5 top tips to handle the social stigma of not drinking

An interesting study on young Finnish and Australian people who don’t drink and want to avoid the social stigma of not drinking was published recently. The study listed the things young people in both countries do to avoid the stigma of not drinking

So here are 5 top tips the young people used to avoid the social stigma when they were trying not to drink.

1. Hiding non-drinking

The young people hide or denied their non-drinking status to avoid explaining their non-drinking to other people. We explain how to use the

No I’m not drinking”

approach to avoid social stigma here.

2. Take the focus away from alcohol

The young people tried to go to social gatherings which took the focus away from alcohol. So they did baking or went to sports events.  We give some examples of alcohol free social events here.

3. Finding non-drinking friends

They tried to hang out with groups of people who did not drink,  so there was no social stigma. We’ve some suggestions on finding friends who don’t drink here.

4. Being active and having fun

They tried to be active and have lots of fun. In Ireland, we’ve seen a huge increase in healthy activities like Park Runs. (where you can actually walk) There’s even an Irish website now where you can find all about health activities for your age group

5. Not blaming others for drinking

These young non-drinkers did not blame others for drinking as they saw their choice as an individual one that was right for them

6. Seeing themselves as morally superior to other people

Some young people saw themselves as morally superior to other people for not drinking. This made them feel better about themselves.

Not sure I’d recommend this tip. In Ireland, I’d lose a lot of friends if they saw me being “morally superior” about not drinking. It’s a lot easier to blame my hangovers for not drinking. 

Plus in Ireland, most people see women who don’t drink as either pregnant or alcoholic.

Avoiding Social Stigma

It’s so weird that we have to apologise for not drinking. So it’s good to see there are groups of young people on different sides of the world deciding not to drink and using the same tactics to avoid stigma.

You can see the full research article here.

When is drinking too much our fault?

Last week, we wrote about drinking culture  raising the issue of is it really our fault if we drink too much?


What do the experts say?


The experts look at three things, they call Structural, Community and Individual.

fault




What’s the structural issue?


Structural looks at stuff like legal systems and regulations. So in Ireland, we licence pubs and we allow alcohol advertising. Until the new Public Health Alcohol bill is actually implemented alcohol can be sold below cost as a loss leader by big supermarkets. Makes it very cheap and easy to buy.


What the bill won’t do is stop sports accepting alcohol advertising. So we’ll still have the ridiculous situation of leading sport heroes like Johnny Sexton accepting the “Heineken Man of the Match award”

So in Ireland, structural factors are still stacked in favour of drinking alcohol.

What’s the Community issue?


The community aspect is how people as a society actually work and live together. The GAA is a big part of our community. They’re more aware of the damage alcohol does as they don’t accept alcohol sponsorships and they train club staff to provide help for people who drink too much. (Click here for details)


So they are well ahead of the rugby gang. However so many of the local clubs depend on alcohol sales to stay afloat and the range of alcohol free drinks in club bars is generally poor.

Communion and Confirmation season


With communion and confirmation season on us, we can really see how everything resolves around drink. So often the Communion party is the bouncy castle in the garden, where all the kids play outside while the adults sit around for hours drinking. Not just one or two glasses of wine, but a bottle or two. Kids grow up to see this as normal and then repeat the cycle when they are adults.

So the community we live in is still very much stacked in favour of drinking alcohol.

Does the individual have a part to play?


So is it any wonder we drink too much given the pressures to drink all the time? Is it our fault? This is where it’s useful to separate out fault versus responsibility.

Fault versus Responsibility


So if your partner cheats on you, it’s not your fault. If you grew up in a household where drinking too much was normal, it’s not your fault.
However it is your responsibility to figure out how you are going to deal with it. Because as the actor Will Smith says it’s


“Your heart, your life, your responsibility to be happy”.

So as we wrote last week, knowing the game is rigged against you helps. It is not your fault, drinking less is so difficult. It however your responsibility to decide how you are going to deal with the obstacles placed in your way.

