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Anxiety and alcohol: a story about self-medicating

Christine* had been battling social anxiety for over ten years. She recalled that it had started in the weeks leading up to her 21st birthday party when she had begun to worry if all her friends would turn up, if her outfit would fit, if there would be enough food and drink. In fact, she had worried about anything and everything which could go wrong and it became all that she could think about.

When the day of the party arrived, Christine opened a bottle of wine and poured herself a drink to calm her nerves. Before she knew it, the bottle was empty and the party had not even started. By the end of the evening, she was so intoxicated that she could not remember much of what had happened, but her friends delighted in embarrassing her for weeks afterward as they re-told the stories of her drunken antics.

And so began Christine’s cycle of drinking alcohol in excess to combat her anxiety before any social situation, and to sometimes ease her shame afterward, when she might spend hour after hour unpicking the details of what she may have said, or done, whilst drunk.

This form of self-medication was having a detrimental effect on Christine’s general health and well-being, and on her bank balance, working life and personal relationships. And it may well have carried on like this for many more years had it not been for a deeply hurtful remark from an old school friend she had bumped into whilst doing the weekly shopping, tired and hungover.

This proved to be the turning point and Christine resolved to get help. In talking to a hypnotherapist, she was able to recognise that she had been using alcohol to treat the symptoms of her anxiety just as she might have used other forms of medication.

Christine did not want to rely on alcohol anymore and understood that she really needed to tackle the underlying cause. In Christine’s case, this was a long-held sense of being inferior to others. The hypnotherapist worked with her to resolve these feelings and restore Christine’s confidence and self-esteem so that, after just a few sessions, she felt able to face social situations with her head held high - calm, happy and sober.

NB: If you believe you are drinking too much alcohol it is important to seek advice from your doctor.

*The client’s name has been changed for the purposes of this article.

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