Drinking and Willpower
Gabrielle Glaser, “Since the early 2000s, according to five government surveys Dr. Rick Grucza, an epidemiologist, has analyzed, binge drinking — often defined as five per day for men and four per day for women — is on the rise among women, older Americans and minorities.
Behind those figures there’s the personal toll — measured in relationships strained or broken, career goals not met and the many nights that college students can’t remember. In researching my 2013 book on women and drinking, and many articles on the topic since, I’ve spoken with hundreds of problem drinkers of all races. Most of the people I’ve spoken to were college-educated; it’s a sad fact that many people learn to drink excessively in college. I found that a lot of people lack physical symptoms of alcohol dependence but they think they are overdoing it, and they are worried.
Many alcohol researchers and substance-use clinicians believe the steady increase in problem drinking arises from a deeply felt sense of despair: “Since the attacks on 9/11, we’ve been in a state of perpetual war, and a lot of us are traumatized by that,” said Andrew Tatarsky, a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating people with substance-use disorders.” (Gabrielle Glaser, a journalist and author of Her Best-Kept Secret, America, Can We Talk About Your Drinking? New York Times Sunday Review, opinion)
So what is to be done? How can a drinker overcome alcohol abuse?
By willpower? DeSteno says, “No.”
David DeSteno, “New Year’s Eve is a time to set goals: to eat better, to save more money, to work harder, to drink less. It’s Day 1 on the road to a “new you.” But this road, as we all know, is difficult to follow. Humans are notoriously bad at resisting temptation, especially (as research confirms) if we’re busy, tired or stressed. By Jan. 8, some 25 percent of resolutions have fallen by the wayside. And by the time the year ends, fewer than 10 percent have been fully kept.
Unfortunately, the problem of New Year’s resolutions is, in a way, the problem of life itself. Our tendency to be shortsighted — to value the pleasures of the present more than the satisfactions of the future — comes at a considerable cost.
Study after study has linked self-control to achievement in a wide range of areas, including personal finance, healthful eating and exercise, and job performance. Put simply, those who can persevere toward their long-term goals in the face of temptation to do otherwise — those who have “grit” — are best positioned for success.
If what I’ve said so far sounds familiar, that’s because over the past 30 years, in response to these findings, something of a cottage industry has sprung up to tell us how to increase our self-control. If you peruse the books on the best-seller lists, you’ll find variations on a theme: The best way to increase self-control is to use our willpower.
The answer, I contend, is that this view of self-control is wrong. In choosing to rely on rational analysis and willpower to stick to our goals, we’re disadvantaging ourselves. We’re using tools that aren’t only weak; they’re also potentially harmful.
Worse, exerting willpower can take a psychological and physical toll. As recent work by the Northwestern University psychologist Greg Miller has shown, willing oneself to be “gritty” can be quite stressful. Studying about 300 teenagers from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, Professor Miller found that those who were better at using self-control did have more success when it came to resisting temptations, but at a cost to their health. Their bodies suffered not only from increased stress responses, but also from premature aging of their immune cells.
What these findings show is that pride, gratitude and compassion, whether we consciously realize it or not, reduce the human mind’s tendency to discount the value of the future. In so doing, they push us not only to cooperate with other people but also to help our own future selves. Feeling pride or compassion has been shown to increase perseverance on difficult tasks by over 30 percent. Likewise, gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use.
It’s our emotions — specifically, gratitude, compassion and an authentic sense of pride (not hubris) — that push us to behave in ways that show self-control.
If using willpower causes stress, using these emotions actually heals: They slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. By making us value the future more, they ease the way to patience and perseverance.
More than a decade’s worth of research backs up this picture. Studies from my lab, for example, show that gratitude directly increases self-control.” (Dr. David DeSteno, Northeastern University College of Science, The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions, New York Times)
In Psychologists’ terms, it is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (also known by the abbreviation as CBT) is described by fellow mental health professional, Ben Martin as a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving.
Most professionals, would agree, its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel. It is used to help treat a wide range of issues in a person’s life, from sleeping difficulties or relationship problems, to drug and alcohol abuse or anxiety and depression. CBT works by changing people’s attitudes and thereby focusing on the thoughts, images, beliefs and attitudes that we hold (our cognitive processes) and how this relates to the way we behave, as a way of dealing with emotional problems. ( Ben Martin, Psy.D, In-Depth: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Psyche Central)
This is where Counseling on Demand comes in.
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