Quit Drinking to Create Better Relationships

Many people drink as part of socializing with others and feel it helps them loosen up, have a better time, and overcome any social anxiety they may feel. They may think alcohol helps them stay connected with people and have better relationships.  Yet, after reflection, some people find that alcohol use actually interferes with their relationships.

However, quitting or cutting back drinking is often difficult. It can be an isolating experience for someone who has been a “social drinker”. In addition, people who normally drink during social occasions can often find themselves coping with increased anxiety when attempting to connect with others. This makes quitting or cutting back alcohol hard when you start to think you might need to.

Why it’s hard to stop being a social drinker

People often meet for drinks after work. This is a common way that professional adults are able to form interpersonal connections with colleagues. It is also a common way that people meet their future intimate partners. Many people find friendships and dating often involve drinking alcohol.

Given this situation, the exciting nightlife in cities such as Portland—with its wide variety of craft beers and breweries—can make it even more difficult to avoid being around alcohol if trying to quit. In turn, this can make it even harder to refrain from drinking alcohol if you have a drinking problem (and simply too easy to slip back into depending on alcohol to feel okay).

It is really hard to go against the grain, and the social pressure to drink can be very strong. However, anyone grappling with an alcohol problem knows that it is necessary to resist that peer pressure.

If you have ever felt “different” from everyone around you in a social situation where you are the only one not drinking, you know this is hard. It’s also another reason why you need support to stay the course.

Alcohol is no longer helping my relationships. What should I do?

It is not easy to change any habit—especially one that involves using alcohol (or drugs) to ease anxiety or depression.  If you have relied on alcohol to help you relate to other people, you may find it difficult to feel the same level of comfort in your relationships without alcohol.

A therapist can assist you in identifying how alcohol is affecting your life and your relationships, and how quitting drinking can make a difference in your life. Portland Psychotherapy has therapists who are knowledgeable, and can help you get control over your drinking and get your life back on track.

Your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) and What It Can Tell You

Excessive drinking is a safety issue in more ways than one. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 10,265 individuals were killed in drunk-driving accidents in 2015 alone. Use of Uber or Lyft may help one avoid driving while intoxicated, however, drinking has other risks we often don’t think about.

Safety Risks of Excessive Drinking

Drinking past the recommended alcohol consumption limit is linked to numerous other safety risks besides car accidents. Injuries resulting from falls are more likely in people who are impaired by the effects of over-drinking. Excessive alcohol consumption is also closely-linked to fatal swimming and boating accidents, as you can easily misjudge your ability to do either when intoxicated. Of course, you are also at higher risk of ending up in jail.

Therefore, it is a good idea to understand the concept of Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). In determining whether an impaired driver is drunk, BAC is measured by the police officer who suspects an intoxicated driver. If the BAC is at least the legal limit of 0.08, a DUI charge will be issued.

Importantly, maintaining your BAC under the legal limit is required when planning to drive home after a party where alcohol has been consumed. However, it is important to realize that you can actually become impaired by alcohol with a lower BAC than 0.08 and even charged with a DUI when you are below the legal limit. This is because some people have a more pronounced physiological reaction to alcohol than others.

Calculating your BAC

BAC charts and calculators require an understanding of the alcohol content of a “standard” drink. The following is representative of the alcohol content of a “standard” drink:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol)

It is a good idea to keep both ounces and percentages in mind when calculating the amount of ingested drinks needed to remain under 0.08 BAC. It is also an equally good idea to recognize that you can still become impaired from alcohol even if you are under 0.08 BAC. Your BAC level at any point in time is not necessarily an indicator of whether you are addicted to alcohol. Instead, it is just an indicator of your level of intoxication—and, therefore, your probable safety in walking, driving, or engaging in any activity that requires quick reflexes (like sports) or complex problem solving.

There are many BAC calculators available online, but I recommend the website, http://bloodalcoholcalculator.org, as a useful resource (as it offers both a BAC chart and calculator).

Your BAC and getting help from a therapist

If it is hard for you to maintain the recommended BAC or you often drink to excess, you may need the help of a therapist to address your drinking problem. Tolerance to increased alcohol ingestion and binge drinking are two signs that you need help to deal with your alcohol consumption. One way to know you have developed tolerance is if you have a blood level of .08 or higher and yet don’t feel any signs of intoxication.