It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility

So when things go wrong, like you discover your partner is cheating, or just a really rough day in work and anxiety levels are through the roof, it’s your responsibility to choose how you will deal with this.

Have a bottle of wine, or just a glass, or maybe just head out for a walk? It’s not your fault, you’re having a rough time, but it’s your responsibility to choose how you will deal with it.

Will’s video is well worth watching and you can see it here.

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Padraig’s top four tips for managing the drink


Padraig wrote about his tips for managing the drink recently and here they are.


1.Allow twenty minutes when you feel the urge to drink

Accept that you will get triggers to drink as it has become a very strong habit.  So your brain will say,

“Don’t you always have a glass of wine when you’re making dinner”?

So you feel a very strong urge to drink. This is normal so Padraig recommends waiting 20 minutes. For more tips on triggers click here.

2. You are not the only person not drinking

It’s easy to feel you’re the only person managing the drink and everyone else is having a fantastic time. Surprisingly though nearly 20% of Irish adults don’t drink it all.

Also reports from England show more and more young people are not drinking – apparently because they don’t want to look stupid on social media.

So think of yourself as part of a new hip modern trend.

3. Distract yourself from the arguments in your head

It’s normal to have arguments in your head about whether you need to do this managing the drink thing at all. For example

“How can it help your quality of life not to drink?”

So rather than carry on this argument stay focused on the reasons for managing your drinking and make sure you replace drinking time with nice experiences.

4. Read about the experiences of other people

Padraig recommends the

Tired of thinking about drinking blog from Belle Robert

And Julian’s Vales book Kick The Drink Easily

There’s also plenty of people telling their stories on our Lifewise website from Valerie to Sinead.

We also like Soberistas  and Club Soda where you can ask questions and share your stories.

Managing the drink- everybody’s different

Our own tip on managing the drink is everybody’s different. What works for one person may not work for another.  Listening and talking to other people can be very helpful but you need to find out what approach works for you. I like this video showing how two different dogs approach the same problem.  Two very different approaches but each approach works.  So find the approach that works for you.

You can read more from Padraig here .

A top tip if you’ve broken your new year resolutions

So all those New Year resolutions feel like a huge weight around our necks as we try to keep them going. Or maybe we’ve already broken them and feel like a total failure.

 

It’s impossible to keep New Year resolutions

It’s easy to feel it’s impossible to change. There are just so many things working against us- stress, too much pressure, drink cravings, not feeling able to go out with friends. Fear of upsetting people, because they see us not drinking or not drinking as much, as a threat to them. We feel like we’ll never succeed and our egos are hurt. All we feel is despair.

If you’re feeling like this, then this tip on hope will help.

 

Have the right type of hope

Joanna Macy  believes there are two types of hope. One is hope is based on outcome

So may be your new year resolutions look like

I will control my drinking”

“I will be a size 10,”

“I will get promoted in work”

 And so on. You hope you will achieve these New Year resolutions.

The problem with these type of New Year resolutions is it is easy to get “blocked” when you feel under pressure or don’t rate your chances of success too highly.  It’s much harder to keep going because human nature means we’ll only really act when we feel we succeed.

 

Hope based on your intention

By focusing on our intention though we’re more likely to succeed in our new year’s resolutions.

By focusing on our intentions and letting that be our guide we remove a lot of pressure on ourselves. We allow ourselves to see our actions as being part of learning about ourselves and our mistakes are part of our learning. We no longer label ourselves as failures when we don’t succeed first time.

 

We never know how things will turn out

We really don’t know how things will turn out. We cannot control what happens in our life. All we can really control is how we respond to it. If we have intentional hope it helps to makes us stronger. So we don’t know whether we’ll succeed. But if we accept even making a new year resolution, is a step in the right direction then we’re more likely to be successful.

 

Think Lord of the Rings

In this epic book and film, the little three foot high hobbits, Frodo and Sam were up against a huge evil army and power. They knew the chances of success were so small as to be non-existent, but because they had an intentional hope they succeeded. Their much more able and powerful friends fell away but they just kept going. Despite all the hardships and problems, they never lost hope in what they were doing. They just kept travelling on, accepting it was very difficult.

