Binge drinking: Beyond the hangover

“What did I say?”, “what did I write?”, “what did I do?”. This is me reflecting on the night before as I lie on my bed trying to sweat out a disgusting white wine hangover. Sound familiar?

Although I didn't start drinking alcohol properly until my university days, it's definitely one of my bad habits. And it's either excess or nothing, no happy in-between state. I give myself a really hard time over it. Why?

Behind the excess

Is anxiety and stress. Yes, I love fine wine and craft ales, but it's a way to numb unhappy feelings. Getting scientific, just like any addiction, drinking triggers the release of the feel-awesome chemical dopamine, which makes us drink more….and so the cycle goes on. When I'm drunk, everyone and everything is amazing. It's a free pass to happiness and in this sense, is incredibly powerful for distorting our emotions. This is the fine line between alcohol being helpful (triggering happy feelings) and harmful (temporarily shielding our unhappiness or anxiety).

Waste the day

Sod “carpe diem” or seize the day, more like waste the day. Even if my natural reaction is to wake up at 6 am because that's what I do most days, I'll end up back in bed a few hours later in a deep slumber. Alcohol disturbs sleep. We think we sleep deeply as we embrace the booze coma, but in reality, it's hours of poor quality sleep that we need to claim back.

Some people love relaxing in bed for a few hours on a weekend, but I'm not one of them. I'd rather be running around a park or doing burpees at CrossFit. So while I love a good pub crawl, it destroys my favourite activities for the following day. Not really worth it. The only sweat I build up results from self-inflicted dehydration and an upset bodily constitution. Enter self-blame…

Shame and self-blame

Drunken messages are my thing (texts, Facebook, emails, anything goes…). Then add the impromptu wobbly walking, falls, terrible dancing, and bar naps. I give myself such a hard time the following day. What the hell happened? The world thinks I'm an idiot.

For someone who finds it easy to move on and laugh off a drunken night, that's cool. The phrase “we’ve all been there” is so true, and life is for living; work hard, play hard. However, for those of us who are prone to anxiety, this fuels negative energy and further sinks our self-worth. Add the whole waste of the day disappointment to the mix and the empty wine/beer/food calories, and the self-blame cycle really takes over.

Why a break is good

I’ve tested this a couple of times. A whole month of not drinking any alcohol. Yes, the first week and a half is damn hard, but once I got used to fighting the habit and saying “no”, the effects were pretty amazing both physically and mentally. Not really surprising.

Unfortunately alcohol can make us fat. Yes, it obviously depends on the amount and the type. I can safely say I binge, so a break from alcohol led to weight loss. Alcohol consumption also makes us hungry, both at the time and in the aftermath. Think of all those fry-ups, chips, chocolate, and pizza! There's differing reasons why alcohol makes us hungry (google it), but it's definitely true. If you want to know the facts, take a look at this brilliant article from Push Doctor "What happens to your body when you drink alcohol?".

What happened when I kicked the habit?

I had more energy to do all of the things I love! My skin became radiant, and probably, the most important benefit of all was feeling more emotionally balanced. All of a sudden, I was more open to mindful choices. So when Sunday-itis kicked in, I read a book, went for a run, or wrote -- rather than opting for a pub trip or opening the bottle of Pinot in the fridge. When things got rough, I saw them for what they were, not through the rose tinted or over dramatised glasses of alcohol. I had to work through life's challenges in the now. I realised that stress was consuming me, but that I needed to be kind to myself without resorting to a glass or few of wine.

Be kind always

If we do overindulge in alcohol, we shouldn't beat ourselves up about it. Going back to the shame and blame, it can become a vicious cycle so the best thing is to accept you had some fun on that occasion--or maybe didn't--but move on. The pent-up frustration and lack of self-worth doesn't deserve your attention. If binge drinking becomes a habit like it's become for me, consider your why and take small steps to be different about it. This can be something as simple as hiding all of the wine or cutting back on drinking during the week. For me, it’s all about beating stress and I’m determined to win that battle.

And if alcohol has become your “drug” talk to someone about it, you could start with confiding in a good friend. Don’t be scared to talk.


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