My nickname in college was “two-can Sue.” As an extrovert, I wanted to be part of everything social, but drinking wasn’t really ever that appealing to me. I never felt like I needed it to talk to people or have fun. However, as a self-proclaimed joiner, I would hold onto a few drinks just so people wouldn’t constantly ask me why I wasn’t drinking (confession: I’m a pleaser too). Over time, I began to positively associate drinking alcohol with favorite experiences...a cold beer on a football Saturday; a glass of wine with a good meal; a champagne toast for a celebration.
Not until recently did I begin to shine a light on this automatic thinking and start to question why am I drinking and is it really helping me live my best life?
According to Annie Grace in This Naked Mind, alcohol has been proven to:
• depress your entire nervous system
• undermine your courage, confidence, and self-respect (even though we’re made to
believe the opposite through marketing and advertising)
• destroy your brain cells
• break down the immune system, making you less resistant to all kinds of disease
• interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium resulting in bones that are weaker,
softer, and more brittle
• distort eyesight
• diminish your ability to distinguish between sounds and perceive their direction
• slur your speech
• dull your sense of taste and smell
• damage the lining of your throat
• weaken your muscles
• inhibit the production of white and red blood cells
• destroy the stomach lining
• cause obesity
Alarming, right? Now before you stop reading this, stay with me. Like so many of us, I never considered my social drinking to be a problem. I have often said, “I just don’t have that addictive personality.” Yet, as I’ve delved deeper into the harmful effects of alcohol, I began to learn that since alcohol is physically addictive, a physical dependence on alcohol can occur in anyone — that gave me pause. I’m somewhat of a health nut. I love hot yoga and clean eating. I dislike drugs of any kind. Drinking alcohol now seems like a contradiction to the way a healthy person might live. Hmmm, that bothered me.
As Grace concludes, “science shows that when drinking, you alter brain chemicals that increase depression...drinking creates a compulsive need for alcohol, but you don’t actually receive any enjoyment from it...alcohol does not relax you or fix the stress in your life. Rather it inebriates you, which covers the pain for a short amount of time. As soon as it wears off, your stress returns, and, over time, multiples.” As I was reading her book, I could hear myself saying, that’s not true, I feel more relaxed when I have a drink. While it’s true that alcohol reaches your brain quickly, the seemingly “positive” effects are also gone within twenty minutes. According to Grace, “some experts theorize that the ‘rush’ is simply a boost in blood sugar as alcohol is made up of sugars and carbohydrates. Perhaps another drink will relax you for another few minutes because it will give you the next rush of glucose. After that initial tipsy feeling passes, it won’t come back in quite the same way, no matter how much you drink.”
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 87% of adult Americans willingly drink. If you just turn on the TV, you’ll notice that we’ve been conditioned to drink our entire lives. Marketers know that the most effective sale is an emotional one — promises of friendship and romance, fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness. We live in an alcohol-centric culture. Our mind believes we’re getting something positive from alcohol and if we stopped or cut back, we’d be sacrificing something that feels important.
The good news, according to Grace, is that “when you stop drinking, your brain will repair itself. You can again find pleasure in simply living— as you could before you ever started drinking.” It starts with shifting our conscious mind and considering the truth about alcohol. As you head into the new year, try this assignment: First, make a list of everything you get (or think you get) from drinking. Ask yourself if (or how) alcohol is enhancing your life. Next, make a list of everything you lose (i.e. financial costs, time spent hungover, relationship issues, poor decisions, physical health, etc.). As you do this, be gentle on yourself. It takes courage to look in the mirror and see the true reflection of your life. We don’t have to be afraid, because the truth can set us free.