 

 Praise yourself for your intention

So instead of blaming yourself for struggling or breaking New Year resolutions, remind yourself that you’re a work in progress. You have the right intentions and you have hope you’re going in the right direction.

So set goals, make New Year resolutions but make them with hope that you are going in the right direction rather than actually getting to that size 10.

You’ll be surprised the difference it makes.

This post was drawn from an article in the Irish Times which you can read here.

 

I’m just a bum, a heavy drunk

I’m just a bum, a heavy drunk.

Maybe that’s the way you’re feeling after Christmas? Despite your best intentions you drank too much. Too many hangovers. Too much making a fool of yourself.

Or maybe you got through Christmas without drinking too much but you found it lonely and depressing? Yep, you’ve got the home, the relationships, and the job. But something’s wrong. All that pressure to be happy, when you’re really not happy?

 

There‘s a common cause

Before Christmas, I was at two very inspiring events both of which focused on a problem that could explain both why we drink too much and why we’re not happy. In fact they could explain many of the problems in our lives.

 

Adverse childhood experiences 

How we were brought up can explain a lot about how we act now. We’ve written before how we may not even be aware that our childhood is still having an impact on how we behave. While it’s obvious if we were physically beaten as a child, it’s not so obvious if we suffered from childhood emotional neglect.

The experts call this issue adverse childhood experiences, or ACE. You can see how the experts look at these in the picture below.

heavy drunk

 

What does ACE do?

So the experts say the more ACE you had in your childhood the more likely your brain development has changed. This is because your brain has produced more cortisol which activates the fight/flight/freeze response.

The fight/flight/freeze response switches off the thinking part of the brain to ensure all our energies goes into dealing with a threat. So when we’re feeling a threat, we literally cannot think.

 

How ACE affects us

For example, an angry looking dog approaches me looking like it’s going to attack me. My brain quickly goes into fight/flight/freeze as I decide whether to fight the dog, run away or just freeze hoping the dog will ignore me.

My brain forgets about everything else. I don’t remember the childhood experience that has made me scared of dogs. I can’t even see the dog is actually looking at a 2nd dog behind me and is no threat to me at all.

 

Everything else gets forgotten about

So while the dog is there, I remain on high alert. I’m no longer thinking about getting home or collecting  my daughter as I promised. My whole focus is on survival. I don’t have time for anything else.

This lovely YouTube video spoken by kids explains how our brains freeze beautifully.

 

The long term impact

If you’ve experienced a lot of ACE then your brain’s  ability to deal with the normal up’s and downs of everyday life is less than other’s people. You’re either on high alert when you react to everything or you simply shut down anytime you feel overwhelmed or triggered. So making good decisions and following through on them is much harder for people with ACE.

People with ACE are much more likely to have problems with drinking. Their brains are more likely to be   in survival model which means they can’t think and make good decisions.

So if you’re labelling yourself as a heavy drunk, it worth’s looking at your childhood to see if this is causing you to drink too much.

 

Be kind to yourself, don’t label yourself a heavy drunk 

So if you’re feeling down after Christmas, don’t despair. Don’t label yourself with negative words such as heavy drunk.  If you’re read this far you’re making progress and  in a future post we’ll look at ways of dealing with the ACE that may be the cause of  drinking  too much.

Happy New Year!

Taking action on your Christmas drinking triggers

Last week we wrote about identifying your Christmas drinking triggers, in this post we talk about taking action on Christmas drinking triggers.

As regular readers, will know it’s all  about the  planning.

Why is planning so important?

In our alcohol obsessed culture where drink is everywhere it’s very easy to drink too much. So it takes effort and advance planning to make sure we’re don’t get sucked down into the glug glug of boozy Christmas drinking.

