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‘Should I Stop Drinking Alcohol?’ Here’s What To Consider

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According to Harvard Health, there was an 84 percent increase in alcohol use disorder among women, and a 35 percent increase among men from 2001-2013. More recently, the stress and anxiety from the pandemic have contributed to an even greater increase in alcohol consumption. I’m seeing more people ask questions like “Is my drinking habit something to worry about?” and “Do I have a drinking problem?” 

If you’ve found your drinking habits or alcohol cravings have become harder to manage, you are not alone. At the same time, more people than ever are taking the admirable step to re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol. As a therapist on the Monument platform, I get to witness our growing community explore and discover the benefits of moderation or sobriety every day. 

Something I often remind members is that you don’t have to commit to a lifetime of abstinence on day one to examine and redefine your relationship with alcohol. Building healthier habits begins with a curiosity about how alcohol currently shows up in your life and a willingness to explore the positive changes from cutting back on drinking. 

If you’re asking yourself or others “should I quit drinking?” here are a few things to keep in mind. 

Signs you might benefit from quitting drinking 

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by drinking more than you want and longer than you want, despite wanting to cut down. Alcohol use disorder is diagnosed on a spectrum based on 11 criteria defined by the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5). Learning more about alcohol use disorder and in-person or online alcohol treatment options can be an empowering step in changing your relationship with alcohol. Whether you meet the criteria for AUD or not, the following signs are indicators that you would likely benefit from working towards a healthier relationship with alcohol. 

What are the signs of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol? 

  • Having thoughts that you’re drinking too much or too often 
  • Trying to set alcohol consumption limits and consistently surpassing them 
  • Drinking to feel “normal,” or as a reward at the end of the day 
  • Feeling a sense of regret and shame about drinking or what you did while under the influence
  • Developing an increased tolerance and needing to drink more to feel the effects of alcohol 
  • Using alcohol as a coping mechanism to relieve stress, boredom, anxiety, and/or to avoid responsibilities 

If you identify with any of these signs, there is no shame in that. You can make a change and don’t have to do it alone. A great way to cultivate the motivation to do so is by reflecting on how drinking less can help you get closer to your ideal self

Man thinking on a bench

What are the reasons to cut back or quit drinking? 

Physical benefits 

It’s no secret that drinking alcohol takes a toll on the body, including increased risk of liver disease, high blood pressure, and other health risks. 

Continued alcohol use can also damage your skin, weaken your hair and nails, cause weight gain, and lead to sleep issues. When we reduce our alcohol intake, we have more energy, our bodies function better, we have better sleep, and we reduce the risk of developing serious health conditions. We allow our bodies to heal and give our whole selves the opportunity to feel better. 

Social benefits: 

Despite our best intentions, our behavior while drinking can hurt those closest to us. Unhealthy alcohol intake can strain relationships, and cause feelings of regret, isolation, guilt, and embarrassment. Taking alcohol out of the equation enables us to mend damaged relationships, make more meaningful connections, and be authentically present with the people we love. I also moderate a free support group on navigating relationship challenges while managing your drinking, which can help guide you throughout this journey of collective healing. 

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Financial rewards:

One outcome that isn’t always spoken about but can greatly improve quality of life is the financial benefit of drinking less. Alcohol use can lead to legal charges, job loss, poor financial decisions, and credit issues, in addition to the cost of the alcohol itself. Saving money from drinking less allows us to invest in ourselves and our future. To hear more about the connection between drinking less and financial stability, check out this interview I did with The Financial Gym podcast

 

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Psychological benefits:

A frequently asked question from my patients is ‘Is alcohol a stimulant or depressant’? Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and unhealthy alcohol use can have various psychological and mental health side effects. Alcohol can take up to an entire week to leave the body, and typically causes significant psychological effects during the first 72 hours after drinking. 

Alcohol use increases the dopamine levels in the brain, and other “feel-good” neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. After the alcohol wears off, so do the dopamine and serotonin, causing a deficit of these neurotransmitters in the brain. This deficit can lead to depression, shame, guilt, and anxiety (or “hangxiety”). The good news is, these effects are reversible. With time to recover, our neurotransmitters can find their natural balance again, and we can feel better. 

