Treatment To Reduce Alcohol Consumption
Reduce alcohol consumption: Alcohol is one of the most widely abused substances in the world. But you don’t have to be drinking in excess to develop a problem with alcohol. Your reliance on alcohol can vary from having a mild to a severe attachment. With a mild attachment, you might struggle to imagine a Friday night going by without having a few drinks to get merry. With a severe attachment however, alcohol has more value than anything else in your life including your relationships, your work and possibly life itself.
Reaching for a glass of wine at the end of your working day or when the children have gone to bed, or sharing some drinks with friends in a social setting are common unwinding, relaxing and socialising rituals for many adults. When you are drinking alcohol in moderation and you are keeping within the Government’s guidance limits, your drinking is unlikely to be a cause for concern.
When these rituals become daily habits however, the pleasure that you gain from your drinking habit can switch to an ever-increasing “must have” at the end of your day, or as a way to cope with an ongoing demanding situation. When regular drinking habits are not monitored in some way, physical and psychological attachments can lead to deeper alcohol abuse problems; you need to consume more alcohol to have the same effect, bypassing the “enjoyment” phase that you previously experienced. As you increase your alcohol intake your tolerance to it will also increase. At the physiological level, your reliance on alcohol is being affected by changes in your brain’s wiring system.
If your reliance on alcohol is not too deeply entrenched, just being aware of these habitual “alarm bells” can be enough for you to reduce alcohol consumption by yourself. For some people who struggle with an alcohol attachment problem however, professional assistance is needed to confront the compounding effects of habitual drinking at the cognitive, emotional and behavioural levels.
Reduce alcohol consumption: What causes a reliance on alcohol?
A reliance on alcohol can stem from a number of different risk factors. These include:
Family history – If you have a close member of the family who abuses alcohol, then this will increase your risk of forming attachments to alcohol. Although genetic associations have been found with alcohol attachment, there is no single genetic factor that can be attributed to its cause. Family histories of alcohol attachment can also indicate a conditioned learning factor or a combination of both genes and conditioned learning from the alcohol-reliant authority figure, since your environment can also influence how your genes are expressed towards alcohol.
What you learn from your social environment can alter your perception of alcohol even when there is a low to moderate attachment to alcohol in your family. Young children can be influenced by the associations that adults make with alcohol. Observing the ways that adults punctuate the weekend, manage stress, socialise and celebrate an occasion etc. can form values that accumulate into patterns of acceptable behaviour. These patterns can then be increased by other risk factors affecting one’s own personal choices.
Mental health disorders – Having a mental health condition can increase your likelihood of developing an attachment to alcohol. The connection between mental health and alcohol reliance isn’t always clear however, as some individuals can abuse alcohol before they develop a mental health condition or have a formal mental health diagnosis.
Traumatic experiences – Suffering traumatic experiences and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can increase the risk of self medication with alcohol. Certain traumas have a strong connection with alcohol abuse, particularly when being a victim of a violent crime, suffering sexual or physical abuse and losing a parent at a young age (including a loss through parental divorce).
Lifestyle Stress – Turning to alcohol to relieve short-term feelings of stress can become habit-forming when stressful events are recurring. Stressful occupations and experiencing numerous major lifestyle changes in close succession such as suffering a bereavement, divorce or redundancy can then trigger heavy drinking and increased alcohol attachment to cope with these major lifestyle events.
A lack of family cohesion or cooperation – An unsupportive family background in which the adult authority figures are abusive, controlling or neglectful towards their young children is a risk factor for alcohol attachment for those abused children in later adulthood. Alcohol can then be used as a coping mechanism to gain control over these traumas, to spite the abuser, to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, and for “building” self esteem. In contrast, alcohol can also be used as a form of self harm when there is an unsupportive family network.
Peer influences – Pressure from one’s peers to drink alcohol in social situations is a significant risk factor for alcohol attachment. Teenagers place great importance on peer approval and the need to “fit in” led by active encouragement or criticism to motivate peer behaviour. Teenagers can feel alienated if they don’t participate in similar behaviour performed by their peers. These social norms can continue into adulthood with social drinking patterns being considered a necessary part of a social occasion.
