AS WE discussed last week, Guyanese- some would argue too many of us- consume alcohol on a regular basis. It made me wonder whether people ever categorically questioned why. There are various reasons why alcohol consumption is high – some in our control and others not.
Today I would like to go through all the potential risk factors for both alcohol use and abuse; meaning what makes us want to drink and potentially unable to stop. If you think about the common risk factors for both use and abuse, it’s not surprising that we have such high consumption here in Guyana.
There are a variety of physical, biological, psychological, social and environmental reasons why people may begin to drink and continue drinking alcohol.
Alcohol is a depressant drug which means it slows down the functioning of our central nervous system and therefore does initially provide a nice, calming and even euphoric feeling. This, however, as most of us know, is short lived.
Some people drink simply because they like the taste and therefore prefer it over other beverages.
A family history of substance abuse makes one more likely to develop the habit themselves. Studies show that one is up to 4 times more likely to use or become addicted to a substance if a close relative (grandparent, parent, sibling, cousin) has been or is currently using.
The genetic component that contributes to drug abuse runs deep and is difficult to fully understand. Mainly because it is not a single gene but rather scientists have found over 50 genes passed on that can impact whether we drink or become addicted.
Additionally, we inherit many personality characteristics through genetics. Some people drink because they are outgoing and enjoy those social situations while others are extremely shy and may drink to reduce their discomfort – both personalities significantly determined by genetics.
Those who have psychological distress or any mental health illness are more likely to use and abuse alcohol and other drugs. Psychological distress includes high-stress levels, any form of abuse or neglect, low self-esteem as well as little to no support for any of the aforementioned.
Those diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder etc. are also more likely to use substances as self-medication. Anyone who has ever experienced anxiety knows that alcohol can temporarily help to feel comfortable. However, I think most people know that when they use substances to cope with their stress, this unhealthy method of coping brings on a whole range of other issues.
I think most believe that only children are victims of peer pressure but anyone who has ever gone to any social gathering in Guyana should be able to tell you different. Peer pressure is actually one of the most common reasons for drinking alcohol in general. Many people drink because they want to fit in or to avoid the ridicule that typically comes with not drinking.
Others drink simply for curiosity or the want to experiment. Others, as an act of rebellion because they are not allowed or may not be of legal age to do so. Some people use simply because of good marketing strategies implemented by alcohol companies. I know people who started drinking Stag Beer just because it is advertised as a “Man’s Beer”.
I think the biggest issue when it comes to alcohol is the social norm and acceptance within our society. People are almost expected to drink and it’s weird if they don’t. Alcohol is glamorised and associated with both celebration and mourning- it is a normal part of any occasion. Would you believe that even the job you have may make you more likely to drink alcohol? If the job is highly stressful, has a high risk of injury or even disliked, the individual is more likely to drink alcohol.
Finally, past social experiences with alcohol will determine the amount that people drink in the future. Either good or bad experiences shape an individual’s view, value, expectation and therefore possible repetition.
Our environment also greatly influences our consumption in a multitude of ways.
Exposure to alcohol, easy and common access to alcohol, affordable alcohol all make society more likely to have high consumption- all which are present and relevant in Guyana.
People are more likely to drink if they have people drinking around them. Children are more likely to drink if they simply grew up in a house that contained alcohol.
I want everyone to remember two things. No one factor means that you will possibly end up abusing alcohol. Secondly, while we cannot control what our specific risk factors for alcohol use are, we can definitely control our consumption. Despite everything, it still is a personal choice to say yes or no. It is within our control to stop when we have had enough. The best thing to do is recognise (from the factors above) what specifically influences the amount of alcohol you drink. Identify, accept and then challenge them.
Please read next week to learn how to healthily consume alcohol- yes it is possible!
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