While there are plenty of holistic benefits of sobriety, everyone’s reason for changing their relationship with alcohol is unique and valid. Finding your own “why” can be a powerful motivator, and something to explore further in specialized alcohol therapy with a supportive therapist. Reading more about the alcohol recovery timeline can also help you understand what to expect from starting a sobriety or moderation journey, and how to navigate the mental, physical, and social changes along the way.

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How to choose moderation vs. sobriety

If you’ve decided that drinking less can give you more, you might now be wondering: can I moderate my drinking, or is quitting alcohol altogether a better option for me? The sobriety vs. moderation question can be challenging to answer. The good news is that you do not have to know the answer right away. You have choices and options! First, be sure to seek medical advice before cutting back on drinking or quitting alcohol cold turkey. Depending on your past drinking habits and medical history, you may need medically assisted detox, or other medical attention in order to safely taper down and avoid alcohol withdrawal symptoms (which can include symptoms like shakes and tremors and  delirium tremens). There are a variety of inpatient and outpatient options for this. 

If your healthcare provider determines that you don’t need additional care before beginning your sobriety or moderation journey, you can start exploring your options. One way to get started is trying abstinence for 30 days and seeing how you feel. 

Take on the sobriety challenge

If you find yourself wondering ‘what is sobriety?’ “What will it feel like?” A sobriety challenge is a great way to rest and get a taste of a life without alcohol. If this seems too overwhelming or you’re not ready to try it yet, working to decrease your alcohol consumption can also be very productive. Tracking your alcohol consumption with the goal of reducing your alcohol intake to a few drinks each week is a great way to start building healthier habits.

Turning a sobriety challenge into a lifestyle

Have you experimented with sobriety, and are interested in continuing to reap the benefits of drinking less? Join the discussion about building upon what's working & creating sustainable changes that align with your goals and aspirations.
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Join support groups

If all of these options feel like a lot to navigate alone, know that all kinds of support are available to you. You can attend therapist-moderated online alcohol support groups to hear from others on how they deal with their alcohol cravings and increase your awareness about where you are in the process. 

For one-on-one guidance, you can also seek support from a specialized therapist and physician to discuss your needs and goals, and identify what path will help you get there. You are in charge of your journey, and the Care Team at Monument is here to guide you. 

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When to get started 

Whether it’s Dry January, Sober September, or any month of the year, there is never a wrong time to build healthier habits and change your relationship with alcohol. While you may not feel 100 percent ready to stop drinking, you can start by taking small steps towards sobriety or moderation and discovering how they impact your wellbeing. Cutting back the frequency, duration, or amount that you drink are all meaningful steps towards a healthier life. 

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Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

Sources: 

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

https://www.paho.org/en/news/12-4-2021-alcohol-consumption-sole-cause-85000-deaths-annually-americas-pahowho-study-finds 

https://mountainside.com/blog/alcohol/25-reasons-to-stop-drinking-alcohol-for-good/ 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7763183/ 

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How to Support a Loved One in Recovery

Does someone you love struggle with unhealthy drinking? Get free expert resources ->

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If you’re concerned about your loved one’s relationship with alcohol, you are not alone. According to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism, in a 2019 study, 25.8% of the population reported they had engaged in binge drinking and those numbers have significantly increased since the onset of the pandemic. Unhealthy drinking habits can also manifest in other ways, and there are multiple types of drinking habits to be aware of. Your loved one may be among the 15 million people navigating an alcohol use disorder, which is characterized by drinking more than you want to and for longer than you want to, despite wanting to cut down. Whatever their specific drinking patterns might be like, it can be incredibly challenging to watch a loved one struggle to manage their alcohol consumption. Seeking more information on how to support someone in recovery is an act of love for your family member, partner, or friend; and a way to care for yourself. 

First, let’s discuss why this can be so challenging.  

It’s important to remember that your loved one’s ability to stop drinking is not a reflection of their love for you or even of their desire to cut down. In response to excessive alcohol use over time, the brain forms associations that make it incredibly challenging to stop drinking. Your loved one’s brain may have become dependent on alcohol and rewired to believe they won’t survive without it. Alcohol changes the brain chemistry by affecting neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid), and glutamate. As alcohol use increases over time, the brain has even more difficulty achieving a balanced state known as homeostasis. When alcohol wears off, the brain craves more alcohol and if it doesn’t get it, the body can experience withdrawal symptoms. A recovering person struggles with a subconscious desire to drink and may feel defenseless against their alcohol cravings. 

