What do all of the following things have in common: divorces, funerals, weddings, breakups, chronic physical pain, moving, graduations, dinner, brunch, lunch, heck sometimes breakfast, sporting events, birthdays, promotions and baby showers? The article title may have given it away…but you got it! Alcohol! Does anyone else find it strange that alcohol remains omnipresent at both functions centered upon sadness and celebrations of happiness? Why is it that we acknowledge the painful effects of other addictive drugs, but alcohol escapes this critical evaluation?
Many of us have been conditioned with beliefs about alcohol since before we can even remember. The media, our families, our friends; the presence of alcohol extends far and wide. Although we know that alcohol is dangerous in a multitude of ways, we often tend to ignore the detrimental effects on our health and lives until it has become an undeniable problem. Unless you are willing to openly admit that you have a problem with alcohol, swearing it off for the rest of your life, many of us forgo a reflective questioning of our drinking. We often minimize alcohol’s role in hangovers, weight gain, inflammation, anxiety, depression, blunders at social events, unfulfilled potential and humiliating conversations we would never dream of having sober.
Sober curiosity gently suggests that we don’t have to wait until our lives are drastically impacted by alcohol to question our use of an institutionalized drug. Rather than asking if alcohol is a problem, we can ask if our lives would be better without it? We can examine our relationship with alcohol at any point along the spectrum and quite frankly, with its impact on mind, body and spirit, an honest look at our drinking is a great addition to anyone’s health and wellness journey. Check out the list below for just a few of the effects alcohol has on our mental and physical health.
- Anxiety and depression: In individuals with either anxiety or depression, alcohol consumption can exacerbate both. Anxiety can also be induced in individuals with none to start.
- Inflammation: Alcohol has a very inflammatory effect on our bodies, specifically our gastrointestinal tract. Inflammation in the GI tract can lead to increased intestinal permeability AKA leaky gut and poor nutrient absorption. This inflammation in the gut can also have a compromising effect on our immune system and mental health via the brain-gut axis.
- Dysregulation of hormones: With alcohols interrupting impact on sleep, hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin can become dysregulated, leading to imbalanced hunger and satiation thresholds. Additionally, dopamine receptors are decreased in regular drinking which actually reduces our capacity to experience joy.
And these are just a few, this is a non-exhaustive list. Thankfully, otherwise we might be here all day! Despite any reported beneficial effects on health from, say, the infrequent glass of wine, the research is overwhelmingly pointing out the less than favorable effects alcohol can have on our health and overall well-being. So, what to do? I know many of us aren’t willing to abstain from drinking completely and trust me, I get it. Even with a background in nutrition, psychology and integrative health, it took me years to break the habit! For those of you ready to take a peek at your drinking, check out the tips below!
- Challenge your belief systems: Many of our beliefs regarding alcohol are not our own. Examine YOUR beliefs around alcohol. Do you believe alcohol reduces stress, makes you more social, enhances your creativity? What are your subconscious thoughts about alcohol and how valid are they when you bring them to the surface for inspection?
- Mindfulness: Get conscious of your choices. With the constant normalization of alcohol that we encounter each and every day it can be SO easy to check out and exist on auto-pilot. When you are drinking, check in with yourself. Are you reaching for another drink out of habit or boredom? Draw yourself to the present more consciously and evaluate your choices. Simply applying consciousness to our choices can make an impact all on its own.
- Crowd out: Utilize other activities as a replacement for alcohol during times you would normally drink. Similar to crowding out unhealthy foods with healthier options, we can also apply this to drinking. Identify when you normally drink and test out a behavior substitution. Do you normally drink in social situations? You could offer to help cook or make a point to engage in meaningful conversation with others at the party. Do you normally drink at home on the weekends? Try scheduling a kayaking session, nature walk or pottery class. Do you normally drink at dinner to take the edge off? Try creating some healthy mocktails and following up dinner with a 10 minute breathing exercise.
- Experiment: Try challenging yourself with eliminating alcohol completely for a short span of time. Simply cutting out alcohol for a week, two weeks, or a month can really draw your awareness to how much you drink, how you feel without it, and any shifts you want to make moving forward.
- Alternative reward: Oftentimes, we rely upon alcohol as our preliminary method of reward. Find alternatives. Have a spa day, take a bubble bath, schedule in time to rest and relax, go out to lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile! What else fills your cup? Metaphorically speaking, of course!
- Stress reduction: As noted, alcohol and stress do not mix. Alcohol as a coping mechanism is unfortunately, an oxymoron. What are some healthy variations of stress reduction you can rely upon? Some I love include meditation, breath work, yoga, nature walks and gratitude journaling.
- Consider the context: At the end of the day many of us are still going to drink. Utilizing that mindfulness mentioned above, consider WHY you are drinking? If you are drinking in moderation because you are happy and finding joy in your glass of wine then go for it, you only live once. However, be cautious about drinking for pain, stress or any other emotional discomfort as it will truly only worsen it!
Article written by Katie Campbell owner of Mindful Constitution. As an integrative nutrition health coach, Katie specifically works with sober curious clients who are ready to take a look at their drinking patterns. She utilizes a holistic approach to not only help clients reduce or eliminate alcohol but also build foundational support in order to transition to an overall healthier lifestyle. This involves examining conditioned beliefs around alcohol, investigating its effects on overall mental and physical health, and implementing healthy coping mechanisms and dietary/ lifestyle modifications. The goal is to achieve a relationship with alcohol consumption that works for YOU and to build a life you don’t need to escape from! Katie found holistic transformation through her own elimination of alcohol and loves to support the same in others. Decreased anxiety, weight loss, increased energy and development of a purposeful, intentional, passionate life are all side effects reported by clients after completing Sober Curiosity for Mindful Living, Katie’s signature 8 week program!