So while we think we are being witty and attractive while we are drinking, the opposite can be the case.

My grandmother was widowed and in her 80s when she had her first drink. Somebody gave herself and her sister with whom she shared the house a present of a bottle of port.

The sisters decided to try it and were apparently very taken with the taste and proceeded to have a few glasses each.

All was well until they started to get ready for bed and found that they were both befuddled to the point where they were unable to remove their corsets, which in those days were pretty fierce pieces of underwear.

They ended up sleeping in their undergarments.

Somebody asked my grandmother, now that she had sampled alcohol, if she would continue to drink. "Probably not" was her reply "I'd be afraid I'd get to like it ……. but if I do, I'll wait until I'm in bed."

My grandmother was a very wise woman - moderation in all things!

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