When observing this cycle from a distance, you may feel frustrated, let down, hurt, and afraid. You may feel discouraged, angry and have difficulty understanding why they just can’t stop or slow down their drinking. Your emotions are valid. Learning about alcohol use disorder can help you gain a deeper understanding of why making a change can be so difficult, alleviate any self-blame you are experiencing, and exhibit deeper empathy towards your loved one. Education is the first step. Then what? To illuminate your path towards collective healing, I’m going to answer frequently asked questions about how to support a loved one’s recovery. 

Friends

How involved should I be in my loved one’s recovery?

Your loved one is accountable for their own recovery. Recovery support can be very important during this process, but you are not responsible for their relationship with alcohol. Taking responsibility for one’s own alcohol use is a critical component of the recovery journey, and you may need to set boundaries to clarify that. A productive place to start is by learning about codependent relationships and making sure you are focusing your energy on your own needs. To support yourself while supporting someone in recovery, you can join forums for friends and family and seek family therapy to help you establish healthy boundaries. Monument also has a free therapist-moderated support group for friends and family. By prioritizing your own needs, you’re also giving your loved one the room they need to grow. 

How do you strike a balance between empathy and tough love during a setback?

When your loved one drinks more than they had planned or wanted to, it’s okay to feel disappointed. They also may feel ashamed about losing control. Alcohol abuse numbs emotions, and a recovering person navigating alcohol use disorder may not be able to process their feelings in a constructive way. To find a productive path forward: 

  1. Acknowledge the situation and confront your loved one by grounding yourself in facts.
  2. Discuss what happened after they drank too much and what they would have liked to have happened instead.
  3. Explain that you know that changing your relationship with alcohol is a journey and that it takes time.
  4.  Acknowledge that your loved one is expected to do their part by taking an active role in their recovery.  

Making progress together: For family, friends, and those in recovery

One of the most effective strategies for achieving sobriety or moderation is engaging with friends and family. This group is for those looking to cut back on drinking and those supporting them. Join the discussion about how to better understand one another and support each other throughout this journey.
Check out the Schedule

How can I help provide accountability without being overbearing?

Accountability is ultimately your loved one’s responsibility. However, they don’t have to practice accountability alone. They can connect in daily alcohol support groups, work with a therapist in alcohol therapy, and chat with other Monument community members.

While you aren’t expected to provide accountability, you can play a supporting role by helping your loved one establish clear and achievable goals. For many people struggling with alcohol use disorder, the thought of never drinking again is too overwhelming at the beginning of the recovery journey. Your loved one may choose to explore moderation to begin changing their relationship with alcohol, which can present its own challenges. 

Two people by a lake

Let’s revisit the facts: moderation is challenging for many because dopamine is released in the brain when drinking alcohol.  After one drink, the brain craves more dopamine. The continued release of dopamine with continued alcohol consumption makes it hard to stop at just a couple of drinks. During the early days of the recovery journey, you’ll likely see your loved one fight against these tendencies as they try to drink less frequently, drink smaller amounts, and wait as long as they can before they begin drinking. While it can be challenging for everyone involved, this is a time of growth. Your loved one will begin to prove to themselves that they have control over their drinking. During this period, there are many ways you can support their progress, including the following. 

Provide honest and productive feedback

Simply state facts about their drinking. You can say something like: “You had more to drink last night than you intended to. Your goal was to drink fewer than three drinks, and that was surpassed.” Offering your loved one an objective perspective on their drinking habits can help them refocus on their goals without guilting or shaming. You can also share how their drinking habits affect you personally. Try to use “I” statements, examples, and references to your loved one’s behavior, not their character. Explore these tips on how to talk to a loved one about their drinking for additional pointers. 

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Keep it positive

Changing your relationship with alcohol is often a non-linear journey, and progress is more important (and more realistic!) than perfection. Encourage your loved one with uplifting social support. Try out using language like: “You can do this. Keep your focus on your goals. I believe in you.” Finding new ways to feel joy together can be a rewarding and powerful piece to the recovery process and can de-center alcohol from associations with satisfaction.

