Two drinks away from crying – the problem with alcohol

This weekend I went to see Chris Cornell present an acoustic show at the Colston Hall in Bristol. One of the numbers he performed that night called “Two Drink Minimum” contained some lyrics which prompted me to think about the problem with alcohol, what causes it to become a challenge for so many, and where hypnotherapy has a part to play in helping those who have a problem with drink.

“Stare into the glass and wait for the time to pass
And thank you for the offer but you know I must decline
Never more than two drinks away from crying”

Two Drink Minimum
by Chris Cornell & Tim Mosley

For those who may not have heard of him, Chris Cornell was the singer with Soundgarden and Audioslave. You may know him better however as the artist who wrote and sang the theme song “You Know My Name” for the first James Bond film to star Daniel Craig, “Casino Royale”.

Alcohol – some facts

Celebrating with alcohol

Celebrating with alcohol

For a substance that is promoted as something which enhances social functions, improves the taste and flavour of food, assists in the celebration of everything from births, weddings, job promotions and awards, it is disappointing to find that it can also cause so much pain and misery.

According to most recent NHS statistics, in the UK 1 person in 13 has a serious problem with alcohol and in addition a significant proportion of adults consume dangerous quantities of alcohol.

In the USA, the NIH (National Institutes of Health) estimates that 15% of adults are defined as problem drinkers and that 5% to 10% of male and 3% to 5% of females could be diagnosed as alcohol dependent.

A study by Dr Jürgen Rehm, of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto found that alcohol is a factor in 4% of deaths worldwide.

Alcohol – the illness

Alcoholism is an illness. Alcoholics are obsessed with alcohol, cannot control the amount they consume even though it may be causing serious problems at home, with relationships, at work, financially or with their own health and threatening their mortality.

Symptoms can include drinking alone or in secret and keeping hidden stores of alcohol, being unable to limit consumption, experiencing blackouts, having rituals involving drink, dropping pastimes or hobbies in favour of alcohol, having an urge to drink and becoming irritable as the time to drink approaches or if drink is not available.

Needing a lot of alcohol to notice an effect and drinking quickly, purely in order to get drunk are also common. Physical symptoms can include sweating, shaking or nausea when not drinking.

There are also many health problems associated with alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Increased risk of cancer, heart and liver disease, diabetes and stomach problems, for example. There can be issues with menstruation, sexual function, the nervous system and with the thinning of bones. In addition there is greater incidence of tiredness, loss of memory, accidents, domestics abuse, mental illness and suicide amongst those struggling with alcohol and their families.

The causes of alcoholism are many. Some scientists believes that genetic factors make people more likely to become addicted to alcohol and that those with blood relatives who are alcoholic have a higher risk of developing the disease. There is also evidence that drinking from an early age can increase the likelihood of a person becoming alcohol dependent.

Smokers and those who tend to socialise with others who drink regularly or abuse alcohol are more like to develop problems with alcohol. The ease with which alcoholic drinks can be obtained and their relatively low price also contribute to the development of alcoholism.

Hypnotherapy and alcohol related issues

Over the years in my practice I have seen a significant number of clients in their 40,’s 50’s and 60’s who came to me because they had issues with alcohol.

None of those were the stereotypical drunk (Special Brew before 10am on a bench in a public park, or a bottle of Vodka stashed in the handbag) and none of them wanted to stop completely, mostly because they felt they would be social outcasts or unable to participate fully in social functions without a glass of something in their hands to oil the conversation.

As far as the information they imparted to me goes, none of them had been diagnosed as an alcoholic by a GP. In fact the majority of them had not discussed their alcohol consumption with their doctor, unless it was to answer the question when it arose in the context of something else.

Most of these people were well off, I suppose you would call them middle class and by far the majority of them were women. That last fact is not necessarily pertinent because over the years I have found that more women than men have approached me for help. I think the ratio is something like 6:1.

Most of them had, at least on the surface, comfortable lives and a supportive family or network of friends. Most of them had full or part time jobs and a good standard of living.

Alcohol is an unhealthy coping strategy

Alcohol is an unhealthy coping strategy

However they would tell me that they found it very difficult to leave a bottle of wine unfinished or that they could not possibly go to sleep without a few drinks to ‘take the edge off the day’. They were becoming anxious about its effects on their health, their relationships, their careers and more.

For example one man related the fact that because his business was struggling to stay afloat, he sat alone in the living room of his home drinking until the small hours each night.

Then of course he would be unable to work effectively the next day and become more worried as a result and so the cycle continued.

So what is the problem? Many people with harder lives would probably be happy to swap.

“There used to be a time when I could hold my head up high
My life stretched out before me, rivers flow with wine
I had my love beside me and everything was fine
Now the ride is over, it’s hard to say goodbye”

Two Drink Minimum
By Chris Cornell / Timothy Mosley

Actually it isn’t one problem, each client is unique and each client has a unique set of circumstances and character traits which means that in order to help them it is important to understand what they want to achieve and then what it is in their lives that they believe is holding them back before trying any form of therapy.

There are a range of emotional factors which can initially lead people to use alcohol as a form of self medication and which can then lead to problems with drink later. These include stress and anxiety (often job related as per the gentleman referred to above), low self-esteem, loneliness, depression, grief, boredom, lack of physical or emotional intimacy, empty nest syndrome, health worries and more.

Using alcohol, or any other addictive substance or activity to anaesthetise feelings is an inappropriate coping strategy as it does not deal with the underlying issues. It is with these issues that hypnotherapy, along with other talking therapies, can often help before the alcohol abuse becomes more problematic and develops into alcoholism. As a result those for whom it is successful can take more responsibility for their own health and well-being and a healthier relationship with alcohol.

For those who have been diagnosed with alcoholism, hypnotherapy can be helpful, however it is more effective once the patient has stopped drinking and is often incorporated as part of a complete strategy. In these cases, where abstinence is a daily struggle, it can be utilised to deal with the causes of the problem, strengthen self esteem and provide positive alternatives for the future without alcohol.

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