In my book Alcohemy, I propose the primary (if not the only) reason many people drink alcohol is to try to feel better than they currently do. The exception to this is when people take a sip of alcohol for a taste reason alone, or as part of a symbolic, ritual or religious process, (like toasting the newly married bride and groom, someone’s success, a toast to someone’s memory at a wake, or a small sip for another religious practice).
For the taste purpose; it is usually just a small amount to experience the unique taste. In the case of ritual or religious type reasons; the intent behind the actual gesture is symbolic and not one of self-indulgent pleasure-seeking. It is more about the event, or the other person, than to get some effect from the alcohol. Apart from these reasons, alcohol is only consumed in an effort to alter the person’s state of mind.
If the primary reason for drinking alcohol is to attain a state of feeling ‘better’ than we currently are, it implies that there are many millions of people around the world that aren’t feeling content or ‘good’ a lot of the time. Some of the reasons we want to change our state of mind by drinking alcohol is to:
- Relax; feel more confident; block out worrying thoughts; to veg-out and dumb-down a bit for a while; to switch off; to feel carefree or happy; to settle the nerves; to de-stress and chill-out; and to generally take the edge off an emotional time or hard day.
Most people believe having a few (or a lot of) alcoholic drinks will dissolve their cares away, as if it was some magic potion. The reality is, drinking alcohol doesn’t change anything at all in our environment that is causing our discontentment. In fact, it usually causes more harm and if we already have a moderate alcohol dependence, it may cause others in our environment (family, friends, and colleagues) to think worse of us, because we continue to look to alcohol for the solution.
Because the ethanol in alcohol affects brain neurotransmitters like endorphins (pleasure), glutamate (excitatory), dopamine (reward), serotonin (mood) and GABA (inhibition), we can feel a temporary change to the emotional state we were in before drinking alcohol. However, alcohol is actually a nervous system depressantand drinking alcohol will start impairing and shutting down important areas of our brain, that help awareness and cogitative ability. Instead of ‘feeling’ better after drinking alcohol… we actually ‘feel’ less. It is only a delusion that everything in our world has become miraculously better. Furthermore, the alcohol we have consumed has now likely started to compromise our judgement and rational thinking, which could lead to poor choices, making us feel even worse later.
As you can see from the above common list of reasons people drink alcohol, most have to do with wanting to relax and unwind. If we were naturally feeling content and relaxed most of the time, we wouldn’t feel the need to use external substances like alcohol to boost our low emotional state. It makes much better sense then to look at more healthy alternatives to keep ourselves in a generally relaxed and content state of mind. The problem is a lot of us had grown up believing alcohol was an appropriate substance to use as a quick-fix to any stressful occasion, or simply as a general mood enhancer. We choose alcohol instead of the many other great healthy alternatives.
To keep this blog post from getting too long I will discuss some of the great ways to keep your ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters naturally high, (and certainly how to boost them in times when you are stressed or at an emotional low point), in another post on my website. If you make a habit of using healthy ways to relax, every time you start to feel stressed, alcohol use can become as irrelevant to you, as it is to me now that I am permanently alcohol-free.