Remind them it’s a marathon, not a sprint

Let your loved one know that this journey can be a long one and that they will achieve their goals with time. Setbacks do not erase their progress or determine their future. Remind them of this. Ensure them that they can and will achieve their goals if they stay focused and continue to evaluate the challenging moments. Setbacks can be incredible teachers.

Have resources on hand

Remind your loved one that they do not have to do this alone. Support is available from a variety of resources, many at no cost. Monument offers free therapist-moderated support groups and other expert resources. Alcohol use disorder is a complex medical condition, and there is absolutely no shame in using evidence-based tools like alcohol therapy sessions and medication to stop drinking to treat it. 

Okay, how else can I support them? 

In brief, you can help your loved one realize they have choices. Alcohol use disorder is often accompanied by anxiety and depression and can lead to feelings of helplessness. Alcohol is in itself a depressant, and your loved one may feel stuck in a cycle of using alcohol to cope with their uncomfortable feelings. Our brain’s chemical response to depression and anxiety can also contribute to the cycle.

The human brain tries to make sense of its surroundings by relating previous experiences with current life experiences. When we are depressed or anxious, life seems difficult, scary, and even overwhelming. Depression and anxiety decrease our ability to cope with challenges because our brain is trying to protect ourselves by reducing the choices we have to make. For example, when we are depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, our brain gives us two options rather than the actual 5 or 6 choices we most likely have. This process can lead to diminished decision-making ability and difficulty focusing. The lack of perceived choices can leave us feeling helpless, hopeless, and stuck in unhealthy habits. Chemical changes in the brain may include a lack of dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters. To make a change, the negative feedback loop must be interrupted by a new way of thinking. To help them establish more self-efficacy, you can encourage your loved one to explore their options, consider other positive outcomes, and seek new support options from professional help like therapy sessions, online alcohol treatment and medication. If other options are not considered for your loved one’s recovery, then it’s likely the same behaviors will continue. 

If you keep walking in the same direction, you'll end up where you're heading

What should I avoid doing? 

First, you should know that asking that question is in itself an act of compassion. Let’s reframe this question and put your loved one at the center: how can you support your loved one in avoiding triggers? Early in the recovery journey, it’s especially important to avoid people, places, and things that trigger alcohol use. More specific examples include removing alcohol from the house and avoiding the environment your loved one used to drink in, whether that be a certain restaurant, bar, or even a piece of furniture. Eventually, your loved one may no longer associate alcohol with these things, but it takes time and work. Creating a safe environment is a helpful way you can support your partner during early recovery.

In addition to avoiding triggers, supporting new healthy rituals is a great way to empower their progress. You might explore creating new celebratory rituals with alcohol alternatives, practicing mindfulness and breathing techniques, and engaging in other alcohol-free activities that bring you both joy. 

adult couple talking on balcony

As I’ve mentioned throughout, by showing up here and wanting to love someone through recovery, you’ve already done something incredibly meaningful for your loved one. Seeking information and resources shows compassion and care. The journey to long term sobriety or alcohol moderation is not easy. While your loved one’s recovery is ultimately up to them, your social support can mean the world to them and can encourage them along their path. Remember to take care of yourself because you are deserving of love and support too.

Does someone you love struggle with unhealthy drinking? Get free expert resources ->

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

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Why Drinking Is A Trauma Response, And How To Cope Without Alcohol

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This article references possible sources of trauma and may lead to your identifying with these triggers. Our trauma informed therapists are ready to support you in addressing these fully to reduce long term emotional distress.

Many of us hold traumatic memories. Through no fault of our own, we may have experienced physical or sexual abuse, or emotional abuse or neglect. We may have been raised by a parent struggling with alcohol dependence, or may have been exposed to other forms of trauma. We may not realize it, but undergoing trauma can cause long term changes in our neurobiology. It can affect the way we react to situations, how our brain and body process information, and how likely we are to crave alcohol. It’s important to first understand the effects of trauma and how we can work through painful experiences. These are powerful steps towards changing our relationship with alcohol, and discovering ways to heal.

How Does Trauma Affect the Brain?

