17 Common Reasons For Drinking Alcohol
People have various reasons for drinking alcohol without their drinking patterns being a cause for concern. An alcoholic drink or two can be part of an occasional celebration or to complement a special meal. Other people may avoid alcohol altogether if they don’t like to taste, fear being out of control, or associate alcohol with past distress.
In the early stages of drinking, you may not enjoy the taste. However, the situation surrounding your drinking behaviour e.g. feeling intimidated by peer pressure, will motivate you to push through your negative taste reaction until you accept it.
After some persistence, you find out that alcohol produces many gratifying effects on your mind and body. If you perceive this effect as rewarding, then your habits will draw you in to establish a level of alcohol dependence, however small. The associations you make with your drinking experiences will shape your values and expectations to continue drinking. But the effects of alcohol on the mind and body are so deceiving that people persevere with drinking alcohol compulsively even after it becomes a problem.
The reasons for drinking alcohol listed here include a further analysis of that reason. When you want to reduce your alcohol consumption, examining your underlying motivation or reason for drinking can help you re-evaluate your perceived reward. This can start a process of change in which you can then find better emotional and behavioural alternatives that are aligned with your new drinking goals.
Reasons for drinking alcohol: two broad categories
There are generally two broad categories that define the common reasons for drinking alcohol. One category uses alcohol as a coping mechanism to ease discomfort (or for negative reinforcement). The other category involves using alcohol to be cheerful and lively at social situations (for positive reinforcement). Both categories are vulnerable to habitual and binge drinking behaviour depending on the situation and individual beliefs. Situations can involve a mix of both categories e.g. when someone’s mood is jovial with moderate alcohol consumption, but after heavy drinking their mood becomes hostile causing them to release repressed anger from childhood experiences.
What are some common reasons for drinking alcohol?
You drink alcohol to relieve stress – Alcohol has anxiety reducing (or anxiolytic properties) and diminishes the feelings of stress. This is often acknowledged in the early stages of drinking, but as the dependency grips you, drinking continues even when the stress-relieving benefits have faded. The memory of the past benefit pushes the misconception that the feeling of relief will arrive after another drink. Ironically, for those with a high alcohol dependency, the increased alcohol consumption intensifies the feeling of stress that you were hoping to escape in the first place.
You are influenced by peer pressure (social norms) – The UK has an established drinking culture and following these social drinking norms and rituals is one of the main reasons for drinking alcohol, regardless of age. Drinking influences can come from your peers, your family, the media, the occasion etc.
In a social situation, you may not want to drink, but the fear of offending someone or standing out from the crowd if you don’t “keep up” can trigger feelings of isolation, a fear of being criticised or fear of being rejected from the social group (or activity). These fears can pressurise people into drinking because it’s socially expected particularly when it is connected to occasions like weddings and large parties.
For some people and social groups, drinking is the activity and the term “drinking buddy” can be used to form a relationship in which heavy drinking is normalised. Ironically, those with a high alcohol dependency will frequently drink alone with minimal social interaction in a social setting. Peer pressure can then be used as the hidden excuse for yet another occasion to believe you are drinking and having fun with friends.
You drink alcohol to feel grown up – Teenagers are highly curious and suggestible when they see adults doing something that they don’t do. With adulthood approaching fast, their impatience can encourage them to imitate adult behaviour. Tell your teenage children not to do something when you are doing it yourself and it’s likely to fire their curiosity when you are not around and see what all of the fuss is about. For teenagers, acting like an adult is one of the most common reasons for drinking alcohol. Ironically, when drinking excessively, it’s an excuse for many adults to act like young children!
You drink as an act of rebellion – If you are a teenager who is surrounded by rules and is constantly being told not to do things, being defiant about breaking the rules can be exciting. And when the members of your peer group haven’t “found” alcohol yet, it can seem very cool to do something excessively that they don’t do. The need to stand out as a non-conformist can continue into adulthood however, justifying the drinking behaviour as the definition of your individuality. Being the adult rebel with a high alcohol dependency, others will probably pity your behaviour rather than admire it, thinking that you have somehow lost your direction and now hide behind the “glamour” of your rebellious drinking.
You drink alcohol to take back control – If you have experienced control, manipulation or abuse from a parent or partner, you may use alcohol to “take back control” or even take revenge on your oppressor, particularly if they don’t like you drinking alcohol. Or maybe you are struggling to control a part of your life e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder, and having something that gives your mind moments of “release” can feel like you have momentarily escaped your torture and can “control” something. Drinking alcohol to cope with the despair of abuse and to take back control and is one of the most common reasons for drinking alcohol heavily. Even when you have battled your way out of your situation, the subtle reminders of your previous loss of control can be a strong trigger to drink again. It’s a long path back to heal the damage of your situation, but alcohol never really gave you the emotional resources to conquer it.
