Webb Therapy Uncategorized Unhelpful Cognitions (thoughts) and Distortions

Unhelpful Cognitions (thoughts) and Distortions

Unhelpful Cognitions

Mental Filter: This thinking style involves a “filtering in” and “filtering out” process – a sort of “tunnel vision”, focusing on only one part of a situation and ignoring the rest. Usually this means looking at the negative parts of a situation and forgetting the positive parts, and the whole picture is coloured by what may be a single negative detail.

Jumping to Conclusions: We jump to conclusions when we assume that we know what someone else is thinking (mind reading) and when we make predictions about what is going to happen in the future (predictive thinking).

Mind reading: Is a habitual thinking pattern characterized by expecting others to know what you’re thinking without having to tell them or expecting to know what others are thinking without them telling you. This is very common, and most people can identify. Oftentimes, when we are telling someone a story about an interaction, we’ve had with someone else, we will make mind reading assumptions without actually having fact or evidence e.g., “They haven’t phoned me in two weeks so they must be angry with me for cancelling on them last week.”

Personalisation: This involves blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong or could go wrong, even when you may only be partly responsible or not responsible at all. You might be taking 100% responsibility for the occurrence of external events. It can also involve blaming someone else for something for which they have no responsibility. This can often occur when setting a boundary with someone and you take responsibility for their guilt or anger.

Catastrophising: Catastrophising occurs when we “blow things out of proportion” and we view the situation as terrible, awful, dreadful, and horrible, even though the reality is that the problem itself may be quite small.

Black & White Thinking: Also known as splitting, dichotomous thinking, and all-or-nothing thinking, involves seeing only one side or the other (the positives or the negatives, for example). You are either wrong or right, good or bad and so on. There are no in-betweens or shades of grey.

Should-ing and Must-ing: Sometimes by saying “I should…” or “I must…” you can put unreasonable demands or pressure on yourself and others. Although these statements are not always unhelpful (e.g., “I should not get drunk and drive home”), they can sometimes create unrealistic expectations.

Should-ing and must-ing can be a psychological distortion because it can “deny reality” e.g., I shouldn’t have had so much to drink last night. This is helpful in the sense that it communicates to us that we have exceeded our boundaries, however, saying “shouldn’t” about a past situation can be futile because it cannot be changed.

Overgeneralisation: When we overgeneralise, we take one instance in the past or present, and impose it on all current or future situations. If we say, “You always…” or “Everyone…”, or “I never…” then we are probably overgeneralising.

Labelling: We label ourselves and others when we make global statements based on behaviour in specific situations. We might use this label even though there are many more examples that are not consistent with that label. Labelling is a cognitive distortion whereby we take one characteristic of a person/group/situation and apply it to the whole person/group/situation. Example: “Because I failed a test, I am a failure” or “Because she is frequently late to work, she is irresponsible”.

Emotional Reasoning: This thinking style involves basing your view of situations or yourself on the way you are feeling. For example, the only evidence that something bad is going to happen is that you feel like something bad is going to happen. Emotions and feelings are real however they are not necessarily indicative of objective truth or fact.

Magnification and Minimisation: In this thinking style, you magnify the positive attributes of other people and minimise your own positive attributes. Also known as the binocular effect on thinking. Often it means that you enlarge (magnify) the positive attributes of other people and shrink (minimise) your own attributes, just like looking at the world through either end of the same pair of binoculars.

(CCI, 2008)

Related Post

The Psychology of Gossiping – in a snapshotThe Psychology of Gossiping – in a snapshot

Gossiping is a universal social behaviour that involves the giving and receiving of information about others, generally perceived as having a negative effect on social groups and it is commonly sensationalistic in manner. The psychology of gossiping encompasses various aspects of human behaviour, including social interaction, communication, and interpersonal relationships.

Gossiping serves several psychological functions, such as forming and maintaining social bonds, establishing group norms, and conveying social information. Understanding the psychology of gossiping requires an examination of the underlying motivations, cognitive processes, and social dynamics involved in this behaviour.

One of the primary psychological functions of gossiping is its role in social bonding. According to evolutionary psychologists, gossiping may have evolved as a mechanism for monitoring and regulating social relationships within groups. By sharing information about others, individuals can establish and reinforce alliances, as well as identify potential threats or allies within their social networks. Gossiping also serves as a form of social currency, allowing individuals to exchange information and build rapport with others.

Furthermore, gossiping can be driven by intrinsic motivations related to curiosity and entertainment. People are naturally drawn to stories about others, particularly those involving conflict, romance, or scandal. This inclination toward sensationalistic narratives reflects the human tendency to seek novelty and emotional arousal through storytelling. From a psychological perspective, gossiping can be seen as a means of satisfying these innate cognitive and emotional needs.