When faced with traumatic situations, the “fight or flight” glands in our brain (otherwise known as the hypothalamus and the amygdala) trigger a natural and protective response. The amygdala produces more adrenaline, and the hypothalamus gland increases heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and muscle tension. When faced with future stressful situations, the brain is more likely to trigger an intense fight-or-flight response. This is because after being subjected to a traumatic event, we become more likely to perceive and react to new stressors in the same way. 

Two friends sitting by a lake

Painful memories and biochemical changes resulting from trauma can make us more susceptible to alcohol misuse. As a result, a dual diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD) can often occur. While this response to trauma is completely natural and valid, we each still hold a great capacity to cultivate new ways of coping.

Why we may seek alcohol to cope with trauma 

Traumatic experiences can change the neurobiological patterns of the brain. It can lead to a long-term increase in stress hormones, which is why survivors often experience heightened anxiety and depression. Trauma can also cause a decreased level of dopamine in the brain, which is commonly referred to as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter.

For someone who has survived a traumatic experience, with or without a PTSD diagnosis, drinking alcohol can provide a temporary relief from these feelings. When drinking, dopamine levels increase in the brain, and we feel better — for a short while.

Additionally, the brain releases dopamine when we experience pleasure, and this reward-center of the brain is especially sensitive to alcohol. Trauma survivors are also more likely to have a stronger reaction to dopamine. As we continue to use alcohol to cope, the brain gets conditioned to using alcohol for relief. Over time, the amygdala and the hypothalamus begin to actually recognize alcohol as a necessary means of survival, and crave alcohol to soothe difficult feelings that arise from traumatic stress. This can lead to alcohol dependency, and is an indicator of alcohol use disorder. 

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PTSD and Alcohol: How do PTSD and Alcohol Relate?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) and PTSD are common co-occurring conditions. According to the National Institute of Health, as many as 40% of those diagnosed with PTSD also meet the criteria for AUD. Fortunately a dual diagnosis of AUD and PTSD is treatable with evidence-based medical care, and with support, we can find new, meaningful ways to cope and live full and joyful lives. It’s important to remember that alcohol use disorder (AUD) and post-traumatic stress disorder are medical conditions, and we are not to blame for how our past experiences have affected us.

What is PTSD?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the onset of PTSD is triggered by a traumatic event followed by a set of symptoms that are usually identified in these 4 categories: intrusive memories, avoidance behaviors, negative mood and thinking, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. The severity of these symptoms varies in each person and can be lessened with treatment.

Who is affected by PTSD?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, 3.5 million people will experience PTSD each year, and women are twice as likely to experience PTSD in their lifetime. Sexual assault victims and veterans are also more likely to experience PTSD. According to the National Center for PTSD, about 7% of the population suffers from PTSD sometime in their lifetime.

Why are PTSD and AUD connected?

Alcohol can provide temporary relief to the areas of the brain that are often hyper-vigilant and overactive after enduring trauma. After long-term excessive drinking, the hippocampus and amygdala start to associate alcohol as a requirement to be safe from danger. Because of this, PTSD survivors can subconsciously believe they need it to survive. Alcohol may relieve symptoms temporarily, but ultimately it can heighten anxiety, depression, and bring on other harmful side effects. However, we each have an amazing capability to heal. With the right support and treatment, the trauma-impacted areas in our brain can recover, we can relearn associations of safety, and we can begin to experience real relief from both PTSD and AUD.

Moderation in the time of Coronavirus

The global pandemic is affecting our behaviors in many ways, including our alcohol consumption. Join the discussion about assessing your own drinking behaviors and creating healthier habits through moderation.
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Why Shame Arises, And How To Overcome It  

The brain naturally blames itself for experiences that are out of its control. Although we are never to blame for undergoing trauma, feelings of shame and guilt can still arise. These reactions can be difficult to manage on our own, especially amongst the other painful effects of trauma. Therefore, it is completely understandable that we would use drinking to get some relief from all of these feelings.

Understanding that trauma affects our brain, and can generate a craving out of our control, may help release some of those feelings of shame around alcohol use. Drinking can work to soothe pain at first, but eventually creates a harmful, unhealthy cycle that causes us to drink even more, without relieving underlying stressors or PTSD symptoms. At Monument, we’re here to help you find new ways of managing painful emotions and memories, free of any judgement or shame.

