How to Talk to Loved Ones About Binge Drinking
Could you, or a loved one, be a binge-drinker without realising it? With help from accredited counsellor, Elaine McKenzie, we explore how to recognise the signs, and how to find professional support
It’s easy to miss the fact that you have a problem when you don’t ‘look like’ an alcoholic. If you’re not drinking every night, you don’t bulk buy cans of the cheap stuff, or if you’re holding down a steady job, it’s easy to think you don’t have a problem.
No matter how open-minded we think we are, many of us assume alcoholism and addiction in general has ‘a look’. If we’re brutally honest, we assume it’s a working class problem: cheap booze and regular binges. But that’s not the only face of addiction in Britain.
A dear friend swears she doesn’t have a problem. She doesn’t drink often; three out of four weeks, she doesn’t even have a glass of wine after work. Yet when travelling for work, she can’t recall how many she’s had by the time the night is through. Beers go down like water, cocktails are flowing. It’s an open bar – who wouldn’t get in on the action?
Everything’s OK – it’s just part of their team building. Three, four, five nights out of a month. A couple of welcome drinks before the conference starts.
A few cheeky bottles over dinner to impress the clients. Unlimited cocktails as the team celebrate making last quarter’s numbers. It’s not a problem – honest.
Everyone’s at it
She’s not the only one. A 2018 study by the University of Stirling, Scotland, found that an overwhelming 85% of men and women have experienced peer pressure to drink, making it a key influencing factor.
In 2019, research from King’s College London revealed that the harmful levels of alcohol use are 10 times higher in hospital inpatients, with 20% of the 1.65 million hospital inpatients using alcohol in a harmful way.
Why do we binge-drink?
With so much information, guidelines, and warnings out there, why do many of us still turn to alcohol for comfort or as a way of coping? Experienced therapist, Elaine McKenzie, explains: “Our subjective capacity to navigate the complexities of life on life’s terms, and to relate to others can be challenging, and the temptation to reach for something to soothe is comforting. Seeking to control uncertainty with food, prescription medication or drugs, and alcohol… In the short-term, the chosen ‘crutch’ can assist, but in the longer term? The consequences to wellbeing are significant to ourselves and those closest to us.”
Counselling and talking therapies can offer a safe space to explore and uncover issues and deeper problems
How to support a loved one
With so many risks surrounding binge-drinking, what can we do if we’re worried about a loved one?
“When behaviours become destructive, those who care can adopt an empathic approach, and ask about what may be worrying them, e.g. health, work, or not being heard within their relationship,” says Elaine. “However, this can be tricky. Intimate partners [can have] the most difficulty in addressing the other’s habitual or binge drinking. It is essential that there is an acceptance of the problem.”
When we address the elephant in the room, this can lead to a sense of shame and denial among those with a problematic relationship with alcohol. Helping them to recognise alcohol is a crutch they are using to cope with an underlying issue can be tough, Elaine explains, but is an essential part of the recovery process.
“Maybe the most helpful suggestion is to access objective, professional support either from one’s GP or a therapist. We all need support from time to time.”
Ditching the ‘one solution’ mindset
There’s no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ in life. The same can be said of recovery. Counselling and talking therapies can offer a safe space to explore and uncover issues and deeper problems, but this isn’t always the best way for each individual. If someone you know and love is struggling with their drinking, there are other options available.
Support groups and group therapy
While these are distinctly different kinds of groups, each share some characteristics. Bringing together people who are dealing with similar issues or concerns in a safe, open environment, each offers the space to explore sharing in a group setting.
These can help individuals increase their sense of self-awareness, make new connections with others, and gain a sense of community. They can be great options for those who don’t feel comfortable opening up in a one-to-one setting, or who would like to connect with others who are experiencing similar issues.
Group therapy sessions are typically led by a qualified therapist, counsellor, or psychologist, while support groups may be run by a professional or others who have experienced similar issues themselves.
To find out more about counselling and group therapy, visit counselling-directory.org.uk
Working with a hypnotherapist can help you to better understand your body, identify and reduce the causes of stress and anxiety, as well as help tackle the underlying emotions that may have lead to binge drinking.
Seeking professional help and support can feel daunting, but is the start of making positive changes for the better
In a hypnotherapy session, you can enter a focused, deep state of relaxation, where you can become more attuned with your body and how you’re feeling. You can learn to listen to what your body is really feeling, start recognising trigger emotions, and develop new strategies to help deal with underlying emotions. To find out more about hypnotherapy for addiction or stress, visit hypnotherapy-directory.org.uk
It may not seem like the obvious answer, but what we eat can have a huge impact on our overall mood and sense of wellbeing. When feeling stressed, many turn to alcohol as a means of dealing with this increased pressure. Although it can have an instant calming effect on the body, in the long-term, this consumption can increase stress in our lives and can even lead to addiction, trouble sleeping, and a lower overall sense of wellbeing.
If stress is a significant factor in your (or a loved one’s) binge-drinking, working with a professional nutritionist could be helpful in making long-term, positive changes to your diet. Offering tailored advice and support, a professional should look at your triggers and contributing factors, as well as underlying imbalances as part of your initial assessment.
To find out more about how a nutritional therapist could help, visit nutritionist-resource.org.uk
Recognising you have a problem is a huge step. Seeking professional help and support can feel daunting, but is the start of making positive changes for the better.
Encountering alcohol as part of our daily lives is pretty inevitable – in many ways it’s an unavoidable part of our culture. Finding ways to address underlying causes of our destructive behaviours can help to turn these stressful situations into more manageable events. With a little extra help and support, we can bring the focus back to what matters: ensuring our health and wellbeing is a priority, not an afterthought.