In addition to its role in social bonding and entertainment, gossiping serves as a mechanism for transmitting social information and enforcing group norms. Through gossip, individuals communicate expectations and judgements regarding behaviour, values, and social roles within their communities. Gossip can function as a form of informal social control by publicly sanctioning or condemning certain behaviours, thereby influencing the conduct of group members.

The psychology of gossiping involves considerations of ethical and moral implications. While gossip can facilitate social cohesion and information sharing, it can also lead to negative consequences such as reputational damage, interpersonal conflict, disharmony, and breaches of privacy. Understanding the psychological mechanisms underlying gossiping can shed light on the ethical dilemmas associated with this behaviour and inform strategies for promoting responsible communication within social contexts.

Gossiping can indeed be malicious, as it involves spreading rumors or information about others that may be harmful, untrue, or damaging to their reputation. Malicious gossip can have serious consequences for the individuals involved, leading to damaged relationships, loss of trust, and even psychological harm. It is important to understand the impact of malicious gossip and the ethical considerations surrounding the spread of such information.

Malicious gossip is often driven by negative intentions, such as jealousy, resentment, or a desire to harm someone’s reputation. It can take various forms, including spreading false information about an individual’s personal life, career, or character. In some cases, malicious gossip may be used as a tool for bullying or manipulation, with the intent to undermine someone’s social standing or credibility.

The effects of malicious gossip can be far-reaching. It can lead to strained relationships, social ostracism, and damage to one’s professional reputation. In extreme cases, it can even result in legal action if the spread of false information causes tangible harm to an individual’s livelihood or well-being.

In summary, the psychology of gossiping encompasses various psychological functions, including its role in social bonding, entertainment, information transmission, and norm enforcement. By examining the underlying motivations, cognitive processes, and social dynamics involved in gossiping, researchers can gain insights into the complexities of human social behavior and interpersonal communication.

References:

Adler, R., & Proctor II, R. F. (2014). Looking out/looking in (14th ed.). Cengage Learning. (Print)

Dunbar, R.I.M. “Gossip in Evolutionary Perspective.” Review of General Psychology (Print)

Foster E.K., & Campbell W.K. “The Psychology of Gossip: A Review.” Social Psychological Review (Print)

Kniffin K.M., & Wilson D.S. “Evolutionary Perspectives on Gossip.” Social Psychology Quarterly (Print)

Kowalski, R. M., Limber, S. P., & Agatston, P. W. (2012). Cyberbullying: Bullying in the digital age (2nd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. (Print)

Manning, J., & Levine, L. J. (2016). The psychology of social media: Why we like, share, comment and keep coming back. Routledge. (Print)

Robbins M.L., & Karan A. “Gossip: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology (Print)

Salmivalli, C., & Graham-Kevan, N. (Eds.). (2019). Intimate partner violence: New perspectives in research and practice. Routledge. (Print)

Smith, P., & Steffgen, G. (Eds.). (2013). Cyberbullying through the new media: Findings from an international network. Psychology Press. (Print)

Sommerfeld R.D., & Jordan J.J. “The Evolutionary Foundations of Gossip.” Biological Theory (Print)

Men and Emotions: From Repression to Expression published by AIPC (2019)Men and Emotions: From Repression to Expression published by AIPC (2019)

In our previous article (read it here), we asked why men do not seem to express emotion as easily as women do. Was there some pathology, or should we just put the differences down to male-female tendencies? We identified Dr Ron Levant’s notion of “normative male alexithymia” as representative of one side of the controversy: namely, that, yes, men do have a restricted range of emotional expression compared to women, but it’s so pervasive in society that it’s normal (Schexnayder, 2019).

On the other side of the debate were researchers such as James Thompson (2010), who – while acknowledging men’s relatively greater “stoicism” or restriction emotionally – nevertheless insisted that it’s invalid to conflate alexithymia with maleness, especially given that men’s holding back from emotional expression is largely culturally induced. Yet we observed that the issue should be dealt with, given the male-female suicide ratio in Australia, the U.K., and the United States of about 3:1 – and the fact that suicide is on the rise in all three countries.

We concluded that therapy might be able to help, and that is where we go with this article: to a discussion of just how we as mental health professionals might be able to help men deal with an outdated but strongly held socialisation pattern which has impacted their emotional expression, and through that, their capacity for growth, satisfying friendships, and intimate relationships. 

We tackle the question in two parts. First, we share psychologist Barbara Markway’s (2014) take on how to help men out of the double bind that leads to their emotional repression. Then we suggest therapies which might be able to assist.

