By Carlo C. DiClemente, PhD, and the Advisory Committee on Colleague Assistance
September 28, 2005 — Many very successful and competent individuals have found themselves in trouble with alcohol and have had to free themselves from problem drinking. Psychologists are not immune from the problem. Some may be vulnerable to the lure of alcohol to relieve stress in order to deal with the daily exposure to the toxic emotions and problems of patients. Having a drink can be a socially acceptable way to escape from the stress of patient care, the loneliness and burden of confidentiality, and the tension of an overextended work schedule.
As long as alcohol remains a beverage and does not become a drug, it does not pose a problem. However, if use of alcohol has transitioned from beverage to drug, from use to abuse, from drinking in moderation to drinking too much, the individual will likely have problems.
Alcohol is a drug with specific mechanisms of action in the brain and documented neurocognitive, behavioral, and emotional effects. Part of the problem lies in shared ambivalence and attitudes about alcohol and what we expect from it. Alcohol is viewed as a most effective social lubricant, a tension reducer, an inhibition releaser, a sexual enhancer, a courage builder, and a communication facilitator. At the same time, it is a restricted and regulated substance that one should learn to use responsibly only after reaching the age of 21.
Most problematic expectancies related to alcohol are connected with drug effects, not beverage characteristics. So a key to assessing when you are drinking too much has as much to do with why and how you are drinking as it has to do with how much you are drinking.