How Society’s Love of Alcohol Can Make it Difficult for Some to Stop Drinking and How to Overcome
A guest blog provided by Phil Cain
Alcohol’s pervasive presence is a unique challenge when changing our relationship with it but, in my opinion, it may be becoming less of a problem.
The Prevalence of Alcohol
Alcohol flows through almost every part of our cultural and economic plumbing. We are seldom more than a few hundred yards from an alcohol supplier or a few moments from an alcohol distributor eager to sell us their wares.
Alcohol is available in mind-boggling variety in practically every grocery store we visit. It is in stores specializing in health food, only this time with labels soothing us with its organic provenance. This despite being among the leading factors of ill-health and injury across the globe.
Our newspapers, TV and increasingly the internet periodically trumpet “good news” that a study found alcohol may reduce the incidence of one complaint or another. We are told this, but when taken as a whole, alcohol is bad for us even in small quantities.
We will find alcohol offered at practically every social occasion we attend, from backyard barbeques to grandma’s 90th. Alcohol is so much the norm, we may find we are often given a light-to-medium grilling for not drinking some. (Granny may even join the finger-wagging.)
Advertising, films, TV, books, even birthday cards, cement a link between alcohol and joy. They tell us this despite it exacerbating depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and trauma recovery, as well as being a factor in many of the misfortunes that trigger such woes.
So, no, if you are trying to change your approach alcohol and feel a bit out of place in the world, little wonder. It isn’t just you. This is alcohol’s unique challenge, which is not matched by other drugs, which do not stir such near-universal affection.
“Most people think it is crazy not to drink. Isn’t that crazy?” as one recoverist neatly put it at a recent European conference I attended in Edinburgh. Realizing this doesn’t make it any easier.
Individualism is Hard Work
Much as we may like to see ourselves as individualists, going against the grain is actually quite hard work. We are social animals, happier when running with a gang. Alcohol’s role in forming and bringing together groups of friends makes taking a different approach especially tough.
On top of overcoming the discomfort of our recovery from dependency we have to find ways to overcome awkward social situations. Finding a way to explain we hold different views on alcohol without alienating ourselves further is not easy.
Worries about becoming an outsider can make the early stages of recovery from alcohol dependence more difficult than it need be. It may give our cravings to drink a kind of primeval urgency, linked to the feeling it would in one step reverse our banishment.
Alcohol, like Facebook, can hold us hostage by being a platform for our friendships. Withdrawing ourselves from Facebook sounds trivial, but is not, and there is no psychoactive drug of dependency involved in that case. But, still, it can be done.
How to Overcome
The key to overcoming the feeling of “alcohol disconnect” is to find alternatives and take the good parts of drinking culture. Luckily for us, we are living at a time when this is becoming easier.
Our increased ability to connect with one another seems certain to be playing a big part in slowing the rate of alcohol uptake. Alcohol consumption has fallen dramatically among our more digitally-connected offspring. Oldies can learn from this.
People overcoming alcohol issues who are looking to find others in a similar situation find SMART Recovery an effective platform, with regular local meetings and a strong online presence. It can provide information, support and encouragement when and where it is needed.
We do not need to go to bars to meet people if we do not want to these days. We can now form tribes and relationships centered around other interests. We can more easily master the science of alcohol and debunk the nonsense, as I do my book Alcohol Companion.
The wider availability of alcohol-free beer and wine has made alcohol-free socializing easier too. They allow non-drinkers to slip under the radar avoiding conflict and offering the same visual signal of sociability. We can show a lively and friendly conversation is much more likely sober.
For all these changes alcohol will, of course, remain embedded in our society for a long time to come. And, inevitably, this will bring problems. But we have more tools than ever to understand them and overcome them.
Click here to visit the SMART Recovery Toolbox that provides a variety of methods, worksheets, and exercises to help you self-manage your addiction recovery and your life.
Phil Cain is a journalist who has contributed to the BBC, Economist, Wall Street Journal and CBC and is author of Alcohol Companion, a book and resources dedicated to positive change around alcohol.
About SMART Recovery
Founded in 1994, SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) uses science-based techniques that have proven to be effective in helping people recover from addiction problems involving any substance or behavior, including such things as alcohol, drugs, gambling, over-eating, shopping and internet use.
Each week, many thousands of people discuss recovery progress and challenges at more than 3,000 in-person meetings in 23 countries, daily online meetings and 24/7/365 internet message board forums and chat rooms.
Participants use SMART to assume responsibility for their own recovery and become empowered using its 4-Point Program®: building motivation; coping with urges; managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors; and living a balanced life.
For more information, please visit www.smartrecovery.org.