Everybody’s different so what works for one person may not work for another. So thinking about what will work for you is really important.  Once you know what’s going to be  your Christmas drinking triggers you can take action. You might find these tips helpful.

 

Create an advent calendar

Creating an advent calendar covering those days which are most stressful for you can be useful. Lidl sell a range for just €4.99  were  you fill each day yourself. You can  use this to write little notes or reminders to yourself for different days. Or maybe even put in little gifts to help you stay focused.

To get you started, here‘s a calendar we came across that many people liked. It focuses on happiness.

christmas drinking triggers

 

Office Christmas parties

These can be a real killer as a Christmas drinking trigger. Everybody out to have fun, relax and in many workplaces there’s a free bar.  Not drinking means you can be seen as a real killjoy.

One way to avoid this pressure is to ring the venue in advance and see will they be serving no or low alcohol drinks. These can often look like the real thing. So you  look like you’re drinking when you’re not actually drinking.  Sneaky huh! For suggestions on low alcohol drinks see this post.

For even more tips on office parties click  here.

 

Family events can be real Christmas drinking triggers

If you’re part of a family where socialising consists  entirely of sitting around drinking, this can be very tough. It’s easier to take part then sit watching as the conversation gets more and more boring as people start slurring their words.

Also there’s usually one toxic family member present. I’ve heard one woman say we’re all encouraged to cut toxic people out of our lives, so why do we all feel the need to meet up with toxic family members at Christmas? It’s strange all right. So very important to keep our expectations of enjoying toxic family events low!

Here’s a few tips for family events we’ve heard you might find useful.

 

Arriving late

Not really good manners, but when the event is going to be a long drinking session, arriving late means you cut the amount of drinking time you spend there. And managing your drinking is much more important.

 

Bring any kids in the event for a short walk in the fresh air

I know we’ve been minding kids all year, so going for a walk in the cold, does not sound appealing. But I’ve found even a little break from the event does wonders.  It freshens me up, the kids can be really funny and I always go back in better humour. The other adults always appreciate you more as well.

(Did anyone see the wonderful Toy Show, I’d love a walk and  chat with so many of those lovely kids in particular Scott and Grace)

 

Make a bingo card

In Club Soda, one lady suggested making a bingo card. The bingo card has a range of different tasks on it. Like count the number of people at an event, or talk to someone who is not drinking. Or count the number of times someone mentions a particular word or phrase. Crossing off the bingo card when no one was watching made the event much more interesting.

 

Line up a friend

So  you know an event is really going to be full of   Christmas drinking triggers. For example, you’re going to feel really lonely in that crowded room because you’re the only one not drinking. Your sister in law will be making snide comments about your kids, while the brother boasts on and on about his new car.  So plan ahead and line up a friend that you can text or WhatsApp when you go to the bathroom. That way you can get a bit of moral support to help with  those lonely feelings.

 

Christmas is not perfect

So make your plans, but remember despite all the pressure around us to have the picture perfect Christmas it really is just another few days and we don’t have to be perfect or even to actually enjoy it!

What are your triggers for the Christmas drinking season?

Yep, that time of the year again, the Christmas drinking season is on us. When you’re trying to reduce your drinking or even not drink at all, it can be a very tough time.

 

Christmas is not a happy time for everyone

Memories of past Christmases can make life difficult. Loved ones that are now gone. For me, Christmas means the day services are closed. So I’ll be spending more time looking after my Mother who has Alzheimer’s and needs 24 hour care. I love her dearly but after eight years of care it takes a toll. For the first time ever, my daughter won’t be home from England, so can’t even enjoy her company. So I’m definitely not looking forward to Christmas and I’m not going to pretend otherwise.

 

What does Christmas mean to you?

I find not pretending Christmas is a happy time really helps. The times when I do meet up with friends, or go out with my other daughter are more enjoyable because they know how I feel and we don’t pretend. So it’s useful to understand for yourself what does Christmas mean for you and not pretend it’s a happy time if that’s not right for you.

 

Are triggers an issue?