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What Recovery Looks Like 

You can change your relationship with alcohol and simultaneously heal from trauma. The first step is to recognize that despite the signals in our brain’s reward center, alcohol use is not a sustainable coping mechanism. Acknowledge that a previous traumatic event may have changed the way we react to stress, and made us more likely to seek alcohol for relief. These situations happened to us, but do not define us. We also have to remind ourselves that drinking alcohol is a temporary habit, not a reflection of our character. You are not alone in navigating your past trauma, and the relationship between PTSD and alcohol use. There’s professional care and a compassionate community to provide you safe and loving support. 

How to Approach AUD, Trauma, and PTSD Treatment

Therapy

One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is gaining clarity with the support of a therapist. Previous traumatic experiences become stored in the subconscious of the brain as memories and images. These memories are often avoided so that we can function in the present without the weight of the past. A trained mental health professional can help us process these memories so that they no longer have power over us. Through treatment, therapy can also help us regulate stressful emotions, restructure thought patterns, and develop new coping mechanisms in place of past alcohol use. Monument offers personalized therapy programs that are specifically tailored to you and your needs, whether that means navigating PTSD and alcohol dependence, depression, or other co-occurring mental health conditions. Learn more about how our online alcohol therapy approach can work for you.

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Medication

Meeting with a physician can be a pivotal step in recovering from alcohol use disorder. Together, you and your treatment provider can discuss medication to stop drinking, and develop a care plan tailored to your needs and goals. Just like any other medical condition, medical treatment is an effective tool for recovering from alcohol use disorder. 

Community

Monument offers free, therapist moderated alcohol support groups on many topics related to changing your relationship with alcohol. Join a live session to share, hear from others, learn about new resources, and practice accountability. You can also engage in our anonymous online Community at any time. Connecting with others can make a huge difference. You are not alone in this, and there’s an entire community of people who are ready to support you.   

People holding hands over a coffee table

Traumatic memories can be incredibly difficult to live with and no two experiences of trauma are alike. While we may not have all the words to describe or understand how trauma has affected us yet, we can begin by taking one step every day towards seeking peace, safety, and recovery. Our past experiences do not define us. All we can ask of ourselves is to go at our own pace, and accept all the support and love we deserve along the way.

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Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

Resources:

2010-2021, Harvard Health Medical School, Harvard University. https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/addiction 

Sources: Kathleen T. Brady, M.D., Ph.D., and Sudie E. Back, Ph.D. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arcr344/408-413.htm 

fall items

My Family Gets Drunk During The Holidays. Now What?

fall items

Drinking excessively is all too common during the holidays and for many of us, it can be our family’s drinking we struggle with the most. Whether we are working to maintain sobriety ourselves, or are otherwise affected by our loved ones’ drinking, navigating familial alcohol consumption can add a great deal of stress to the holidays. There are two questions I encourage you to ask yourself:

  1. What can I do for my family members if they drink too much?
  2. What can I do for myself?

With empowering strategies and firm boundaries, you will be able to celebrate the holidays on your own terms. 

You have options

If you’re hosting, limit the amount of alcohol you serve. If you’re a guest, bring the sparkling apple cider.  

Let me be clear: putting a cap on the alcohol in your house does not make you a bad host. Limiting access to alcohol sets a boundary for everyone. This reduces the risk of one-on-one confrontation and having to single out anyone who might be struggling to manage their drinking. Instead, offer inspired non-alcoholic drinks and delicious food. Not to mention that water, protein, and carbohydrates can help dilute the effects of alcohol if people are drinking around you.

thanksgiving table

Have a time limit. 

Building a nighttime routine is a highly effective way to boost your mental wellness. And if you’ve been on a roll, your nightly rituals don’t have to waver because it’s a holiday. If your family is sharing a holiday meal, be transparent about the time commitment. Plan on wrapping up soon after dinner, or commit to leaving at a certain time. Again, you’re not being a poor host or a rude guest. In fact, you’re establishing loving boundaries for not just yourself, but your home and your family. If you’re sober or moderating, maintaining that commitment is far more important than staying a couple hours longer after dessert. You are your top priority.

Extra important: Be aware of how everyone’s getting home. 

According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the holiday season accounted for roughly one-third of the yearly driving fatalities in 2018. If you or someone you love is unable to drive themselves home, arrange alternative transportation. 

