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.

What you need to know about the relationship between PTSD, trauma, and substance abuse

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction are two very different challenges that are sometimes experienced at the same time. People are often curious about the ways that these two struggles overlap.  There are actually several ways that PTSD and substance use go together.

Substances as a solution

People who have PTSD struggle with anxiety and fear, isolation, and sleep difficulties.  Substance use can, understandably, seem like a solution.

Using alcohol might help someone who feels on guard all the time to be able to relax.  Benzodiazepines or marijuana might be used to help individuals who suffer from trauma to fall asleep.  People with PTSD may use substances to avoid thoughts, feelings, or memories associated with the traumatic event.

Research suggests that the relief from substances is short-lived and does not permanently improve the experience of individuals with PTSD, even if it does provide some temporary aid.  In fact the reality is quite the opposite – avoiding symptoms actually helps to maintain the symptoms of PTSD in the long run. The more that trauma-related thoughts and feelings are avoided, the worse symptoms become.

PTSD often leads to negative views of other people or the world, and as a result people with PTSD sometimes feel quite disconnected from friends and family. Using alcohol or other substances may seem like a good way to temporarily suspend those negative beliefs and connect with others.  Again, although using substances may temporarily help someone feel the connection to others that they’re craving, this is not a permanent solution and there are often unintended side effects that wreak havoc in their lives.

Substance abuse sometimes causes trauma

Substance use can, unfortunately, lead to further trauma.

Substances themselves can have effects that can be traumatic, for example a terrifying acid trip or an accidental overdose.  In a similar way, when people are under the influence of substances, their inhibitions are lower and so they are more likely to get into situations where traumatic events occur.  It’s common for people who are under the influence of substances not to feel the full impact of the trauma until later.

It’s important to note that it is less common for substance abuse to lead to trauma; much more often individuals have traumatic experiences and then begin using substances as a way to cope.   They may then be more susceptible to those additional traumatic experiences for a number of reasons, including environmental factors and reduced inhibition when under the influence.

Treatment solutions for both PTSD and substance abuse

When considering the co-occurrence of PTSD and substance abuse, it makes a lot of sense that these disorders go together.  Substance use promises quick relief from pain, and the pain of trauma can sometimes seem intolerable.  However, using substances rarely provides any kind of long term relief and can have a number of negative consequences.

The good news is that a number of effective treatments for co-occurring PTSD and substance abuse have been developed and there are specialists who are trained to help.  Treatment with a qualified professional is a critical part of healing and creating the life that those who suffer from trauma and substance abuse desire and deserve.

If you or someone you love is currently struggling, contact our office today to schedule an initial assessment.

Vulnerability and Recovery

Because I work with people who struggle with addiction, I am particularly attuned to the ways that the public perceives people struggling with addiction and in recovery.  Too often, media portrayals of addiction dramatize or glamorize addiction in unrealistic ways.  These images contribute to a negative perception of addiction and recovery and lead to misunderstandings, fear, and stigma.

In my work, I’ve had the fortune to witness and be inspired by some of the many people who stop using alcohol or drugs each year. Based on this experience, I want to propose an alternative perspective on addiction — that most of us share a lot more experiences with folks struggling with addiction than we realize.

Think of a habit or behavior that you know is not so good for you or gets in the way of who you want to be.  This might take the form of a (more) socially approved of “addiction”.  Things like

  • chocolate,
  • shopping,
  • TV,
  • texting,
  • cell phone games

Have you ever tried to change that behavior?  Was it easy?

Have you noticed what happens when you start entertaining changing a habit?  If you are anything like me, your first thoughts might be something like “I could change if I wanted to,” and “it’s not a good time to change because…”  The truth is that changing is hard and would require being willing to experience a whole lot of difficult feelings and thoughts.

I experienced this recently when I quit eating sugar a few months ago.  For ten days I couldn’t concentrate, my emotions felt extreme and unpredictable, and my body ached in places that had not ever been injured.  I experienced triggers, urges, cravings – the whole nine yards.  I felt extremely sensitive, like a buffer between me and the difficult things that happen in my life had been removed. In the process of making this change, I encountered my own vulnerability.

In her now famous Ted Talk, Brene Brown talks about how she didn’t choose just one substance to retreat into to protect her from vulnerability, she used a failsafe combo: a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.  Many of the behaviors that we do routinely may protect us from having to experience our own vulnerability.  But our vulnerability is a part of our humanity – and part of what connects us to each other.

My admiration for folks in recovery comes from their willingness to experience their vulnerability in order to make a change.  Recovery usually involves giving up something that, at least at some level, feels like it keeps you safe and protected. Often it requires making changes to relationships, to daily routines, and to the things we use for comfort.  As if that weren’t vulnerable enough, it sometimes means making amends to people that you harmed in the past.  In my experience, recovery requires a courage of heart that is rarely required of most of us.

Now I am aware that experiments in vulnerability, like choosing to give up sugar, TV, or your cell phone, or making other changes that disrupt our sense of safety, do not capture the experience of overcoming addiction. My intent is not to make light of the experience of addiction or recovery.  It is to suggest that making changes is hard for all of us and that we have more in common with those who struggle with addiction than we may realize.  In fact, I often think that stigma and judgements about others, including people who struggle with addiction, may be a way to distance ourselves from vulnerability. Unfortunately, this also restricts our connection to our humanity.

The truth is all of us humans experience very unpleasant sensations and feelings when we change our behavior — there is no permanent way to keep us safe from that.  We all have vulnerabilities we might prefer to avoid.  By noticing the ways in which we defend our vulnerability, we increase our empathy and humanity, and may even find a little of the courage of recovery in our own lives.