DON’T BOW TO THE BINGE FORMULA
New Delhi June 1 Drinking excessively, binge-drinking and drinking irresponsibly are the things that differentiate a user of alcohol from an abuser of alcohol. Psycho-therapist Vihan Sanyal tells Team Viva how to keep pleasure from descending into chaos
Devdas, Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby, Amitabh Bachchan in Sharabi — these are images of decadence from popular literature and films that flood our minds as soon as we talk about alcoholism.
But there is something that differentiates drinking per se from going over the threshold. Drinking excessively, binge-drinking and drinking irresponsibly are the things that differentiate a user of alcohol from an abuser of alcohol.
Alcohol dependency can be measured from the following:
Unexplained craving: Like any other drug, the craving for alcohol can become so intense that the person is willing to do anything, even something which might be considered unethical or immoral.
Physical dependency: If the drinker doesn’t have alcohol in his/her system, they tend to experience withdrawal symptoms like nausea, sweating, strong stomach cramps and vomiting.
Tolerance: People develop a high level of tolerance to the effects of alcohol. They need more of it to feel any intoxication.
Lack of control: Drinkers can’t seem to stop themselves.
Dr Vihan Sanyal, a Mumbai-based psychotherapist, says “Alcohol abuse and dependency, unfortunately, is very common in our society. According to the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSMIV), alcohol abusers are those who continue to drink despite recurrent social, interpersonal and legal problems as a result of their alcohol use. Many people are not aware of the difference between the two and more importantly the consequences of their habits of consuming alcohol. Greater awareness is required to bring positive change in our society.”
WHAT IS BINGE DRINKING?
Binge-drinking, as the name suggests, is drinking excessive amounts of alcohol occasionally. Binge-drinkers don’t usually go for it every day. They often justify their drinking habit by saying things like, “I drink occasionally and socially, I don’t drink every day. I am not an alcoholic. I enjoy drinking; however, it does get too much for me at times as I don’t drink everyday like some of my friends. I am perfectly healthy because I drink occasionally.”
Binge-drinkers are mostly unaware that their habit can cause damage to most of their organs. They can have alcohol poisoning, if their blood alcohol level rises to dangerous levels (often common in binge drinkers) and this can become fatal. They are at a greater risk of becoming addicted to alcohol and start to depend on it. Binges can cause episodes of amnesia and cause blackouts. Some people become aggressive while they are intoxicated and get into physical fights which can get serious and might lead to hospitalisation. Often, the morning after an excessive drinking episode, there is shame, anger, regret and guilt.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M DRINKING TOO MUCH?
A person needs to ask himself/herself if their drinking habits are risky or harmful? Dr Sanyal advises, “It is always better to seek help early. I have helped many clients who have come to the clinic with a binge-drinking concern. I was happy to see that they recognised the problem and sought help for it. They now enjoy a healthy lifestyle without being worried about the ill-effects of binge drinking.”
Naturally excessive and binge drinking does have serious consequences. Dependency can lead to financial instability, financial crisis and loss of employment. It can lead to aggressive social behaviour and even domestic violence. This in turn impacts long-term relationships. Drunk driving and accidental deaths are all too well-known. And in younger ages, dependency can lead to permanent damage to the developing brain of children and teenagers. For adults, it leads to intractable cell damage and impaired cognitive and reasoning ability.
Dr Sanyal explains that “People often underestimate the severity of the damage alcohol consumption can cause. Research conducted on alcohol consumption has shown significant amount on brain damage in just four days of drinking. Binge drinking adversely affects a person’s brain cells.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PREVENTIVE MEASURES A PERSON CAN TAKE?
- Be fully aware of the problems your drinking habit can cause for you and your loved ones.
- Consume your drink slowly and try to spend the duration of the social event with just one or two drinks
- Drop the amount of drink per glass (from a 60 ml to a 30ml, et al)
- If you are a habitual drinker, never attempt to completely stop drinking (going cold turkey), this can have serious consequences for your health.
- It is essential to know you triggers, whether it is people, places or events. What gets you in the mood for drinking, avoid those triggers.
Dr Sanyal cautions people, “One should be be sensible and responsible while drinking. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of entering drinking competitions with friends. Be aware of the ill-effects of excessive drinking especially binge drinking. Also take extra care if you are taking any medication for an illness. Some medicines react adversely to alcohol. They are not to be mixed under any circumstances.”
Binge-drinking has the ability to intensify any dormant emotions or traumatic episodes from our past, leading us deeper into grief and depression. The person is often consumed by negative thoughts, which can easily transform into suicidal thoughts and actions.
Dr Sanyal says, “People are not aware that regular consumption of alcohol changes brain chemistry. We have a ‘feel good’ neuro-chemical called serotonin which is a mood enhancer. Alcohol is known as a downer as it reduces the amount of serotonin in our brain which leads to people feeling depressed. This can be counter-productive if a person’s motto to drink is to feel less depressed.”
There are different ways to treat the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption.
Medication: This reduces cravings and helps with impulse control and with de-addiction. It is best to consult a psychiatrist who can suggest the best medication for the patient.
Psychotherapy: Different modalities, which are available in psychotherapy, like CBT, NLP and hypnotherapy help a person curb the tendency of drinking excessively or to completely avoid alcohol where necessary. Often therapy is used in combination with medication to help such cases.
Rehabilitation Programmes: There are a number of rehabilitation programmes and facilities to help clients and their families cope with the addiction and dependency problem and their side effects. Dr Sanyal, who follows a holistic approach, says, “I have treated people abroad as well as in India who have had a history of alcohol abuse. I have done it by using therapeutic modalities with fantastic results. Psychotherapy has all the tools necessary to support people who are often tired of fighting a constant battle with their addiction.”
HOW INDIA TIPPLES
- Kerala is reported to have the highest alcohol consumption in the country. The per capita in the state is 8 litres per person which is four times more than any other state.
- People in Haryana and Punjab are next on the list of heavy consumers of alcohol.
- India is one of the largest producers of alcohol. It produces 65 per cent of alcohol in the South Asian region.
- In India 80 per cent of consumers prefer hard liquor over beers.
- In India, 14 million people are dependent on alcohol.
- There are more people drinking with the intent of getting intoxicated and binge-drinking than was done in the past.