It’s popular in psychological/treatment circles to focus on how much (alcohol) we drink, how much is too much, what to do about it, etc.

In this column, let’s look at WHY we drink?

What’s our motivation in throwing down those beers, mojitos or stolis?

Is it to feel more of something?

  • More relaxed
  • More playful
  • More comfortable socially

Or is it to feel less of something?

  • Less tense
  • Less nervous
  • Less fearful

Let’s assume that you want to feel more relaxed, playful and comfortable socially. Well…is a drink (or two or three) the best way to get there?

Are there other ways to get there? Sure, but it’s more work.

The downsides of alcohol are all-too-familiar: hangovers, depression… but most of all: nothing really changes. We haven’t really changed anything because the answer to our problems was in that bottle, not inside ourselves.

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

When the answers to our problems remain external (e.g., alcohol, sex, shopping), we’re basically just putting new band-aids on a deep wound. We avoid ripping off the band-aid and really cleaning out the wound because it’s uncomfortable and takes time and energy.

So we just have another drink.

As someone who likes a drink or two (usually that’s my limit), I personally know the benefits and pitfalls of alcohol. I once had a job that I disliked so much that I found it necessary to have a glass of wine every night when I got home from work. Then it became two glasses of wine. The job didn’t change, I just began drinking more.

I was lucky: I realized what I was doing, found another job and stopped drinking for a while, just to “clean my system out” and remember how to cope with difficulties stone cold sober.

Any time I find myself “needing” a drink, I ask myself, “What’s going on? What do I not want to feel right now?” The answer is usually clear: I’m bored or angry or lonely. Then I’m at a choice point: what am I gonna do about it?

I have great respect for AA and other programs like it. I have seen these programs work wonders for many people, both friends and clients alike.

While I am not a licensed substance abuse counselor, I have worked with many clients who question why they are drinking and what they want to do about it.

Many people can enjoy the occasional pleasurable effects of alcohol without suffering significant negative consequences.  Some people can’t.  They are often called “alcoholics”, but the more accurate psychological terms are “alcohol dependent” or “alcohol abusing”.

People who are dependent upon alcohol need it to function. Do you need a drink (or two or three) to make it through the day?  To get through a social situation?  To cope with a difficult relationship?  If so, you may have a form of alcohol dependence.

You may have some degree of alcohol dependence if you try to impose limits on yourself but can’t stick to them. For example: you go out bar-hopping with your friends and resolve to drink only two drinks, three drinks max. Three hours later you’ve had eight drinks and wonder how you got there, cursing your lack of self-control.

If you find yourself wondering why you drink and if you have a problem with it, consider these questions:

  • Why do I drink?
  • How do I feel when I drink?
  • Is there any other way to get the same effect?
  • How many drinks is best for me?
  • How many drinks do I typically consume?

It’s a good idea for all of us – myself included – to periodically take a good honest look at our alcohol consumption.

If you are concerned about how much you drink, you can get more information about alcoholism and alcohol dependence/abuse on-line or from a 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous group (they’re held every day, at all hours, in San Diego) to help you decide if it’s time to modify your booze consumption.

If your alcohol intake is working for you, great. If it’s not, tell yourself the truth and consider making some changes. For some of us, this is hard – if not impossible – to do alone.  If you need help, get it