Deciphering the code

Markway (2014) insists that dismissing men as “the feelingless gender” is not only unhelpful, but also wrong. They just, she says, express their feelings using a secret code: one which even they themselves cannot decipher. Let’s do some translation.

Men convert one feeling into another

Let’s say you’re a guy, and you’ve just found out that a good friend of yours has been cheated in business by her business partner: a business you yourself helped them set up. The cheating transactions will cost your friend thousands, and maybe her whole business. You may erupt volcanically, vowing to help your friend sue the partner for all they are worth, or maybe go threaten the partner within an inch of their life. If you react this way, you are showing anger and not a little pride, which are acceptable “male” emotions to express. Hiding underneath them could be sadness for your friend, and even a shared sense of vulnerability, but these are more “feminine” emotions, which by socialisation you are not “allowed” to express. So you convert them into “male” emotions of anger and pride.

Men may shift their feelings into another domain

Are you male, and basically an exuberant, affectionate sort? Markway claims you may not necessarily let this show in your personal relationships, but on the sports field, lookout; you’ll be hugging, high-fiving, and butt-slapping with the best of them. It’s ok in that domain, she says, for men to express strong feelings of delight (over a goal made, say) and affection.

Men may somatise their feelings

Let’s say now that you’re female, and in an intimate partnership with a guy. You make plans to get away for a holiday, but no sooner have you checked into the five-star hotel at the fabulous beach than he gets a migraine and is out of action for that day at least. What’s going on? Markway observes that, with the structure of work, many men are able to squash down feelings, but when they are away from that structure, such as on weekends or holidays, their emotions and needs surface. Not wanting to acknowledge them, many men will convert strong emotions into physical symptoms, such as headaches or back aches. If asked about it, some men would have the conscious belief that women do want them to show their emotions, but only certain ones, and only in amounts they (the women) can handle. Men who deviate from this are, as we have noted, judged to be poorly adjusted or not “manly enough”, because – at the root of it – they are bucking their whole socialisation model.

Men’s emotional expression can put us all off balance

When men do get in touch with emotions, the result can catch everyone off guard, as it may seem to come “out of the blue” and be overwhelming. In fact, for any of us, when we chronically stuff down feelings, we don’t get the practice of handling strong emotion. When it does come up, then, we are ill-prepared to deal with it. Think, for example, of the person stoically putting up with an in-law criticising their partner, probably repeatedly. At some stage, there will be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back” – just one criticism too many – and the person may unleash a massive emotional response, consisting in part of stored-up feeling from previous violations (adapted from Markway, 2014). 

It’s not that these ways of directing emotion “sideways” are bad, but if a more direct emotional expression is desired, how can we help our male clients escape from the clutches of restrictive socialisation?

Re-setting the code

It’s a big job to help someone move past lifelong “training” in a given direction. In the case where the client is keen to make changes in his way of dealing with emotions (that is, his issues with emotional expression are ego-dystonic), psychodynamic therapies and the social constructionist narrative and solution-focused therapies may be hugely helpful; we briefly highlight these, while acknowledging that other therapies, such as motivational interviewing and CBT, may also have a role to play. In the case where the man is dragged into session because his partner is experiencing huge frustration but the man himself does not see that he has a problem (that is: his issues with emotional expression are ego-syntonic), we can look hopefully to emotionally focused therapy, although family therapy and other couples modes, such as imago therapy, likely have much to offer.

We put the psychodynamic therapies right up front in our discussion. Why? If, as is generally claimed, men’s emotional responses are because of socialisation and/or attachment processes, then that therapy may be most efficacious which can take the client back to the root of those processes: the early childhood years when all of us – for better or worse – began to be socialised into our respective “tribes”.

Jung’s psychoanalysis

Carl Jung espoused the essential wholeness of all human beings, but believed that most of us have lost touch with important parts of ourselves. Life’s goal of individuation demands that we give expression to the various components – often conflicted – of our psyche. These typically repressed components cause psychological disturbance until they are made conscious. Each person has a story and when mental illness occurs, it is because the personal story has been denied or rejected; healing comes when the person recovers and owns his or her own personal story (Sonoma.edu, n.d.).

The story will include symbolic archetypes. A man could, for example, be modelling after the archetype of the Invincible Warrior, which could express part of who he is, but he may have repressed the complementary Nurturing Earthmother part of himself (due to that part being discouraged culturally). The task in therapy, then, would be to help the man discover his Nurturing Earthmother side. The two sides, harmonised together, could transcend either archetype and help such a client come into greater wholeness (Geist, 2013).

