Did your anxiety level skyrocket upon thinking about confronting this topic? Do you have the instinct to run away? Maybe you feel like it’d be a good idea to go out for a drink in order to avoid an uncomfortable discussion.
In a previous post, I shared some ways in which a person’s gender can affect how they experience substance use issues, particularly alcohol abuse. Research supports a link between one’s gender and both the way they use alcohol and between gender and the effects of excessive use. While this article attempts to address a number of the challenges leading some men to abuse alcohol, and some concerns often resulting from alcohol abuse, it does not attempt to speak for the experience of all men who drink or present assumptions or stereotypes.
I am not going to focus on relationship issues or anything you did “wrong” here. You’re not “in trouble.” My goal is simply to provide you with facts about how alcohol may be impacting your life and what you can do about it. I want to make sure you are able to seek the right kind of help if you are concerned about your drinking.
Therapy for Understanding and Change
If you feel you may be drinking excessively or for the wrong reasons but aren’t sure how to change this behavior, therapy can help you find answers and work toward change.
A qualified therapist can help you begin this process of exploration by considering the following areas:
You might have experienced some level of sexual dysfunction in the past—maybe just once, maybe multiple times. Maybe you were humiliated it happened but even more scared it would happen again. Alcohol, a central nervous system depressant, can cause this type of performance issue. Drinking decreases the blood flow to the penis, which can result in less satisfying orgasms and even an inability to sustain an erection. One or two drinks may help you relax and unwind, but any more than that can lead to performance difficulties.
Alcohol can also impact mood and decrease desire. Some studies have indicated the number one cause of erectile dysfunction is heavy drinking. Regular alcohol use, therefore, may not only impact your mood but also decrease intimacy with your partner. For many, this can lead to an increase in alcohol consumption to cope with negative emotions.
It’s important to find a therapist who is comfortable discussing sex and with whom you are able to discuss sexual concerns.
Many men are still socialized from a young age to believe it is “wimpy” or “childish” to express emotions (though this is slowly beginning to change). When people are never encouraged or allowed to discuss their feelings, it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, for them to learn to discriminate subtle differences between these feelings. A person who never learned about emotions may have no idea what to do with them and thus be unable to cope with them in a healthy or productive manner.
For many, drinking becomes the primary way of dealing with feelings. In therapy, individuals can learn how to recognize their feelings and understand what is going on emotionally. Therapists will not simply say, “Stop drinking,” but will work with individuals to help them develop the tools needed to cope with their emotions and feelings without drinking. This exploration and self-discovery can be empowering, and many individuals find the knowledge gained helps them become better able to maintain successful personal and professional relationships.
3. Drinking to celebrate.
Maybe alcohol has been a rite of passage for you. When you turned 21—ugh, let’s not go there again. What about when you have a big achievement at work? A promotion? When you want to celebrate a life transition, like your recent engagement or closing on a new home?
Therapy can offer you a safe place to learn more about your reasons for drinking and to develop, if necessary, new methods of addressing feelings and coping with life’s challenges.
Drinking is often associated with honoring transitions, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with commemorating your success with a drink or two. But troubling drinking patterns may be indicated if the “morning after” consistently brings regret or if you can’t even remember what you were celebrating.
If this is true for you, you might consider commemorating future events with your favorite meal or maybe an adventure—skydiving, a challenging hike, an overnight getaway with your partner. Do something out of the ordinary, something you’ll remember—without regrets.
4. Drinking to numb emotions and cope.
Again, men are more likely to be socialized to appear tough and never show weakness. As a result, many may be uncomfortable with crying. Crying, however, is a normal, healthy way the body vents emotions. When we cry our tears have a different chemical makeup than when our eyes water from onions, smoke, or other irritants, and in fact, scientists have found emotional tears actually contain hormones indicating high stress levels and chemicals proven to reduce pain. Thus, many believe a good cry helps us release negative hormones that are then replaced with calming ones.
Maybe your buddies take you out for a drink when you’re going through a tough time. Perhaps you just went through a breakup. Or your dog died. Or you lost your job. You tried to drink away the pain, and maybe it helps—for a while. But what happens the next morning when you are alone and the same concerns are running through your mind? What if you really just want to talk about how much you miss your partner or pet, or how worried you are about the next phase of your life?
Therapy, and the guidance of a qualified, compassionate professional, can offer you a safe place to learn more about your reasons for drinking and to develop, if necessary, new methods of addressing feelings and coping with life’s challenges.
Talking to a professional isn’t just sharing your feelings. Rather, the therapy room can be a helpful place for you to realize what isn’t working in your life, develop strategies for making change, and gain the confidence to put your plan into action.
- Arackal, B. S., & Benegal, V. (2007). Prevalence of sexual dysfunction in male subjects with alcohol dependence. Indian Journal of Psychiatry 49(2), 109-112.
- Hoyt, A. (2017, March 3). How crying works. Retrieved from http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/crying.htm
- Schulte, M. T., Ramo, D., & Brown, S. A. (2009). Gender differences in factors influencing alcohol use and drinking progression among adolescents, Clinical Psychology Review, 29(6). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2756494
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Addressing the specific behavioral health needs of men. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 56. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
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