Age of first alcoholic drink – The earlier age that someone starts drinking alcohol, the more likely it is that they will become reliant on alcohol. Habits are usually reinforced over time.
Gender differences – Men are more likely to have a higher alcohol attachment than women with some explanations relating to the increased amount of dopamine release that men experience when consuming alcohol.
It can be concluded that there are numerous risk factors that can affect your reliance on alcohol. These risks include genetic and environmental (experiential) factors. How these factors connect through your childhood and your period of personal alcohol consumption will also impact on your alcohol attachment. When you want to reduce alcohol consumption understanding the background risks may help you appreciate your predisposition to drink alcohol and what you are struggling to cope with in your life.
Reduce alcohol consumption: Common reasons for drinking alcohol
There are generally two broad categories that characterise the reasons for drinking alcohol. People generally drink as a coping mechanism or for mood/behaviour enhancement. Understanding your motives can be useful when you want to reduce alcohol consumption. Click this link for more information on the reasons for drinking alcohol.
Signs and symptoms of problem-drinking and alcohol use disorder
Problem-drinkers and those with alcohol use disorder (AUD) both have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol but there is a difference between both categories.
Those who suffer with AUD are addicted to alcohol. Each day is a struggle not to drink and although sobriety can be achieved for extended periods, the risk of having one drink will cause a relapse. Those with AUD will always suffer with AUD, whether drinking alcohol or if your addiction is in remission.
There are various terms to describe those who abuse alcohol, but are not addicted to alcohol. These terms include: problem drinkers, habitual drinkers, heavy drinkers, binge drinkers, compulsive drinkers, social drinkers etc. This category of drinker does not experience the same physical and mental withdrawal symptoms as those who are addicted to alcohol.
For problem-drinkers , extended periods can be achieved without drinking alcohol, but when you do drink alcohol, it can be excessive and can have a detrimental impact on the quality of your (or someone else’s) life. At the time of drinking excessively, these problems may go unnoticed. After the period of drinking, the full extent of the problems and the decisions made whilst drinking heavily are then realised. Some might argue that with some types of problem-drinking, the “addiction” is related to the confined act of drinking, rather than to the substance of alcohol.
A problem-drinker uses alcohol to achieve a certain state of mind. Alcohol might be used to “enhance” your mood or feeling of self importance. Or alcohol can be used to cope with problems, suppressing your negative emotions like anxiety. Some people use alcohol to momentarily escape your awareness of problems.
The symptoms of problem-drinking (alcohol abuse) can include:
- Experiencing mood swings (getting angry, violent or depressed).
- Neglecting one’s responsibilities with your family, your work or study obligations.
- Social isolation from your family or peer group.
- Being abusive towards your family, peer group or strangers.
- Taking sexual, criminal, financial or personal risks that may be regretted after the drinking has stopped.
- Experiencing blackouts.
Problem-drinkers are often defensive of one’s drinking behaviour, particularly if you appear to be functioning well, maintaining your responsibilities and seem to be emotionally stable. But the boundary of denial can creep in without fully admitting more subtle issues like deteriorating sleep quality and fatigue the morning after.
Problem-drinking is not just about the quantity of alcohol that you drink. It can also include the frequency of drinking, how you are using alcohol, how alcohol affects you when you drink and how your mood changes when you stop drinking. The physical signs and symptoms of a growing alcohol dependency can be accompanied by behavioural symptoms like hiding drink from others and drinking alone.
Having two or more symptoms in the past year from the list below is an indication that you are advancing from problem-drinking into a level of alcohol dependency. Some of the signs and symptoms of alcohol dependency can include:
- Feeling like you need a drink (cravings) from the moment you wake up.
- You obsess over the need to have a drink.
- You plan your life around drinking alcohol.
- You find it hard to stop once you start drinking alcohol.
- You drink to help you cope with situations e.g. social or work situations.
- You have abandoned other activities to accommodate drinking alcohol.
- You drink more alcohol and for longer periods than you initially planned.
- The majority of your time is spent drinking, being hung-over or being sick from drinking too much alcohol.