Besides helping you deal with your over-drinking, a therapist can help you to explore other factors (e.g., stress, emotions, family history, and personality) that may be fostering a loss of control over your drinking. It’s never too early (or late) to address a drinking problem.

Drinking Too Much and Trying to Stop?

Most people who drink excessively experience times where they know it is causing problems for them. From too many hang-overs to conflicts with family members and friends, drinking frequently to excess can interfere with your relationships, impact your work and other activities, and basically disrupt your life. Is this you or someone you know?

When a heavy drinker receives feedback from others that they have a problem with alcohol consumption, that feedback often is advice to entirely cease alcohol consumption immediately. But, that just exacerbates the problem. Indeed, it can make a person who enjoys drinking (and/or relies on alcohol as a stress-reliever) feel stuck to the point where that drinker just gives up trying to quit. Long-term habits are truly hard to break, and choosing to entirely stop drinking all at once is not possible for the majority of over-drinkers. You are not a failure.

Abstinence from alcohol – Is this necessary for me?

“How can I make my drinking more manageable without stopping altogether?” This is a question that I often hear in working with people who are struggling to change their relationship with alcohol. My experience is that many people who are heavy drinkers feel that just ceasing entirely from drinking is not a realistic option for them. Likewise, they feel frustrated that the “cold turkey” and “just stop drinking” option is the one most often presented to them.

I don’t argue for (or against) the merits of embarking on the path of total abstinence from drinking for an adult who has had a drinking problem. This can be the right path for one person, but the wrong path for someone else. The important thing is to recognize if you have a drinking problem, so you can take steps to address it.

What if I can’t just stop drinking?

Those with repeated difficulty sticking to their plans of limiting their drinking often experience increased feelings of shame—as well as feeling hopeless about changing their alcohol over-consumption. Working with a trained therapist to change your relationship with alcohol may be the best option if you have been unable to make that change alone.

We—at Portland Psychotherapy—are here to help you figure out the best way for you to take control of your drinking, and find better ways of coping with the pull of negative patterns that push you toward drinking to excess. You do not have to do it all by yourself, and we can help you stick to your goals.

The Pursuit of Happiness: Understanding the Research

Does valuing happiness help us live a joyful life, or does it backfire?

Happiness seems to have a high currency in America. Over the past few years, the number of popular books written on how to increase it has skyrocketed. To name a few: 10% Happier, The Art of Happiness, Authentic Happiness, The Happiness Advantage, The Happiness Project, 52 Lists for Happiness, Choosing Happier, Flourish. Even the US Declaration of Independence declares the pursuit of happiness as an “inalienable right.”

But what is the consequence of valuing happiness? On the one hand, valuing happiness could lead a person to work harder to attain it. On the other hand, valuing happiness could lead a person to feel unhappy if they don’t reach their standards.

In 2011, a group of researchers decided to put this question to the test. They asked adult females who had recently experienced a stressful life event, such as a divorce or accident, to indicate how much life stress had impacted them and how much they highly valued feeling positively (e.g. “feeling happy is extremely important to me”).

As expected, the participants who highly valued happiness tended to have worse overall wellbeing, including more symptoms of depression, and a lower ratio of positive to negative emotions. Interestingly, the researchers only observed this relationship when participants had lower, but not higher, levels of life stress.

Why did life stress affect this relationship between valuing happiness and wellbeing?

Imagine you just went through a tough breakup. You probably wouldn’t expect to feel happy, let alone feel disappointed by negative feelings. Yet, imagine celebrating a best friend’s birthday party. If you didn’t feel happy in this context, you might feel bummed, especially if you highly valued feeling happy.

In the next study, the researchers had female participants either read an article on the benefits of happiness (“valuing happiness condition”) or making accurate judgments (“control condition”). Then, the participants watched either a sad or happy film clip. Compared to those in the control condition, those in the valuing happiness condition felt worse after watching the sad, but not positive, film clip. Feeling disappointed seemed to play a role in this result: valuing happiness led people to feel disappointed during the sad clip, which, in turn, led them to feel unhappy afterwards.