We’ve heard from many people who say the Christmas drinking season is the toughest time to control their drinking. All that pressure to be happy, all the parties and meeting ups. The feeling that if you don’t drink you’re an outsider and weirdo.

So identifying your specific triggers for the Christmas drinking season is really helpful

 

What are your triggers?

What are your specific triggers?  Could it be work Christmas parties, or is it particular family members, or putting up the Christmas tree. Even specific Christmas decorations can be triggering. I always find a Christmas decoration with all our names painted on it makes me feels really sad. I can’t bring myself to throw it away. So now I just put it in a separate box which I never open.

Is spending too much time with family a trigger? Or maybe tiredness after too many late nights or not sticking to your usual daily routine.

 

Start planning for the Christmas drinking season

So write down all your likely triggers by the 1st of December and then you can start planning how you are going to deal with them. That way you get to control your drinking and actually enjoy the Christmas drinking season.

In the next post, we’ll give some tips on dealing with these triggers.

You can also see more advice on Christmas drinking here.

Brian’s ability to control drinking destroyed by his beliefs

I wrote previously about beliefs and how the meaning we take from events, influences our ability to control drinking. It may seem like beliefs have nothing to do with taking control of our drinking, when in reality it can be the key to not just drinking too much, but to leading a happy life.

Brian’s story shows how our beliefs can even be a matter of life and death.

Brian’s story

I knew Brian as a sensitive, gentle, intelligent man. Despite leaving school unable to read, he now enjoyed reading and poetry. Patrick Kavanagh was his favourite. He could discuss politics and any kind of music you’d mention. Because of his rough time at school and home, he was really scared he was

“A bad person who was going to hell.”

In all his time in the mental health services, this belief had never been challenged or addressed. It’s easier to throw drugs at people, despite it costing more in the long term.

 

Impatient Boss

When the boss changed in work, Brian could not cope with the new boss’s style, he got too stressed and he left on disability. Life went downhill from there. His kidneys failed and he went on kidney dialysis.

He was admitted to hospital with a chest infection. Brian had no health insurance. However because the doctors thought it might be TB, they put him in a private room to prevent other patients being infected.

We all thought this was terrific, because now he had peace and privacy and would be able to sleep at night without noises and interruptions.

 

Let him die

But then Brian became unconscious. He stopped talking. Drips were inserted. Even when he was brought down for his regular kidney dialysis, Brian never appeared to wake up. The Doctors called a case conference, where we all came together to discuss Brian. At the case conference, the Doctors suggested nothing more could be done. They wanted to stop kidney dialysis which meant Brian would be dead within the week.

 

Natalie saves the day

We were all so upset, nobody could talk. I could not get any words out.  I wanted to ask how somebody who walked into a hospital with a chest infection just two weeks earlier, could suddenly get so ill, and be allowed to die. But I was too upset to talk.

Luckily we had a friend, Natalie, with us who was able to ask that question. So the doctors decided they would do more tests and keep going with the kidney dialysis.

 

Brian wakes up

The test for TB is clear. Brian is moved from the private room into the main ward. Next day he wakes up and starts eating breakfast. He gets up and walks around. Soon he is well enough to be released home. It really feels like a miracle.

 

None of this made sense

I asked Brian what had gone on. How come he had been so ill in the hospital and then got better?

His answer, to use a cliché “made my blood run cold”.

When he was put in the private hospital room, he assumed he was put there because he was dying. So he decided he might as well get on with it. He always knew he would die young.  It was one of the reasons he drank too much.Then, when the doctors put him back in the main ward, he realised he was not dying and decided to live.

 

His beliefs nearly killed him

I was horrified and in shock for days after hearing this. None of us had even thought to explain to Brian why he was in the private room. We assumed the doctors or nurses had told him. We also assumed he would like it. It brought home to me how powerful our beliefs are and how they can control our physical bodies. Brian’s belief that private rooms were for people who were dying, nearly killed him.