- You drink more alcohol than before to access the same “benefits”.
- You’ve tried to reduce your alcohol intake but failed more than once.
- You neglect your responsibilities, continuing to drink even though it is harming your health, your relationships, your work and social life.
- You have experienced blackouts or memory loss from drinking excessively.
- You continue to drink even though alcohol has made you depressed, anxious or increased the risk of being harmed e.g. by driving or operating machinery.
- You have experienced symptoms including muscular tremors, nausea, fits, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia and delusions when you have tried to withdraw from alcohol.
Reduce alcohol consumption: The risks of high alcohol consumption
In UK, the Chief Medical Officer currently advises not to drink more than 14 units per week to maintain a low risk of developing alcohol-related health problems e.g. cancer. This quantity of alcohol should be spread evenly over 3 of 4 days to ensure that you have alcohol-free days in your week.
The health risks connected to drinking alcohol increase when you drink heavily (binge drinking), when you drink on a regular basis or if you are in a high-risk category e.g. if you are on certain medication, have pre-existing mental or physical health problems or if you are pregnant.
Some of the short-term health risks associated with binge drinking can have immediate effects. These include alcohol poisoning and miscarriage, still birth and foetal spectrum disorders if you are pregnant. High alcohol consumption can change your behaviour, increasing risk of injuries from motor vehicle accidents, falls, drowning and burns. Some people can become more violent and take more sexual risks when inebriated.
Long term health risks can include the development of chronic diseases like liver disease, stroke heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer of various organs. As the immune system is weakened, risk of other illnesses is increased. Mental health can also be affected including the risk of impaired brain function, dementia, depression, anxiety. As alcohol dependency becomes established, long term risks can impact on close relationships and work opportunities.
What prompts people to want to reduce alcohol consumption?
Realising that your drinking habits are excessive may not be enough to reduce alcohol consumption; the underlying needs (e.g. coping with anxiety) can still drive your drinking behaviour. But it’s the negative consequences of your excessive drinking patterns that can influence you to review both your underlying needs and the consequences of your drinking habits and follow through with reducing your alcohol intake.
Some of the reasons that prompt people to reduce alcohol consumption can also be the same reasons that you increase alcohol consumption:
Your new role has responsibility – Whereas alcohol can be used to cope with too much pressure and responsibility, a new responsible role like parenthood can be the trigger to reduce alcohol consumption. The potential shame of child neglect can be too much of a weight to carry for many prospective parents, prompting a review of your drinking patterns.
Health concerns – Some people want to cling to the mild health benefits of drinking alcohol in moderation (e.g. antioxidants in red wine) as the green light to drink excessively. But it’s the short term drinking-related health changes and long term development of medical conditions that can activate the need to reduce alcohol consumption.
Weight gain – Alcohol can be a food substitute for those who are trying to lose weight, but the high calories in alcohol are generally a risk factor in obesity, influencing those who are overweight to cut down on alcohol consumption.
Financial cost – Being shocked at the expense of drinking alcohol at social venues like nightclubs can influence those who want to cut spending to limit the frequency of drinking-related social outings. But for those more determined to keep drinking heavily with reduced costs, the habit can switch to home drinking instead.
Standing out from the crowd – Comparisons are constantly being made in social situations. If you have social anxiety, you may feel anxious when you are doing something different to your peers. As a teenager, drinking more than your peers might have won you “trophies” of admiration, but as you mature, being the only one drinking excessively can be a reason to re-evaluate your personal alcohol consumption and lower your intake.
Being judged for drinking – Whether you are judging yourself or being judged by others, feeling judged for abusing alcohol is a significant reason that people lower alcohol consumption.
You have been advised to reduce alcohol consumption – Receiving advice from the “wrong” person at the wrong time can trigger a defiant “control” reaction to drink even more alcohol. Whereas accepting professional advice from an authority figure e.g. doctor or therapist, is usually a positive catalyst to reducing how much alcohol you consume.
How are alcohol dependency and alcohol abuse treated?
There are various evidence-based methods used to treat different levels of alcohol dependency. These include alcohol detoxification, inpatient alcohol rehabilitation programmes, medication, outpatient individual and group counselling or therapy.
