Alcohol is a problem, which behaves as a solution to your other problems. Whether you're at a party trying to get a bit more confident to speak with a glass of wine, celebrating a life success or trying numb down a failure - alcohol is there always ready to help. But does it actually help us? And what effects does long-term drinking have on your mental health and happiness leveles?
Graduating as a professional drinker
At university alcohol is widely available and socially encouraged. In addition, for the first time in your life you have the chance to enjoy being completely free, away from any parental judgement. Sometimes there is a fine line between having a couple of drinks with friends and a crazy party with dozens of shots. The aftermath of such a frenzy is not unknown to any of us. The next day you feel exhausted and sick a.k.a. #IGotAHangoverWo-oh
The first couple of weeks at university is the time when students are especially prone to binge drinking. This means having about 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men within the timespan of 2 hours. In the long term, binge drinking not only affects the academic performance of the university students but can also lead to drunk driving, sexual assault and poses serious health risks.
It's all fun and games... until it's not.
Alcohol contains ethanol, which is a psychoactive drug with relaxant and euphoric effects. Drinking makes you feel more confident, talk more and affects the parts of your brain associated with emotion. That is why nights out often result in laughing without an end, crying or aggressive behaviour. Or all three scenarios in one night.
Ever wondered why those hangovers keep getting worse as you get older? As we age our water content decreases. Older people tend to, therefore, have a higher alcohol concentration in blood and their body has a harder time processing the alcohol also due to ageing.
The brain changer
Drinking actually has the power to alter the chemistry of your brain. Euphoria when you drink is caused by a burst of serotonin. However, as the alcohol wears off, the serotonin drops lower than its original levels. When you drink regularly you enter the state of serotonin depletion, which is likely to leave you feeling anxious and depressed. This also increases the chance you'll go for another drink. In addition, the more you try to make yourself feel better with drinking, the more you are conditioning yourself that that is the solution to your problems. In other words, it becomes a habit. It kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? You feel bad, you drink and you feel better. Alcohol acts as a great solution for the right now.
What should I look out for?
It always begins with one innocent drink... then another one follows. The real problem arises when you start to feel like it’s getting too much for you. Your tolerance to alcohol rises and you need to drink more. Going out with your friends on a Friday night becomes a synonym for getting drunk and you continue to take a shot after shot even though you know you’ll feel horrible the next day. It’s worth evaluating how much time you actually spend drinking alcohol and recovering from hangovers. Craving a drink or not being able to go out with friends without having a beer or two is also a good indicator that your drinking pattern is getting our of control.
You don’t have to be an alcoholic to find taking a break from alcohol difficult. Our social rituals are structured in a way that makes saying "no" to a glass of wine at a party difficult. Even for a person not struggling with alcohol addiction. Writing down why you want to stop drinking is the first step to getting your mind in the right state. What are the benefits if you take a break from alcohol? What are the dangers if you continue to drink? Convincing yourself that quitting is the best thing for you, will make it more likely for you to succeed in the long-term. If it is not something you honestly want to do, you will order a glass of beer the first time you get the chance~.
It all comes down to knowing yourself. Are you aware how much you drink, during which occasions and with what kind of people? What is your primary motivation to grab that drink? Feeling stressed, succumbing to peer pressure, boredom, the inability to say no or attempting to escape reality are only a couple of examples. Knowing your motivation to drink will bring you one step closer to being more in control of your drinking pattern.
Alcohol often seems like the quick fix. It has the power to take your troubles away for the night and it is a real confidence booster. Imagine we would have to fight our inhibitions completely sober. It would definitely be more of a challenge but why not give it a try? After all, relying on your own capabilities is much more rewarding than relying on the next drink you order.