Oftentimes, we cannot control how much our loved ones’ drink. What we can control is how much we drink, and how we support those around us.  

Holiday Group: Getting Through Today Without Drinking

The holidays can be filled with joy, loneliness, pressure to drink, and more. Your feelings are valid. Join us for an encouraging conversation about how to get through today without alcohol.
Check out the Schedule

You don’t have to be “on.” 

You don’t owe any explanation if you need space from others. I hear frequently from my patients that folks feel obligated to be “on” during the holiday season beyond their bandwidth. There is nothing wrong with opting out of a dinner or a Zoom call. It can be particularly difficult to be surrounded by heavy holiday drinking when we are working to change our relationship with alcohol. Instead, join a Monument alcohol support group (2 are taking place on Thanksgiving!), write into your Community, watch a holiday-flick, or order take-out for one. Your mental health and, if applicable, sobriety or moderation is paramount to any familial obligation. And if you need some support to get started, check out our tips for psychologically distancing yourself from people … and alcohol. Both might apply here! 

person with leaves

And it might not just be about the holidays.

 Understand where we are.

Understanding where you are mentally and emotionally can be challenging. It takes check-ins, self-reflection, and most importantly: compassion. If you’re struggling to maintain self-compassion as you navigate challenging relationships and alcohol use over the holidays, I recommend thinking of where you are as one stop in a series of stages. Enter: The Transtheoretical model of change. When we become aware of where we fall on our path toward actualizing the changes we’d like to make, we can better understand what we need, what we’re not getting, and review what we have. This model can also help your family members understand their own journey, especially in changing their relationship with alcohol. 

The Transtheoretical model of change

What stage do you see yourself in? Allow yourself to be where you are in your process, reflect on what you need in this moment, and continue on your path toward change. You can also use this model to reflect on where your family members may be. This will help you to establish your boundaries (and expectations) this holiday season. 

Give and receive support

While you cannot force anyone into getting treatment, you can be ready with resources if they are interested or willing. Monument believes in making this support accessible, with physician-prescribed medication to stop drinking or cut back, specialized alcohol therapy, and free therapist-moderated online alcohol support groups. Bring ideas and resources to the table, and let your loved one know that you are always there to help them in getting care. 

You don’t have to do this alone. 

This has been an extraordinarily challenging year. According to research from The Journal of the American Medical Association, there has been a significant increase in alcohol consumption since the pandemic started. These are unprecedented circumstances, and undeniably trying. If you’re concerned about your own drinking habits or a loved one’s drinking, know that you are not alone. I encourage you to attend a support group about managing your own drinking, or “Caring for yourself while caring for someone in recovery.” Join with your camera on or off, to listen, share, and discover community. And, know that we are here for you every step of the way. 

And finally, I encourage you to claim your health as a priority. The holidays can generate high levels of stress, and family drinking can be difficult to navigate, especially while sober. Remember what you can control and offer your help to those you love. Sometimes a boundary or personal space can be the best gift you can give yourself (and others). Remember that your needs are also at the table. 

If you believe you might be experiencing acute alcohol withdrawal, please contact your healthcare  provider immediately and visit https://findtreatment.gov/ to find a location to get supervised detox near you. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

How To Manage Your Drinking This Election Season

The election is fast-approaching, which can naturally cause anxiety given the uncertainty it brings. Take a moment and ask yourself, how am I doing? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your anxiety level in the past few weeks? For many, that number is higher than they’d like it to be, and it’s understandable. We’re living in an unpredictable time, and with that comes fear. We’re also living amidst a lot of tragedy, which can result in trauma and grieving. Wherever your feelings are coming from, they are valid, and you are not alone. You are not alone in feeling anxious, and you are not alone if you want to drink. The good news is you don’t have to. By learning about why this anxiety exists, we can practice ways to manage it without alcohol.

Why you’re feeling anxious and want to drink

The collateral damage from the pandemic has had severe implications for people’s mental health. Alcohol use has increased significantly since the start of the pandemic because healthy and familiar coping mechanisms no longer feel sufficient or accessible.

Election-related anxiety can have a similar effect: we’re left feeling helpless, and our healthy coping mechanisms don’t seem to do the trick for this unique brand of stress.