If you are addicted to alcohol or have alcohol use disorder (AUD), you should initially consult your doctor to assess your risk of developing severe withdrawal symptoms e.g. seizures or delirium tremens. This may require inpatient treatment and use of medication to treat your withdrawal.
If your doctor has predicted moderate to mild withdrawal symptoms, they may have prescribed medication to be used at home and advised being in a supportive environment. Therapy may be used at any stage to assist your alcohol reduction goals.
Treating alcohol abuse may not need medical treatment, medication or support to stop drinking or reduce alcohol consumption. Personally identifying that your level of alcohol consumption is too high can activate self help methods to change your drinking habits.
When you are struggling to make effective changes however, and find that your alcohol levels keep increasing, professional support can motivate you to change your drinking habits and help you understand your behaviour and underlying needs that are causing your drinking relapses.
How can hypnotherapy help you to reduce alcohol consumption?
Hypnotherapy is gaining popularity as a form of treatment to modify drinking habits and reduce alcohol consumption, particularly where alcohol is used to relieve anxiety, stress and depression. There is some evidence that it can be as effective as other forms of therapy when hypnotherapy was previously used in an inpatient treatment programme.
Hypnotherapy can help you reduce your alcohol consumption in the following ways:
Identify and treat what you associate with drinking alcohol
Objectively analysing your drinking habits, the reasons that you drink alcohol, the beliefs connected to your drinking patterns and how it is affecting your lifestyle forms the early part of the individualised hypno-therapeutic process. Even though you will already have some insight into these processes, some patterns will be masked by your drinking habits and internal conflicts, currently preventing you from taking control of your alcohol reduction goals.
Hypnotherapy can help you control your alcohol cravings
Habitual drinking patterns that are formed over extended periods of time create automated patterns of drinking behaviour. Your mind has set up a need-reward cue that expects to be fulfilled with the ritualised drink. When the underlying need is exposed, the craving kicks-in to drink alcohol. Repetitively releasing stress at the end of your working day with an alcoholic drink will create a cue or trigger to drink at that time of day and/or when you feel stressed. Hypnotherapy can help you control and reduce your craving-association, dealing with the underlying emotion and accessing a positive replacement habit. Learning self hypnosis will reinforce this positive change.
Hypnotherapy can motivate your alcohol reduction plan
Regardless of the outcome of your previous attempts to cut back on drinking or the anxieties about what you will confront without drinking alcohol, having a strong desire to reduce alcohol consumption will keep you focused throughout your reduction plan. Hypnotherapy can install suggestions to activate these positive changes, emphasising the benefits and the confident beliefs to stick to your alcohol reduction programme.
Hypnotherapy can help you develop effective habits to cope with stress
If you are using alcohol to manage stress, anxiety, depression or cope with other negative emotions (self medicate), you will be reluctant to change your drinking patterns until you have accessed alternative ways to cope with your life. Hypnotherapy can help you activate new positive habits to cope with stress and negative emotions more effectively, thereby reducing your need for alcohol as you integrate these changes.
Hypnotherapy can treat the traumas that increased your alcohol dependency
Past traumas like relationship break-ups, bereavements and recurrent major lifestyle changes may have influenced you to drink excessively or restart drinking after a period of abstinence. You may be continuing to drink alcohol to suppress how that trauma affected you, fearful that if you stopped drinking, the distress of that trauma will resurface and overwhelm you. Using regression techniques, hypnotherapy can help you release the emotions from these traumas, dissociating your drinking habits that continue to overwhelm you.
Hypnotherapy can identify and treat your alcohol relapse triggers
Alcohol relapse triggers are the emotional and situational triggers that create an intense craving or urge to drink alcohol (again). They can include stress, boredom, loneliness, despair and feelings of worthlessness. Situational triggers can include when you have finished work, when the children have gone to bed, or when socialising in a pub with certain people. Understanding your relapse triggers and finding strategies to control your urges can help you manage these emotions and situations more effectively. Support is given as you embrace new emotions and reintegrate back into these situations without needing alcohol.