Psychological and Social Impacts of Alcohol
Let’s face it. People like to drink alcohol for its positive effects. If you’re anxious, a drink can help you relax. Bored? You can enjoy a gourmet experience. Hurting? You’ll go numb. Shy? You’ll be less inhibited. Lonely? Other drinkers are your instant friends — and “social” binge drinking often starts in high school or college. This habit often continues into early adulthood and is hard to break, because many people have known no other ways to gather socially. Also, your job or identity can link you to alcohol. This is a common issue for restaurant staff, or in any job that requires selling, networking or travel. Other situations can trigger the urge to drink excessively, such as holidays or anniversary dates of important personal events, or longing for a lost love.
People familiar with computer programming know that you get junk data unless you process both zeros and ones. Similarly, frequent alcohol and drug use to feel better filters out negative experiences but robs us of needed perceptions. Consider what it would be like to turn off the pain receptors in your feet. You wouldn’t notice much difference at first, until you step on a sharp object without knowing it and make the injury much worse. We need access to unpleasant feelings to alert ourselves to situations that need correction.
Although alcohol in moderation doesn’t create problems for some people, for many, moderate or binge drinking has unwanted psychosocial effects, even after alcohol has left their system:
- Irrational thinking, including such cognitive distortions as black and white thinking and emotional reasoning
- Defensiveness, such as denial; blaming; escape and avoidance of uncomfortable situations; isolation and withdrawal
- Aggression, including intense and violent temper; unwanted sexual advances; physical fights, sexual abuse or assaults
- Lack of integrity, such as broken promises; underfunctioning that leads to codependency; driving under the influence (DUI) — a serious danger to self and others; infidelity; refusing to take responsibility; and facilitating other addictions, like pathological gambling
- Mood problems, including depression, anxiety, anger and irritability, low self-esteem, increased risk of suicide and homicide
- Family problems, such as arguing, bickering, stonewalling, withdrawal, and generally poor communication; neglectful, emotionally abusive, codependent or stagnant relationships; infidelity or not coming home; poor sexual performance; financial distress
- Career difficulties, including failure to advance, conflicts at work, job loss
- Worsening of other mental health issues, such as anxiety, phobias, panic attacks, depression, bipolar disorder, mood swings, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), paranoia, personality disorders, schizophrenia, poor anger management
Alcohol problems can range from mild to severe. After reading about the many potential problems, you may see that it’s hurting your relationship. People easily underestimate alcohol’s effects, especially if they haven’t had a healthier relationship than the one they’re in. Also, some people haven’t had an extended period of not drinking since their teen years or earlier. Alcohol problems can be addressed in a variety of ways: through psychotherapy; medical consultation and treatment, such as outpatient and inpatient detoxification (“detox”); residential rehabilitation (“rehab”) centers; Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon and alternative programs to these; church and community organizations; or friends and family.
Take Courage and Find an Approach that Works for You
If you believe that alcohol may be spoiling your romance or causing some of the other problems discussed here, take courage, and reach out for help. There’s no single way that works for everyone, but if you truly want help and look for it, you can find an approach that’s likely to work for you.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.