Busting myths around alcohol use

12 July 2022

Alcohol reliance and addiction can be complicated and with common myths surrounding alcohol use, this can make seeking help more difficult for those who need support.

Here are five common myths around alcohol reliance and addiction that have been busted by one of our Mates4Mates psychologists to help identify the importance of seeking support to establish healthy drinking habits. 

Myth 1: My drinking doesn’t negatively affect my health 

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, cancer, memory problems, mental health problems, and even the possibility of increased suicidal tendencies, particularly during withdrawal. 

Alcohol dependence also has social consequences including (but not limited to) negatively affecting personal relationships, hangovers leading to poorer work performance, absenteeism, and social withdrawal from activities and people, which can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation. It can also increase tendencies for rumination, inactivity and reduced motivation, which may worsen symptoms of depression.  

Alcohol dependence can lead to amplified withdrawal symptoms, where lack of alcohol can cause nausea, heart palpitations, aches and pains, and in severe cases disease, seizures and/or death. Therefore, medical intervention may be required to wean away safely from alcohol. This makes seeking professional support vital. 

Myth 2: My alcohol consumption doesn’t affect anyone else 

Alcohol dependence can affect not just the individual, but also their family members, loved ones and those around them in a range of ways: 

Emotional Impacts

Family members can experience guilt, shame, anxiety, and even depression as a result of their loved one’s addiction. As alcohol dependence affects emotional regulation and social functioning, poorly managed emotions and reactions towards family members can then increase feelings of distress and worsen symptoms mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety or PTSD for example in both parties. 

Alcohol dependence can also cause withdrawal from family members which can cause a flow-on affect with the individual distancing themself from accessing social support and worsening feelings of loneliness, disconnection and isolation. 

Physical Impacts

Alcohol dependence has an inhibitory effect on regulatory parts of the brain, particularly around rational thinking, impulse control and social-emotional regulation. As a result, capacities for healthy communication and conflict resolution are inhibited which can increase risk for relationship difficulties, interpersonal conflict and even domestic violence, especially if someone already finds it difficult to manage feelings of anger and stress effectively. 

Financial Impacts

Alcohol dependence has significant financial costs due to the need for continuously obtaining increased quantities and managing its impact, for example increased need for treatment for related health conditions, loss of employment. Alcohol dependence may then come at the expense of food, paying rent, affording clothes and/or even schooling costs for children.  

Myth 3: Drinking is a good way to take the edge off and help me sleep 

Although alcohol provides a sedative effect at low levels, drinking more to relax makes it harder to relax effectively without drinking.  

Excessive consumption of alcohol has been associated with poorer sleep quality and duration (including insomnia symptoms) due to the disruption of the sleep-wake cycle. Additionally, alcohol intake can increase fatigue the next day and exacerbate feelings of anxiety, guilt, agitation and depression, particularly after an evening of heavy drinking. 

Some simple and healthy ways to relax, de-stress, and improve your sleep cycles include yoga, journaling, paced breathing, exercising during the day, gentle or soothing sounds (rain sounds, white noise, etc.), or mindfulness (including guided meditations, mindfulness walks).  

If you need support to improve sleep quality, reach out for professional support. 

Myth 4: I am too old to change my drinking habits 

It can be challenging for individuals to acknowledge the difficulties around alcohol use, particularly if it’s a long-term, habituated means of coping. The prospect of seeking help or support may even cause distress that alcohol initially served to distract from. 

It’s important to remember that it’s never too late to seek help and start making changes to benefit your health. No matter your age, reducing or quitting alcohol can improve your life in many ways such as: 

  • improving your mood and sleep 
  • increasing your energy 
  • improving your relationships with others 
  • reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms 
  • lowering your risk of health problems such as cancer and heart disease
  • saving you money. 

Myth 5: Drinking makes me more confident, so I need it 

This term refers to drinking more to reduce inhibitions and increase confidence in social situations when feeling anxious.  

Using alcohol in this way can actually stifle confidence and impair the capacity to effectively manage difficult  emotions in anxiety-inducing situations. It can also prevent the ability to actually improve confidence and anxiety management within yourself by inhibiting the use of more effective long-term strategies and skills. 

By reducing alcohol dependence and working towards healthier habits, individuals can improve their confidence, ability to handle challenges, quality of life and self-esteem. 

Learn More, Drink Less program 

If you’re a veteran who finds themselves reaching for a drink more often than they would like, then the Mates4Mates Learn More, Drink Less program may be for you.  

Learn More, Drink Less is an online group therapy program facilitated by a Mates4Mates clinician that aims to increase the understanding of alcohol reliance, learn a range of helpful coping strategies, including ways to manage cravings, and develop a relapse prevention plan. 

Further support from Mates4Mates  

Whether it be for mental health, social connection, injury management or activity engagement, the Mates4Mates team are here to support you along your wellness journey.  

In any case, it’s a good idea to see your GP first if you want to quit or stop drinking alcohol. They will be able to provide further information around treatment options for alcohol use suited to your circumstances. 

If any content in this article resonates with you and you’d like to speak with someone at Mates4Mates about seeking support, contact us on 1300 4 MATES. 

Written by Kia Karimi, Mates4Mates Psychologist 

  • Mental health
  • Physical health and wellbeing
  • Skills for recovery

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