You drink alcohol to lower your inhibitions – Social phobia or (social anxiety) is a common phobia in which the individual fears embarrassment and attention. Alcohol is often used as “liquid courage” to take the edge off shyness particularly when coping with situations like a first date or a large party filled with strangers. You can feel anxious and drink alcohol to cope in anticipation of the actual event.
As your intolerance increases with a hectic social life, those spontaneous moments of awkwardness can trigger the need for another drink. Ironically, when you then become a binge drinker, your lack of inhibition can create situations that are often embarrassing, aggressive or attention-seeking. This is something that you can obviously blame on alcohol and “shrug off” the next day to hide your blushes, rather than developing skills like using affirmations, breathing techniques to control your anxiety, self hypnosis and meditation.
You drink alcohol to improve your sleep quality – When you are going through major lifestyle changes or work-related stress, your sleep quality can be affected. Introducing alcohol as a sedative to break the sleep-worry cycle can have a short term benefit, but when the effects of alcohol wear off, you are likely to wake up in the middle of the night. As your intolerance to alcohol increases, it means that you will need more alcohol to have the same sedating effect though the night. If the stressful conditions continue, those benefits can fool you into believing that alcohol is helping your long term sleeping habits. Since alcohol is a depressant, it reduces the amount of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) necessary for quality sleep. So when you have drunk alcohol, you tend to wake up feeling fatigued with poor concentration levels. Learning how to regain your natural sleep quality will help you break the sleep-worry cycle.
You drink alcohol to manage pain – It’s common to manage chronic pain with alcohol, but in order to be effective, you will need to binge drink over long periods to achieve some level of benefit. As you build up a tolerance for the quantity of alcohol, you will need more to achieve the same pain-relieving effect. There are further dangers of causing harm to other organs when mixing alcohol with painkillers.
Drinking alcohol helps you to feel better – Another term for using a substance like alcohol to feel better is called self medication. This is a broad category within the reasons for drinking alcohol that includes gaining any perceived benefit whether it’s shared by others or just personal to you.
Common reasons to self medicate (other than reasons already listed in this article) include feeling angry, lonely, depressed, bereft, worthless, frustrated, guilty, ashamed, bored etc. Using alcohol becomes the crutch to help you avoid, escape, divert, deny, suppress, repress, relieve, replace, numb, punish, block, hide, erase, stall, mask, forget etc. actively confronting or dealing with the discomfort associated with another situation.
In so many of those situations, the underlying problem doesn’t go away after you have finished drinking. Drinking alcohol just gives you a momentary release that is more bearable until you have accessed (if ever) a better way of coping with the alternative. If, for example, you drink to block feelings of guilt about something that you did wrong, your attention can be temporarily diverted from that guilty feeling that connects to the situation.
Some problems become more complex with time and latch onto additional situations causing the sufferer to feel more guilt and increase your dependency on alcohol. You don’t find an active solution to their problems; instead, drinking alcohol becomes the solution. Forming new good habits without alcohol takes time; prepare for a long road ahead.
You enjoy the taste of alcohol – Tasting ethanol for the first time as a child is rarely a pleasant experience. Evolution has hard-wired humans to dislike bitterness. But the taste can be “acquired” when it is suggested to you to “give it time” or you attach other reasons to persist with the bitter taste until you accept it e.g. because you want to fit in with your peer group.
Adding sugar to disguise the bitterness will help that acquired “liking” for you alcoholic drink and this addition also takes care of the other half of what evolution has programmed us to do (like sweetness). Flavour it with a whole range of mixers in enjoyable surrounds and your perceptions quickly convert it to the acquired taste that you enjoy.
And despite many people having drunk excessively to the point of vomiting to indicate that your body doesn’t like this, it only serves as a temporary aversion when your peers boost your drinking and vomiting achievement as “cool”.
You really want a drink – When you already perceive pleasure from something, the neurotransmitter that controls the reward centre in the brain called dopamine is playing a major part in motivating your behaviour. Drinking alcohol has an effect of increasing the release of the dopamine giving some people this temporary euphoria of enjoyment. Then add to that physiological process numerous pleasurable experiences like parties and celebrations to set up habits and your “want” and expectation to want more will be amplified.
Unfortunately, with continued alcohol use, the brain adapts to the dopamine overload by producing less of the neurotransmitter and lowering your mood. To regain your euphoria, the brain is tricked into thinking that you have to keep drinking to stay happy, meaning that you may need more alcohol to have the same effect. At this stage of alcohol dependency, your want is bordering on a “need” to feel good again. If you maintain a high level of alcohol consumption, you are on the early pathway to alcohol dependency.
