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The Psychology of a Hangover.

Addiction.,Depression,Psychotherapy — admin @ 12:00 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been turning our attention to one of the less favourable aspects of the holiday season. Regular readers will know that we love this time of year. We like to try to remain tuned in to the cycle of the seasons and the turn of the earth. We like the ancient celebration of the solstice and the promise of brighter days to come. We love the optimism and the gathering together for a family celebration. Another feature of all of this anticipation is expressed in a letting off of steam in a series of office and other parties. A build up of months of hard work is released in group celebrations up and down the country. These occasions often involve the consumption of alcohol; sometimes lots of it. So, as we witness groups of friends and colleagues dressed in seasonal jumpers and often hopping from one pub to another in the latest party craze we pause here to reflect on what comes next. Without wishing to be accused of being party poopers, we’d like to pause for a moment and give some thoughts on the psychology of a hangover.

The first thing to bear in mind about a hangover relates to the expectation and frustration that sometimes accompanies the drinking behaviour in the first instance. People say to us that if they have had a hard week or a tough time in work that they intend to blow off a bit of steam on a Friday night. The reasons for having a few drinks can be important and we’ll explain why a little later. Sometimes clients tell us of occasions where they know that the reason they have a few drinks is to make some emotional problem go away. This is very successful in the short term but it brings a number of built in challenges with it. In short, it doesn’t last longer than the alcohol. In the best traditions of a Greek or a Shakespearian tragedy, the seeds of the eventual fall, the hangover, are sown in the character of the build up and the pressure which we’re seeking to release in the first instance.

Sometimes these pressures are emotional and sometimes mundane. From one end of the week to the other we get to bed and get up and commute and rush about at what is, to our instinctual self, often regarded as the bidding of the other. We go to work because we have to. We have to pay rent and mortgages. We have bills to pay. We don’t have as much discretionary income left over as we’d like to. And in these latitudes the evenings gradually get darker to the point where we often go to work and come home again in the dark and it can seem like we’ll never see the light of day again. The idea then of a chance to party a little, to kick up our heels and even to misbehave a little is a very welcome one. Indeed, at some level we feel we deserve a party as a reward for all our effort. This can be experienced as a frustration and a sense of entitlement for an office party where the company look after us for being good little boys and girls; we get to be naughty for one night for being good all year long.

If you’re thinking that what you’ve read so far isn’t in our usually positive tone well you’re right. That’s because we think that some of these frustrations and anger are what is expressed in a night of drinking and these are what return then with a vengeance the morning after the night before.

So, you wake up in the morning after having a little too much to drink the night before. Sometimes this is mild enough and at other times it is much more debilitating and puts you out of action or bed bound for the best part of a day. One of the first things that people describe is the phenomenon often referred to as ‘the fear’. This seems to be a double edge sword. Firstly, it is simply a feeling of all over dread based on the physiological reaction to the levels of alcohol consumed and still in our system. Alcohol is a depressant. Secondly, as we wake and review the previous evening’s activity we are often consumed with a range of feelings based on what we can remember of what we have done the night before. Sometimes this process happens in waves over the course of the day. We might have said something indiscrete or just plain stupid. We might have just carried the fun a little too far and made a nuisance of ourselves. Or we might have committed some sexual indiscretion and wonder how we can undo any damage to relationships that we have caused. A number of referrals to our office come as a result of violence, sometimes involving police and courts which were a direct result of alcohol intake. We get belligerent when we’ve had too much to drink.

As we look over these things we face the fall in our estimate of our self and can spend some time in self reproach. We call this part of the process a spiritual hangover. Quite apart from any physical sickness which will quickly pass, this spiritual part of the hangover can be quite serious and oddly enough can be part of the process of frustration we described earlier which will build and lead to the next blow out. People often describe to us how this can become a cycle which can seem difficult to escape. So, drinking heavily can cause real spiritual or psychological harm which is not good for our mental health.

The reasons why we were tempted to have a few drinks in the first place return with a hangover with a renewed self destructive cheer. It is like all the problems we were trying to escape simply sat on the sidelines and witnessed our brief interlude into a party self and then expressed themselves again with a renewed vigour. And again, this is often then associated with severe self reproach. We are hurting our self when we do this. And we tend to do it over again.

The antidote to all of this is quite simple. When we say it to people they think it is quite radical and often a little extreme. The one sure way to avoid a hangover is not to drink. When we dream of a lovely, bubbly, cold beer on a weekend we rarely pause to check our expectations or experience. The drink does not deliver on the promise; it doesn’t give us what we hope it will. It is very temporary. We don’t stop to think of the whole process of hangover and recovery that we have gone through before. Sometimes this process is harmless enough but often it is not. It is often quite harmful to the self, to our mental health, to drink to excess and then to repeat it again. We can get stuck in the cycle of this and end up feeling miserable over and again. Quite apart from any physical health problems we can say for sure that it leads to mental health problems.

So, with apologies for the sobering tone in this, the party season we would simply urge you to look humbly at your own drinking. Mind your self and take good care of your mental health.

Counselling Connections.

Christmas and New Year Holiday arrangements 2015.

Psychotherapy — admin @ 10:26 am

Christmas and New Year Holiday arrangements 2015.

We’ll be open until Wednesday, December 23rd at 6pm. We’ll be closed from the 24th until January 4th 2016. We will be checking the voicemail during the days when we’re not here so if you like to leave a message we’ll ring you back to arrange an appointment. We don’t have an around the clock service for emergencies so check our links page for contact details for Aware and Samaritans.

We’d like to wish all our clients and friends a Happy and Peaceful Christmas. We’re looking forward to working with you in the New Year.

Fergal and Maggie. Counselling Connections.

tel. 042 9331803 mob. 086 0381073

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