The Power of Alcohol – Leon Standing, Therapist at Brighton and Hove Clinic

Alcohol can have power over many of us. It soothes and relaxes us after a long day’s work. It can make time with friends more fun, and make social events much easier. But when does someone’s alcohol use become a problem? Maybe you notice that you drink more than other people. You may start to feel uncomfortable or uneasy about how much you drink, but try to hide it or even dismiss it. You may only intend to drink small amounts, but end up getting drunk and this may keep happening. You might think about alcohol more often even when you are not drinking. You may start to isolate more, and your relationships or employment may start to suffer because of your alcohol use.

Do you experience a voice within you that will come up with a thousand excuses to tell you that there is not a problem and that you’re ok? This could be an indicator that you are losing control of your use of alcohol. If your alcohol is affecting your quality of life then this is a sign that you need to act and ask for help. But remember, the voice of addiction will tell you that you don’t need help.

Addiction as a topic is huge and is full of controversies. Different theorists have different opinions on what addiction is, and how to treat it, but regardless of these opinions, the actuality of how this affects people’s lives is really quite scary.

In my view, addiction can be seen as a progressive and sometimes fatal condition. Once the loss of control has been established, then addiction can continue for life and is only halted by abstinence and on-going emotional and psychological work. This can be a frightening prospect for people to come to terms with, and people will desperately try and attempt to find ways to control their alcohol use but without success. At this point in someone’s addictive process, the person can only begin to find freedom and recovery by identifying and admitting to their loss of control.

Alcohol is a drug like any other but not everybody sees it this way, especially our society where alcohol is viewed as a normal and socially acceptable activity. This for many people is okay, but not for the addicted person because this enables a normalising and minimising of their alcohol use and can prevent or delay someone from seeking the help that they need.

Alcohol addiction attacks and destroys just about every part of life there is, and the outcomes are often devastating. For the severely addicted individual there is the discomfort of physical dependency, and having to use alcohol even when not wanting to in order to feel stable or well, and to avoid distressing withdrawal symptoms. Addiction subtly develops over time and the addicted person is often unaware or in denial that there is a problem and will desperately try and control their drinking. The emotional and psychological effects of the obsession and compulsion to use alcohol can become so agonising that sometimes suicide can feel like the only way out.

There are many other delicate and complex issues surrounding alcohol addiction, for example, types of abuse, trauma, bereavement and loss, domestic violence, past childhood issues, intimacy issues and relationship or family difficulties that can lead people to medicate themselves with alcohol. Alcohol addiction can take its toll on someone’s physical health which can eventually end up as life threatening, or having to endure long-term health conditions. Alcohol addiction can affect family members: children, friends, spouses and partners. Relationships break down and may even be lost forever. Alcohol addiction has financial costs to the individuals themselves, and also their family or friends. Debt becomes common and can eventually lead to homelessness. Alcohol addiction can lead people into the criminal justice system and prison for crimes associated with their lifestyle. Employment is often lost or becomes difficult to sustain and maintain. Alcohol addiction affects communities in terms of criminality and costs to health services and organisations. The list is never-ending.

But it doesn’t have to be this way…..

Addicts are often judged for what they are ‘doing’ as opposed to being seen as ‘people’ who have lost control over their use of alcohol and are motivated by a compulsion to drink layered with pain, misery and despair. Nobody actually chooses to live an addictive lifestyle.

There are a variety of addictive activities that people use to soothe themselves but in my view, all addictions are the same no matter whether it’s a chemical addiction like alcohol or heroin or an addictive behaviour like gambling or love and sex addiction. What interests me when engaging with someone is: has this person lost control? What is fuelling that person’s addiction? Addiction needs fuel to keep it going. So what is that fuel? Alcohol use can be seen as an avoidance strategy to hide from the pain or truth of something from the past? The addiction is communicating something that the person themselves is unable to express or is not in their conscious awareness. So what is their pain and suffering?

In this light, addiction could be seen as an indication of something far deeper than someone’s use of alcohol. But there is hope: counselling and therapy can provide a way for someone addicted to alcohol or any addiction to find recovery and a brand new way of living. Recovery is about reconnecting with relationships and the world and also re-discovering and understanding yourself better, and working through what may be troubling you beneath the surface. This begins a journey of transformation and healing. This is not an easy pathway and takes honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, dedication and a commitment to change. It is also not just about abstaining from a substance or behaviour. This requires a total lifestyle change. I would encourage anyone out there who is battling with an addiction to seek help because there is a way out, and you are not alone.

If you are suffering from an addiction and feel that you would benefit from our addictions programme at Brighton and Hove Clinic, click here for further information. We offer a free confidential assessment with an addictions therapist – if you would like to speak to one of our experts, please call 01273 747464.