Many of us depend on alcohol to cope with daily life stressors. We have been raised in a culture that encourages drinking alcohol as a way to relax and enjoy ourselves, so is it any surprise that many of us reach for alcohol to celebrate, to relax, and to unwind?
When we have a child who has an eating disorder, life, which is already stressful, can feel even harder. It’s no surprise that we reach for something to soothe ourselves, to take care of ourselves, and to feel better. And alcohol is right there, a faithful, sophisticated friend that is always willing to step in and make our night more fun.
Alcohol brands have even developed a target audience specifically for moms looking for a break from “Mom-ing.” Pretty labels and a vast array of glasses and mugs with witty phrases are only the tip of the iceberg of how alcohol has been marketed directly to mothers.
One of the problems with how we drink is that it seems there are only two types of people: alcoholics, and the rest of us. This binary thinking means that we can believe that if we don’t live up to the narrative regarding the type of person who goes to Alcoholics Anonymous (someone who hits rock bottom and is facing serious consequences for their drinking), then we must be OK.
But alcohol dependency, in which we find ourselves driven to seek a glass or two (or three, or four …) of wine at the end of a long day, deserves our attention, too. Most of us are not “alcoholics,” but many of us are dependent on alcohol.
Alcohol makes a stressful life more stressful
One of the biggest things to consider when we look at our drinking habits is to consider whether alcohol is really improving our lives. The media presents alcohol as a great stress reliever, and a great way to have a wonderful time with friends, but is that true?
Take a minute to think about your last several experiences with alcohol. Did you truly have a wonderful time? Was the wine helpful in decreasing your stress? Now think about it again. The first glass was probably great. It made you feel good to take that first sip, and it did seem to take the edge off and loosen you up.
But what about the second glass? Did you really enjoy it? Did it really add to your sense of relaxation and enjoyment? Or were you just chasing that initial feeling you got with the first sip? What about the third glass? The fourth?
Did you wake up at about 3 a.m. with regret and a promise to drink less next time? Did you wake up with a hangover, or feeling groggy and headachy? Was it worth whatever you got from that extra glass? When you were feeling bad, did you promise to drink less from now on, and then find yourself right back in the same position the following morning?
It’s important to note that alcohol is a depressant that always worsens the level of stress and despair we feel in our daily lives. The loosening up we feel in social situations is something that may be fine if we can stop at one glass, but if we’re reaching for more, then it’s unlikely that the alcohol is improving our social experiences.
The stress release we feel with the first sip after a long day may be a great way to take a seat and focus on our own needs for a while, but by the second glass, it’s unlikely we really feel less stressed than we did in the beginning. We may feel numb, but that is entirely different from less stressed.
Alcohol is addictive; there’s a good chance you’re addicted
Alcohol is addictive. Alcohol is not only addictive to people who go to a meeting and say “I am an alcoholic” as a way of introduction. Alcohol is addictive for all of us, and anyone who drinks will build some level of addiction to alcohol.
“Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems.” (NCADD)
Due to its addictive nature, over time we become increasingly dependent upon alcohol and increasingly blind to its negative impact on our health and well-being. Even if we never hit “rock bottom” and identify as an alcoholic, chronically depending on alcohol to cope with life comes with many downsides and no upsides.
Alcohol is one of the top five most addictive substances in the world. It shares this distinction with heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and nicotine. Because it’s legal, and because many supermarkets devote a significant portion of their floor space to alcohol sales, we think of alcohol as somehow different. But make no mistake: it is an addictive drug.
“Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.” (NIH)
Most of us never think of ourselves as addicted to alcohol. We think that we just enjoy drinking. We like the taste. We like the way it takes away our stress. But the fact is that alcohol is addictive, and that means that if we’re using it regularly, we are very likely addicted to it.
We’re not alone. “An estimated 5.3 million women in the United States drink in a way that threatens their health, safety, and general well-being.” (NIAA)
Alcohol is numbing you so that you don’t have to deal with your child’s eating disorder
Take a deep breath now. This is a tough one.
If you’re using alcohol to help you unwind … if you’re using alcohol to take care of yourself … if you’re using alcohol regularly as a coping mechanism, then you are likely using alcohol as a way to numb yourself to the challenges you face in life right now.
Having a child who has an eating disorder feels absolutely awful. Mothers, especially, can’t help but feel responsible for the development of an eating disorder, even though eating disorders develop based on a broad variety of factors.
On top of our guilt towards our child, we feel shame in a society that holds mothers on pedestals until they tear them down ruthlessly as heartless monsters who ruined their kids’ lives.
Then there’s the logistical and financial nightmare of caring for a child who is sick.
This sucks. I’m so sorry. But turning to alcohol to numb yourself because you can’t cope with this difficult situation is only going to make things worse.
In the privacy of your thoughts, do you worry about your drinking? Many of us do. It’s OK. But it also means it’s time to make a change. Just like our kids can’t cut out their eating disorders without replacing their maladaptive coping mechanism with new tools for self-care, we can’t cut out alcohol without building better self-care routines.
We don’t have to attend AA meetings, but getting together with other mothers in supportive alcohol-free environments will help us build our sense of belonging, reduce loneliness, and create a community that can help us stand up when we feel unable to do so by ourselves.
We don’t have to give up alcohol, but we do have to look at alcohol straight in the face and notice whether it’s actually helping or harming our ability to parent through our child’s eating disorder.
Our first reaction will always be: yes, it’s helping! But look deeper. Look at how you feel after too many glasses. Look at how you feel after having too much again after you promised yourself you wouldn’t. Consider whether there are other ways that you can care for yourself during your child’s recovery from an eating disorder that doesn’t involve an addictive substance.
Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.
She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents handle their kids’ food and body issues.
If you think that you may be using alcohol to cope with the stresses of parenting a child who has an eating disorder, consider reading “This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol: Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life” by Annie Grace. It provides a helpful model for people who don’t fit cleanly into the “alcoholic” category, but are concerned about their alcohol use.