The difference between social drinking and problem drinking doesn’t have anything to do with how ofter you drink, how much you drink, whether you drink alone or with other people. Social drinking happens when you drink to make a good feeling better. Problem drinking – and any other compulsion or addiction – happens when you drink to reduce a bad feeling.
Social drinking can take many forms. You enjoy having dinner with your husband but you enjoy it even more with a bottle of wine. You would have a good time with your frat brothers, you enjoy it even more when you share a keg of beer at parties that happen 2-3 times a week. You may really enjoy a good bourbon on the rocks every night as you sit alone and peacefully gaze at flames flickering in your fireplace. The key is that you were already feeling good before you brought the glass up to your mouth.
THE ADDICTION BANK OF AMERICA
Problem drinking starts when you have a bad feeling that alcohol somehow relieves. It doesn’t matter what the bad feeling is, it can be anxiety, sadness, loneliness, grief, shame, guilt, embarrassment, etc. Every time that you drink and it reduces a bad feeling you have just put in a deposit into the Addiction Bank of America. If you put in enough deposits then
- LIKING turns into WANTING
- WANTING turns into NEEDING
- NEEDING turns into CRAVING
- CRAVING turns into OBSESSION
- OBSESSION turns into COMPULSION
- COMPULSION turns into ADDICTION
If you go out with your friends to a bar and you would have a good time sober but instead you have a great time with a couple of cocktails, that’s social drinking. If you have social anxiety and you have to knock back the first two cocktails just to overcome your anxiety, that is problem drinking.
The Addiction Bank of America is not just for alcohol. Any substance or behavior that reduces negative feelings can become addictive, this includes cocaine, cigarettes, pain killers, marijuana, gambling, surfing the internet, pornography, sex, relationships, eating, starving yourself, excessive exercise, over focus on work, etc.
Years ago when the medical benefit of red wine started getting news coverage I got into the habit of having a glass of merlot after work. That was fine until I went through a period where my kids were driving me crazy and I was stressed and concerned. That same glass of wine now brought relief. After about a couple of weeks of drinking just a single glass of wine and feeling relief from the stress, I came downstairs one morning and the bottle of wine on the counter seemed to be calling my name. I began wondering if it would be even more medicinal for me to have my glass of wine for breakfast. That was the last glass of wine I had until I was safely on the other side of the stress I was under.
The key to prevention is to understand the difference between things that give you temporary relief and things that actually address the root cause of the problem.
Whenever you are feeling stressed there a few things that will honestly reduce the root cause of the stress and there are very many things that will give you temporary relief but without addressing the issue itself. The first set of things are healthy, the second set are potential addictions. If your kids are stressing you out then going for a walk with them and discussing the issues or calling friends to get ideas on how to handle the situation or getting them into therapy are all healthy ways of addressing the problem. Having a glass of wine, eating a pint of rocky road ice cream or hitting the slot machines at the casino are deposits into your addiction bank account.
Here are some of the warning signs that you are on the like-want-need-crave-obsession-compulsion-addiction pathway:
- LOOKING FORWARD TO RELIEF – You start looking forward to the relief that you are going to feel
- INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS – you start having intrusive thoughts about the substance or behavior
- PROMISES, PROMISES – You promise yourself that you are not going to give in and then 5 minutes later you convince yourself that there is no reason to deprive yourself
- CRAVINGS – When you are stressed you start craving it
- REMINDERS – When you see something that reminds you of it you start wanting it all over again.
HOW TO BREAK COMPULSIONS AND ADDICTIONS IN 2 MINUTES
If the addiction hasn’t progressed too far then the most helpful thing is to force yourself to spend at least 2 minutes doing something that will actually address the problem before you do the addictive activity. So if you compulsively eat when you feel lonely you should commit to spend 2 minutes connecting with friends in some way, sending a text or email or even just posting on Facebook before you dig into that rocky road ice cream. If after the first 2 minutes you want to do another 2 minutes that’s great, keep going as long as you have the motivation. Sometimes after doing this you may not have the urge to eat the ice cream any more and that is fine. But if you still have the urge then go ahead because you will still have made good progress at overcoming and weakening the habit by just doing 2 minutes of real fixing. At first most people don’t see a whole lot of progress with this method however if you continue gradually your brain will begin to replace the addictive urge with the urge to fix.
If the addiction is severe then you need to find a therapist who can help you to identify eliminate the emotional baggage and negative feelings you are running away from so that you no longer have to self-medicate with your addiction and then help you to reverse the addictive cycle.