You drink alcohol to warm you up – Drinking alcohol can temporarily feel warming by the receptor nerves in your skin detecting a rise in skin temperature caused by vasodilation. But this effect actually lowers the body’s core temperature as the thermoregulatory system would normally perform this function to cool your core temperature down. Natural ways to warm up include moving around and putting on warmer clothes and wrapping your hands around a hot cup of tea if your hands are cold.
You drink alcohol to quench your thirst – Drinking alcohol has a diuretic effect, helping you to eliminate water from your body by increasing the production of urine, hence you tend to feel thirsty in the night or morning after a drinking session. It’s likely that when you are thirsty and you consume one alcoholic drink, you believe that the next drink will taste better because of the false belief that it is thirst quenching. If you are thirsty, there are many non-alcoholic drinks that will quench your thirst.
You drink alcohol to improve the taste of your food – Pairing your food with alcohol can seem like a sophisticated ritual that is built into fine dining culture. Excessive alcohol consumption however can damage your sense of taste.
Moderate drinking activates the taste and smell receptors connected to the brain to generate a chemo-sensory perceptive experience along the lines of “ah, plenty of berry fruits...etc.” This response makes it an ingenious marketing opportunity to mark up the cost of a bottle of wine in a restaurant. When you then buy your “deliciously” described steak from the menu (another way to build expectation about having something better than it is), you are fully buying into the illusory benefits of wine pairing.
You drink alcohol to feel powerful – Power can mean several things to different people. It can mean feeling confident, self-assured, authentic, courageous, being assertive, funny, sexy, beautiful, sociable, impulsive, flirtatious, important or liberated as an ideal version of your “self”. For some people, it can mean an excessive “high” feeling of arrogance or aggression that can be admired by one’s peers (social confidence) and would not come to the surface without using an elixir to immortalise you in some way. The reason that you might feel powerful is again connected to the brain’s flooding of dopamine (pleasure neurotransmitter) that can have the effect of lowering one’s inhibitions. Then there’s the placebo effect – believe that that an amount of alcohol “caused” you to have a good outcome last time and you will drink alcohol again to “create” the same effect.
If you have low self belief and low self confidence, and fear being exposed as dull, unintelligent, ugly etc., you are probably using alcohol to fill your void of insecurities. You remain convinced that alcohol will give you “power” or another emotional boost and guess what, it will probably will!
You drink alcohol to improve sexual performance – Drinking alcohol to improve the quality of your sex can have variable benefits. Depending on your gender, people may drink alcohol to increase your desire to be intimate, be less “fussy” with your choice of partner, lower the level of performance anxiety, increase or decrease arousal levels depending on your underlying negative issue (e.g. premature ejaculation), sustain an erection and delay orgasm. But there is an optimal amount of alcohol to achieve the desired result. Excessive alcohol can have a detrimental effect on the quality of your sex, decreasing sensitivity (common with erectile dysfunction), reducing arousal and your ability to achieve orgasm. As with using any substance excessively, achieving natural sexual satisfaction can become more difficult to achieve as you drink heavily. Many people who binge drink often regret their sexual experiences whilst being drunk.
You drink to get drunk – Drinking with the intention of getting drunk can be motivated by a number of underlying reasons. People usually get drunk to cope with negative experiences, to be more sociable, to conform to ritualised behaviour and to feel more excitable. The physical effects of alcohol include reducing stress by acting like a common tranquilliser in parts of the brain, dimming your judgement abilities so that you “don’t care”, releasing dopamine to increase pleasure and releasing endorphins (opiates) to help you “feel good”. With alcohol being legal, it’s not surprising that people want to get drunk in the short term with all of these physiological effects. Continue to binge drink over an extensive period of time and the changes in your brain chemistry steer you towards high alcohol dependency.
Common reasons for drinking alcohol: Summary
The reasons for drinking alcohol are numerous and personal but can be generalised into drinking for positive and negative reinforcement. Any behaviour associated with a substance can become habit-forming. A behaviour that is part of cultural norms and values can quickly accumulate positive beliefs as you multiply those experiences.
If you are seeking to reduce your alcohol consumption, interacting with your underlying needs will help you to focus on positive changes.
- Relying on any substance like alcohol to cope deceives you that you are really dealing with it.
- The perceived rewards can become a habitual.
- Your initial rewards can be redundant, but you continue to believe that you are still benefitting even though your lifestyle has changed.
- You can be convinced that things would be worse if you didn’t drink.
- As your tolerance to alcohol increases, you need more alcohol to have the same effect.
- When you drink heavily, the rewiring of your brain chemistry makes it harder to cope with those situations naturally.
- Heavy drinking patterns can creep up on you.
- You increase the number of health risks as your drink heavily, including risking alcoholism.
Reasons for drinking alcohol: for more information on hypnotherapy to lower your alcohol consumption contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff