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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.

Addiction Counselling in Dundalk.

Addiction. — admin @ 6:20 pm

Is addiction a disease; a genetic disorder or inheritance or is it a learned behaviour? These are the questions to which there are no clear answers especially when we are trying to work out if someone we know or love is an addict. There has been a lot of research on addiction looking to find answers to these questions but to date none of it has been conclusive.

The AA model of addiction as a disease has been a powerful model and the results speak for themselves. It is the largest fellowship in the world and has saved countless lives. In our work with clients we recommend the support of fellowships or self help groups. They can offer twenty four hour support, knowledge and friendship.

Therapy provides an opportunity to explore addictive behaviour, to provide a safe space to look at the personal experiences that may have brought ant of us to a place in our lives where we may feel a loss of control. Often we find that we have learned these behaviours from our environment; experienced, copied or observed.

They can represent a search, looking for a result, insight, change, control, reward, something to happen. At other times it is the opposite; wanting to block out awareness, to lose control. It may be a desire to numb ones feelings or to take a step back from reality.  Addictions are a way of changing ones reality; changing the mood.

A very simple example of this is the way in which we use food as a reward. In stressful situations people can to turn to food such as chocolate as a comfort to get us through a crisis. Once the crisis has passed food can be used to reward ourselves for surviving said crisis. The same things can apply to alcohol, drugs, food or sex when they are sought to relieve stress or are introduced as a part of our reward system.

We can then begin to create a relationship that shows signs of becoming unhealthy. How many times in our ‘normal’ lives have we questioned our relationship with food or alcohol? How many times have we chosen to stay off alcohol or go on a diet or do exercise in order to control the concerned behaviour? It is this lack of control that determines addiction as a learned behaviour.

When working with addiction we use the behavioural approach. That is to say addiction is a learned behaviour that gets out of control. Recovery is regaining that control either through abstinence or re-creating a healthy relationship with an old behaviour.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

I can love daddy more than mammy can.

Addiction.,Counselling — admin @ 11:08 am

In other offices people gather around the water cooler or meet over a cup of coffee and discuss the latest office gossip and organisational intrigue. And we at Counselling Connections are no different. Regular readers will know how partial we are to a cup of coffee and also how sometimes, because of the nature of our work, our coffee break chats turn to all sorts of eclectic subjects. This week is no different. We are branching out into addiction counselling and we’ve been reflecting on ways in which addiction behaviour can become a fundamental part of a family’s way of being. This can permeate the minds of individual family members and can have lasting and catastrophic effects on the way they love and allow themselves to be loved, or not, as the case may be.
If this all sounds a bit vague lets try to make it a bit clearer. The coffee break musings that we are talking about began with a question posed out of the blue. It was ‘do you think some girls grow up believing “I know how to love daddy better than mammy does” ‘? The question relates to the situation that we are all familiar with of a woman who seems to gravitate from one abusive relationship to another. She might escape an alcoholic, abusive or violent husband or partner only to find herself not too much later in a similar, damaging or abusive relationship. It seems counter intuitive and it can be a confusing, disorientating experience for the woman concerned. What we are trying to visualise is the process of thought that a little girl goes through as she grows up in a house with a violent abusive father.
There are a number of points of interest. First among these seems to be a learned ability to tolerate and excuse the worst of behaviour in the father. It is like his violence or abuse presents his daughter with a riddle. To solve the riddle would be to end his bad behaviour before it begun. This would present her with the loving, caring daddy of her dreams. But first she must roll up her sleeves and work hard at trying to figure out how to get on his good side. It is clear that when he comes home late that he and mammy fight and in the little girl’s mind the idea forms that this is the wrong way to go about things. She may even get to feel that her mammy gets it wrong by saying anything critical to her father, anything at all really that might draw out his anger. Her fantasy of a beloved, caring father demands that she overlook his part in these nocturnal arguments and in this the seeds are sown of a life of heartbreak, of hopeless forgiveness and even of facilitating another generation of addiction.
In psychoanalysis a pattern of bad relationships is sometimes attributed to something called a repetition compulsion. In simple terms we feel compelled to repeat previous mistakes. Again, this seems to be counter intuitive and it certainly baffled Sigmund Freud when he saw it in his patients. Indeed, the professor had to tear up the rule book and start again and incorporate the compulsion to repeat in his theories of the mind. If we pass our scenario through the test of this theory of repetition it seems that what happens is that the girl puts herself unwittingly in the same abusive situation again and again in order to try to work out exactly why it didn’t succeed the first time, the most important time, with her father.
She has followed her childhood logic of ignoring, excusing and forgiving bad behaviour in her loved one and for some reason which she can’t quite grasp it doesn’t turn him into the loving, caring partner of her dreams. It is our sad task in psychotherapy to break it to her that she has been basing her relationships on a faulty premise. This can be a difficult thing to face up to because it also involves letting in the understanding that her father behaved badly. It can be very difficult for us in life and in therapy to let go of the fantasy of a loving parent and face the reality of their human failings. Sometimes the worse the behaviour of the parent has been makes for stronger resistance to face up to this. This is something that has to be dealt with slowly and sensitively.
So, the childhood idea that ‘I can love daddy better than mammy can’ will provide a child with some confidence that they can cope with a difficult situation in the home. But it can also lead to difficulties in that it facilitates a tolerance of abusive behaviour and an almost masochistic determination to overcome the worst of situations. This is just one scenario that we have discussed here this week. There are many other similar possibilities including trying to cope with an alcoholic mother. What we see is that an addiction in a family can pass from a substance addiction to fixed way of behaviour. Initially these are set in place to help us cope but they don’t adapt well to later situations. Whatever your interest is in exploring these issues we’d be glad if we could be of some assistance to you and we have added an addiction counsellor to our team to help with this work.
Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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