Is Your Relationship with Alcohol Helping or Hurting? A Psychiatrist's Perspective

Is Your Relationship with Alcohol Helping or Hurting? A Psychiatrist's Perspective

Nichelle Haynes, DO

Navigating the complex terrain of mental health often involves examining the coping mechanisms we employ. The holidays are often a time for gathering and I know many of my patients have noticed their alcohol intake increase through the holiday season. For many, alcohol use becomes a way to cope with life's challenges, stress, and emotional turmoil (and we know there is a lot of that during the holidays!). As a reproductive psychiatrist, I often witness the blurred lines between social drinking and problematic alcohol use. Today, let's explore how to determine if your relationship with alcohol is genuinely working for you or if it has evolved into a coping mechanism that isn't providing the support you need.

Understanding the Purpose of Your Alcohol Use:

  1. Social Enjoyment vs. Escapism: Reflect on your reasons for drinking. Are you enjoying a glass of wine with friends in a social setting, or are you using alcohol to escape negative emotions or situations? Understanding the intention behind your alcohol consumption is one of the keys to addressing your alcohol use.
  2. Emotional Regulation: Do you find yourself turning to alcohol as a way to numb emotional pain, anxiety, or stress? Using alcohol as a coping mechanism might provide temporary relief, but it can exacerbate underlying issues in the long run.

Recognizing Red Flags:

I'd like to mention here that you might think your drinking is not problematic, but we do not know of any safe amount of alcohol in pregnancy so if you're finding yourself having problems like this during pregnancy please talk to your OBGYN or other physician to discuss how you move forward in the best way for you and your baby.

  1. Increased Tolerance: If you find that you need more alcohol to achieve the desired effect, it could indicate developing tolerance, a common warning sign of problematic use. This is because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Your body then responds with increasing the compensatory mechanisms to keep you alive. If you are drinking rarely, your body has plenty of time to re-regulate to its normal state. If you are drinking more frequently, the compensatory mechanisms stay in place and your body gets the repeated depressant effect from alcohol and starts to adapt to this as the new normal and you need more alcohol to get the same feeling of being tipsy or drunk.
  2. Frequent Cravings: Craving alcohol, especially during stressful situations, can signal an unhealthy reliance on it as a coping mechanism to manage this stress.
  3. Impact on Daily Life: Are your relationships, work, or personal responsibilities being affected by your alcohol use? If alcohol is interfering with your ability to function or you find yourself struggling to enjoy things without alcohol, it's essential to reassess your relationship with it.
  4. Failed Attempts to Cut Down: If you've tried to cut down on your alcohol intake but find it challenging or impossible, it may indicate a dependence that requires attention.

Seeking Support:

  1. Therapeutic Intervention: Talking to a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or therapist, can provide valuable insights into your alcohol use patterns and the underlying emotional struggles you may be facing. If you have difficulties coming off alcohol please DO NOT try to do this at home, it can be dangerous or even deadly so please be sure to include a physician in this part of your care however you can.
  2. Supportive Networks: Reach out to friends, family, or support groups that can offer understanding and encouragement as you navigate this journey.
  3. Mindfulness and Alternative Coping Strategies: Explore mindfulness practices, therapy techniques, or hobbies that provide healthy outlets for stress and emotional regulation.

Our culture has a generally unhealthy relationship with alcohol. We explore the evidence of how "mommy wine time" impacts women in one of our recent YouTube videos, check it out here.

Remember, recognizing that your alcohol use might be more of a coping mechanism than a solution is a courageous first step. Seeking support is not a sign of weakness but a demonstration of self-awareness and strength. By addressing the root causes of your emotions and finding healthier coping strategies, you can reclaim control over your well-being and build a more fulfilling, balanced life.