Let’s break it down physiologically. When anxious thoughts occur, they trigger a gland inside the brain called the hypothalamus. This is known as the “fight or flight” gland. If you have ever watched a horror movie, you may have noticed yourself getting nervous about the person in the film. That’s because the hypothalamus can’t tell if you are in the film or watching it. Your hypothalamus cannot discern reality and perceived reality. In turn, our bodies release adrenaline and trigger a stress response. It’s completely normal to feel the urge to drink to self-soothe the stress. However, if you continue to drink to cope with stress, the hypothalamus gland ‘learns’ that you need alcohol to manage stress, which creates dependency. And then it feels even harder to manage stress without it.

Similar to that movie, real-life election suspense, and the possibility of what’s on the other side, can create anxiety that feels inescapable. It can be tempting to fall into the cycle of alcohol dependency and escapism, but there are healthier coping mechanisms that will help you keep that anxiety at bay.

How to manage election-related stress

In the case of pre-election anxiety, limiting political media consumption can be incredibly effective for calming our fight-or-flight instincts that could lead to a drink. And I know, turn off the TV may seem like an obvious answer. Here are five alternatives.

1. Give yourself a boundary.

Media is everywhere, and it can be hard to make a clean break and delete your Twitter account or unplug your cable box. Sometimes, the most efficient method for conquering habits (whatever they may be), is to set realistic boundaries for yourself. For example, I can only watch the news with a friend/partner or I can only go on such-and-such website one day per week. You have the power to flip the channel, even for an evening, and you don’t have to do it alone. This can help you create a balance between staying informed, and managing the stress that can come along with it.

2. Find engaging content alternatives to balance your schedule.

After you’ve set your boundaries, find healthier alternatives. For example, if you’ve decided to only watch the news when with your partner, you can seek out entertainment content in your free time. Binge-watching something other than political media — ideally, fictional television can be a feel-good alternative to the news (and doesn’t leave you with an emotional hangover). Options like cooking shows can also inspire offline activities — like preparing a new meal — and create a productive distraction.

And if you’re feeling the urge to drink, you can always join a virtual therapist-moderated support group or sign up for alcohol therapy with a therapist specialized in helping people change their relationship with alcohol. I moderate “Navigating relationship challenges while managing your drinking,” “Moderation in the time of Coronavirus,” and “Navigating sobriety or moderation for men.” I’m always impressed and inspired by the supportive environment, and actionable tips shared by our members.

Moderation in the time of Coronavirus

The global pandemic is affecting our behaviors in many ways, including our alcohol consumption. Join the discussion about assessing your own drinking behaviors and creating healthier habits through moderation.
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3. Shake and stir an alcohol-free beverage.

Say you do keep the news on — that is completely understandable. The next step here is to detach election content consumption from the ritual of alcohol consumption. When you’re craving a drink, consider reaching for an alcohol-free cocktail instead. The brain can identify the alcohol alternative as comparable reinforcement, without the potentially harmful outcomes of drinking alcohol.

Need some inspiration? Check out Monument’s Delish AF for some fun non-alcoholic cocktail ideas.

4. Focus on what you can control.

If you keep the news on and are still feeling anxious, it can be helpful to channel that energy into action. Taking service-oriented action is a great way to fill time with non-alcohol-related activity, and replace those feelings of helplessness with feelings of productivity. Make sure you’re registered to vote. Encourage others to do so. Make calls, share information, or volunteer. Combating fear of the intangible with tangible action can serve both you and your community.

5. Try, right now, to take one deep breath, and exhale.

Breathe in again through the mouth for eight seconds, hold it for four seconds, and exhale again — through the nose — for eight seconds.

An anxiety cycle can quite literally be interrupted by breathing. Oxygen dilutes the number of neurotransmitters in the prefrontal cortex, where anxiety dwells. The reduction of neurotransmitters sends a message over to the hypothalamus: You are not in danger right now. This reset can create the clarity you need to focus on self-care and take steps forward.

Of course, elections significantly impact our lives — as both individuals and as a society at large. You have every right to feel anxious, particularly in the context of our current political climate. Whatever you are feeling is valid.

I hope the above tips are helpful in interrupting cycles of anxiety and focusing on what’s in your control. You can do this!

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.