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Is alcohol your social confidence drug?
We are a nation that loves our booze and for the occasional drinker, a top night out on the sauce is nothing more than a fun-filled event sharing giggles with friends. The happy memories remain happy - even if there is a slightly bad head to deal with the following morning.
But as binge drinking in Britain reaches epidemic proportions, there are many who are drinking more than they are comfortable with - or who are using alcohol as an emotional crutch.
In fact for many of us, alcohol has become a quick-fix social confidence drug that provides an instant personality boost. The knowledge that with just a few drinks, we will become a more outgoing, relaxed and confident version of ourselves is simply irresistible.
Clinical hypnotherapist and dependency expert Georgia Foster believes our desire to drink is an emotional habit which we have learned in order to escape aspects of ourselves we dislike, such as shyness, social anxiety, low self-esteem and fear of intimacy or rejection.
"Each one of us is made-up of many parts - or sub-personalities - and there is a part of our personality that tends to encourage low self-esteem," says Georgia. "I call it the 'inner critic' part. It is a negative voice that we all have, but often, if you have low self-esteem, you will find yourself listening to this particular part the most. It creates great havoc with your life and it can make you feel anxious and scared because of its negativity.
"When the body produces too many stress chemicals (often in response to the anxiety created by the inner critic), it can lead people to turn to alcohol to help them to relax and feel better. Instead of coping with the feelings, the mind will say, 'We need to have a drink,' as an automatic response," explains Georgia.
"When you think positively about yourself and you are no longer listening to your inner critic, you will feel calmer and produce feel-good endorphins. When we feel naturally calmer, we no longer need alcohol to ease our anxieties. We can then drink to feel good about ourselves at a social event while just having fun. That's the reason why we all first got into drinking anyway - to become more sociable - but importantly - without that emotional connotation of 'I have to drink'.
"Alcohol can be a comfort after a hard day at the office. Or, simply put, we may find everything feels better and we can finally leave behind any troubles (or aspects of ourselves which we feel are holding us back) once we make a beeline for the bar or crack open a bottle of wine.
"For many of us, that just feels like a normal response. The question really is how have we learned that this pattern of behaviour is the correct response to any stresses life throws at us?
"People learn over a period of time that drinking is a normal response, and it may not always be the response you want but your unconscious mind thinks it is normal - and recognises it as synonymous with feeling better.
"Although consciously you may want to cut back on your drinking, there will be a conflict as your unconscious mind will say, 'But this is how we cope!' And the unconscious mind will always win the argument, because this is where all emotional habits are stored.
"Clients say to me, 'I have no self control over my drinking' or 'I don't know what is wrong with me' but I say, 'You know what? There is absolutely nothing wrong with you at all. You have just got a negative habit that needs to be worked with to change it into a more positive way of thinking.'"
If you are feeling anxious about drinking less and the impact it will have on your behaviour and ability to socialise; Georgia has the following tips to help you find inner calm.
Before the night has even begun, your breathing will feel shallow if you are feeling socially nervous. When you shallow breathe, you actually go into a panic state. One great tip is to just start to breathe more deeply. Take one deep breath, hold for five seconds, then release it and hold for five seconds. By repeating this three times, you will alter your state of thinking and create calm. It will combat any negative thinking and the more you do this breathing; the more your mind will begin to think this is normal. Just calming yourself down is so important.
Combat your inner critic
Try replacing every negative statement your inner critic says with the opposite. If you think "I'm much more interesting when I've had a drink' replace it with "I am naturally socially confident" or "I can drink less" - it is all about training your mind to be more positive and everytime you think negatively, just keep playing those positive statements over and over in your mind.
For those concerned about their overdrinking, Georgia has created a Drink Less Mind Questionnaire to provide greater understanding on why you are drinking too much.
Georgia Foster is creator of The Drink Less Mind: book, workshops and a new teleseminar. London workshops are taking place on 30th January and 27th February. Visit www.georgiafoster.com for more information.