Does this mean that people should stop valuing happiness?

Not exactly. For one, while the researchers did find paradoxical costs of valuing happiness, they studied people who valued it to a high degree. Other researchers have similarly found that highly valuing happiness is linked to depressive symptoms amongst people who previously struggled with major depression. Yet, valuing happiness to a more moderate degree could help people be happier by motivating them to practice different techniques aimed at increasing happiness. In other words, if people have the right ‘happiness building tools,’ some researchers think that valuing happiness to a certain degree could promote it. More research is needed in order to better understand whether there are conditions under which people could benefit from valuing happiness.

Overall, this research does suggest that a cultural fixation on happiness could have costs, especially if it leads people to feel disappointed with experiencing negative emotions. Research increasingly suggests that accepting negative emotions has benefits, and therapies that encourage acceptance of emotions (e.g. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) appear effective.

happiness

How to Stay Emotionally Connected in a Relationship

Clear communication is key in any relationship, but it’s hard to know what you actually need to communicate. As the years go by, expectations change, patience wavers, and we use fewer words to convey our needs and feelings. But our longest relationships need more thorough communication to survive.

Think about a parent and a child. I love my mother, but I expect more from our relationship than my acquaintances. I have little patience when she misunderstands me repetitively and I don’t always tell her what I need in clear language. When I perceive her as unhelpful or negative, I can feel like exploding!

Now think about a romantic partner. We choose our partners for the connection we share and times when we feel they understand us. Partners can know us better than some of our blood relatives. So what happens when we get into an argument with our partner?

Typically, all we really want is to know we’re connected to our partners, for them to say, “Yes, I’m still here for you. I still love you.” We want a hug, a kiss, a sign they’ll show up when we need them the most. But we’ve learned not to ask for those things because it makes us feel vulnerable. But if this is the person you love, someone you want to spend the rest of your life with, then they’re the perfect person to share your vulnerability with.

Phrasing and emphasis are also important to ensuring clear communication. Often we focus on demands and the negative aspects of disagreements in order to keep our vulnerabilities from showing. Instead of saying “You need to come home on time so we can eat dinner together. Why are you so careless?” try “I miss eating dinner and sharing my day with you. At times I’m hurt when you stay at work too long because it feels like you’re choosing work over me and our time together.” Finding and expressing the underlying emotional conflict can help partners understand how much they value their relationship and gives them a path toward reconciling disagreements through reestablishing connections and continued emotional investment in each other.

The next time you have a disagreement with your partner or just feel disconnected from them, ask yourself these questions:

What just happened?

Did your partner not text you goodnight? Did you argue over dinner plans? Is this a repeating argument? If so, you may have an unmet need (words of affirmation, quality time, etc.). This is an opportunity to explore your relationship expectations and how your relationship fits those expectations. Remember, sometimes our expectations are reasonable, and at other times they are not.

How am I feeling inside?

Anger and frustration can be secondary emotions (a reaction you have to another emotion). A primary emotion may be driving that anger and frustration. If you have trouble finding the right words, think about which emoji you would use if you wanted to text your best friend about your feelings. (Still having difficulty describing your emotion? Click [here] for an extensive list). Naming our emotions can help us understand what we might need from our partners.

How can I express this to my partner without using blaming or criticizing language?

This is an opportunity to share vulnerability accurately with your partner. Remember, it’s not about placing blame on them or yourself. Reconnecting and finding a solution together is the essence of reconciliation, and it takes clear and calm communication to succeed.

Additional Resources:

We’re constantly growing and changing as people, both physically and emotionally. Relationships are the same, and sometimes we need to find or create opportunities to reacquaint ourselves with lost or loose connections. For help, try exploring the questions in the Gottman Institute’s Love map.

A shared vocabulary and understanding of supplemental information can be a map for finding common ground. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages is a great start for ways to express and reciprocate needs and wants in any relationship.

Most fights are a protest over emotional disconnection. In Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson shows how attachment styles play out in relationships as “demon dialogues,” as well as tips for being more accessible, responsive, and engaged with your partner.