 

Beliefs about alcohol

Which brings us onto our beliefs about alcohol and our ability to control drinking. All around  us we’re surrounded by messages that drinking is essential to a happy life. We’re conditioned to believe, that every event needs drinking, every time we’re stressed we need drink, every time we’re happy we need a drink and so on. Advertisements are all around us linking drinking to happiness.

We even believe that becoming an adult is all about having your first drink.

 

What are your beliefs about alcohol?

So when we’re surrounded by all these messages, is it any wonder we find it difficult to control drinking?  So  a good tip is to identify your beliefs about alcohol.  What does alcohol mean to you?  For example

  • Drinking helps me to relax
  • Drinking means I’m less nervous meeting people for the first time
  • Life would be boring without drinking
  • I’d have no social life without drinking
  • People would not like me if I’m sober

 

Control Drinking by looking at your beliefs

Once you’ve listed your beliefs on a sheet of paper. Then you can take action. Challenge these beliefs. Would life really be boring without alcohol, or would you start doing new more exciting activities? Sky diving anyone?

control drinking

Take action

Are there other actions you can take which help meet the needs drink currently satisfies?

For example, developing a social life which does not involved drinking. You’ll find some suggestions here.

Or maybe using meditation to relax.

 

Control drinking by changing your beliefs

So a key part of your control drinking toolkit is changing your beliefs about alcohol. Then it becomes easier to actually control drinking. For many people there’s also a second part to beliefs. The beliefs they have about themselves. For example, I’m not good enough.

We’ll deal with this in a future post as these can also really impact on people’s ability to control drinking.

Photos by Loïc Fürhoff on Unsplash   

And  by Kamil Pietrzak on Unsplash

Think Jigsaw for controlling your drinking

As regular readers will know, we believe “no one size fits all” for controlling your drinking. Yet alcohol treatment services often give people the wrong idea by sticking to a very rigid, regimented schedule of treatment approaches. For example in AA, it’s follow the 12 steps and if you fail (ie drink at all) it is your fault. You have not worked the 12 steps hard enough. Now AA has helped  lots of people, but it does not work for everybody.

 

Think jigsaw is a better approach

In reality, unless we put all the pieces of the jigsaw together in the right order, we’re unlikely to succeed in controlling our drinking.  For every person, the pieces of the jigsaw are different and will need to be put together in a different way for success.

 

What are the pieces of the jigsaw for controlling your drinking?

Well there are many, many pieces and for everyone these pieces are different. For example, physical exercise is really important. However some people drinking too much may already be exercising on a regular basis, so exercise won’t be part of their drinking jigsaw. However it’s important they continue to exercise as it creates those happy endorphins in our brains.

 

Deciding whether to stop drinking or reduce drinking

In our drink soaked culture, it can be really difficult to not drink at all, because of the reaction of friends and the  impact on our social life.  So some people will find it easier just to drink less, others will find it easier to not drink at all. So this is a very personal decision in your jigsaw.  You’ll find some useful questions to help make your decision here.

 

Looking at feelings around drinking

Another important jigsaw piece is understanding your feelings around drinking. Comparing how we feel when we do drink, to how we feel when we don’t drink is useful.  Lucy found when she acknowledged her feelings she was better able to control her drinking. Her story is here.

Some people have difficulty identifying their feelings, they just feel numb. If this is you, this post  here will be useful.

 

The trigger jigsaw piece

Understanding the things that make us drink more is another big piece in the jigsaw. These are called triggers which  make us want to drink. This post explains  more

 

The practical jigsaw piece

The other big piece is looking at all the practical things we can do which help. From drinking low alcohol drinks (more information here), not having drink in the house, to relationships with friends (more information here)

 

Controlling your drinking using the jigsaw approach

So there’s lots of jigsaw pieces to consider when controlling your drinking. We’ve just mentioned a few of them. So next time you feel you are failing, just think of the jigsaw. Keep going until all the pieces from the jigsaw box are on the table and in the right place. Might take a bit of time and organising getting there, but once we do controlling our drinking becomes a lot easier.