Many people associate alcohol use with fun, being social and with celebrations. At times we may use it to help us feel better when we are tense or unhappy or to feel more confident. Social drinking can be enjoyable and bring people together (1).

People drink alcohol for a variety of reasons, some of which include to:

  • Experiment
  • Socialise with friends
  • Have fun or celebrate
  • Relieve boredom
  • Relax
  • Forget about worries or problems

Effects of Alcohol

It is important to understand that alcohol can affect different people in different ways (2) and this is influenced by a variety of factors including; how much they have drunk, how quickly they have drunk it, how regularly they drink, their mood at the time, their age, sex and body weight, their general health and nutrition and whether they have eaten (3).

Another important thing to understand about alcohol is that although it initially acts as a ‘pick me up’ and mood enhancer it is ultimately a depressant which means that it slows down the time it takes to respond to things and can affect coordination and judgement (3). People often don’t realise how much they are drinking or its impact on those around them (1).

Drinking large amounts over time and on a regular basis can have a range of social, psychological, physical and economic consequences and impacts on your life and on those around you.

Attitudes to Alcohol

Our attitudes towards alcohol and in turn our drinking behaviour can be dependent on context and environment. Alcohol can often become associated with issues and transitions that occur in our lives, particularly due to its ability to help you to relax and reduce tension which can lead to it being used to avoid or manage difficult situations.

When does drinking become a problem?

Most people who drink alcohol will have had at least one experience of alcohol self-harm – a hangover! If you consistently drink fairly heavily your tolerance to alcohol’s effects will increase and you can run the risk of developing a dependence, which can be physical, psychologically or (more commonly) both (1).

If you recognise the presence of two or more of the following it might be time to do something about your drinking:

  • Your drinking is occasionally out of control and becoming more so
  • You regularly drink beyond safe limits
  • You are drinking more to achieve the same effect, or in the mornings, or on your own
  • You are starting to suffer with difficulties with concentration, mood swings or having to contend with feelings of guilt
  • Relationships with others are dwindling and your outlook and lifestyle is restricted by a need to consume alcohol
  • When you try to reduce your intake you notice you are sweating, have tremors and feel anxious

(*It is important to note that most drinkers stop well short of dependency)

How to drink more responsibly

You can monitor your drinking more closely if you:

  • Start with a non-alcoholic drink
  • Eat before and while drinking to slow the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream
  • Avoid salty snacks when drinking alcohol as these make you thirsty and in turn want to drink more
  • Make every second or third drink a non-alcoholic drink

Thinking about reducing or limiting your alcohol intake? Here are some ideas that might help:

  • Keep a diary of intake in units to clarify your pattern of use and how much you are drinking
  • Set reasonable limits for yourself that you think you can stick to. Cutting back works best if you think you can stick to the limits you set
  • Identify occasions, times of day, companions or moods when you are more prone to excessive use
  • Think about increasing other activities rather than just focusing on reducing your alcohol intake.
  • Seek out support from friends and family. The influence others can be powerful so use it to support yourself. Friends and family may have been concerned about you and looking for an opportunity to be a support
  • Write up a balance sheet of the pros and cons of drinking. This can help you clarify whether you are really determined to cut down and what is the motivation
  • Drink with food, rather than instead of it
  • Seek out a support group to support you through the process of cutting back

Helping someone else

It can be extremely distressing if someone you care about is drinking at levels that create problems for themselves or others. Although you can encourage and support them to make changes, it is ultimately their decision to make whether they want to and are prepared to make changes to their alcohol use. It can be helpful to bear this in mind particularly if you are sensitive about alcohol due to your own previous experiences.

Suggestions that can be helpful when supporting someone to reduce their alcohol use

  • Allow space for them to talk about anything that may be bothering them
  • Rather than labelling the person, focus on the effects their drinking is having on others as well as themselves
  • Make it clear what behaviour is unacceptable to you and avoid arguments
  • Do not cover up for them. They need to learn from their own mistakes
  • Make sure that you have your own supports in place so that you have time for yourself and that the entire burden of support does not rest on you

Seeking help

Things might happen or reading this might prompt you to look at your current situation and how you feeling about where you are at or where you might be heading. Sometimes it helps to talk things over with someone else in order to make sense of your thoughts, feelings and actions. Sometimes friends and family are enough, and sometimes you might need to seek out more formal support structures.

Where to get help?

If you live in the Albury Wodonga Health catchment you can access information on local support services here.

For more information about how alcohol and other drugs can affect your mental health and wellbeing you can read the fact sheets from Duel Diagnosis Australia and New Zealand.

If you would like more information on managing your alcohol use visit ReachOut or the Australian Government National Alcohol Campaign.

 

  1. 1.University of Cambridge http://www.counselling.cam.ac.uk/selfhelp/leaflets/alcohol
  2. 2.Better Health Channel http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Alcohol?open
  3. 3.Alcohol use and harms in Australia (2009) http://ama.com.au/article/alcohol-use-and-harms-australia-2009-informaitonpaper
  4. 4.Youth Beyond Blue (2014) http://www.youthbeyondblue.com/understand-what's-going-on/alcohol-and-drugs
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