Psychosynthesis

Similarly, Psychosynthesis, a transpersonal psychology, asks clients to work with body, feelings, and mind to synthesise, or integrate, the various “selves” inside them into a harmonious whole. Psychosynthesis postulates “subpersonalities”: parts of ourselves which constellate and act out in order to meet needs or to defend against needs which seem unable to be met (Assagioli, 1965). Thus, the same man – in angst because of being constrained from tender, loving expressions or emotional sentimentality – may discover an angry subpersonality within himself: one which, he later discovers, is in conflict with its opposite number, a “Sentimental Sally” subpersonality which, while weaker, nevertheless is driving the man’s behaviour from underground because it is not acknowledged; its needs for permission to express a softer side will continue to cause it to act out in some way until those needs are met.

Thus in this mode, therapy consists of finding out what conspired to prevent the man expressing his softer side and working out how it can find expression appropriately in the man’s life. Sentimental Sally also has to work in with the angry subpersonality (as the two will vie for dominance), and both must cooperate with the man’s greater, whole psyche. Somewhere along the way of this, the man is likely to recall early events which shaped his way of being: for example, leaning into his mother for a cuddle when upset and being pushed out and told, “Big boys don’t cry”.

Schema therapy

In some ways, schema therapy would seem to combine the best of several worlds. From its psychodynamic predecessors, it inherits its basic notions that mental health troubles arise from early needs not being met. Five areas of basic human needs are outlined, such as for secure attachment and autonomy/competence. Frustration of these engenders 18 domains of early maladaptive schemas (EMS), from mistrust and abandonment to emotional inhibition (Young, n.d.). The schemas are perpetuated in a person’s life, say practitioners, through cognitive distortions, self-defeating life patterns, and unhelpful schema coping styles, which cause others to respond negatively, thus reinforcing the schema(s) (Young, 2012a). 

In the psyche’s effort to heal, individuals set up relationships similar to the unsatisfying ones which originally engendered the EMS, and thus the unhealthy object relations which stultify growth are continued. The therapist can ask the “lonely child” or “angry child” in a person to set up dialogue with the “healthy adult” in order to heal the overcompensating, avoidance, or surrendering responses that perpetuate a given schema (Young, 2012b). From cognitive behavioural therapy (schema therapy’s other “parent”), there are therapeutic interventions to reframe the cognitive distortions: irrational thoughts are collected in journals/diaries, for example, which are then refuted through rational replacement thoughts.

Narrative

Narrative therapy assumes no single absolute reality, but that realities are constructed by individuals, families, and cultures, and then communicated through language. They are organised and maintained by stories. What is true for us may not be true for another person or even for ourselves at another point in time. In the narrative, social constructionist paradigm, there are no essential truths and we cannot know “reality”; we can only interpret experience. The narrative mind frame, unlike empirical work searching for facts, exhorts us to bring forth our novelist selves. This means that we can understand our client’s story from many perspectives. The work of narrative therapy is to elicit various experiences of the client’s whole self, determine which selves (parts of the client) are preferred in the new narrative, and then support the growth and development of those new selves and their accompanying stories (Ackerman, 2017; Archer & McCarthy, 2007). 

Thus, if a male client has experienced being emotionally stifled in the interest of becoming “manly”, he can be helped to understand how such definitions of masculinity are inherently constructed by society rather than being empirically true. He can be helped to, first, find “sparkling moments” when the issue of being emotionally constricted was not as much of a problem, and then to find ways to “grow” the self – and/or the moments – that were less restrained, more inclusive of perhaps a softer, more emotionally permissive self. In doing this, he is re-storying himself and re-constructing the “reality” that he and those around him will live about what constitutes appropriate masculinity. 

Solution-focused therapy

Like its narrative cousin, solution-focused therapy emanates from a post-modernist, social constructionist paradigm, meaning that it shares with narrative therapy the understanding that there is no such thing as an objective, absolute reality. Rather, reality is co-constructed, so the “truth” of a client’s life is negotiable within a social context; fixed, objective “truths” are unattainable. Clients’ lives have many truths (O’Connell, 2006). Just as narrative therapy tries to elicit the “sparkling moments” in which the problem wasn’t as much of a problem, so too solution-focused therapy enquires into what a miracle would look like if the problem were to be “fixed” or to go away; in fact, much of the therapy has this present or future focus. 

The therapist thus elicits the client’s preferred future. Suggestions for change are based on clients’ conception of their lives without their symptoms (i.e., the healthiest, most empowering vision of themselves and their lives that clients can generate). Changes the client makes will have a ripple effect, generating behaviour to change the whole system (Seligman, 2006; Archer & McCarthy, 2007). Thus a solution-focused intervention could see a male client generating a vision of himself as a fully expressive man living in a community which accepts both his “traditional” male side and also his more emotionally liberated self. The therapy would be likely to search for times and places when this had already occurred.

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT)

Obviously in cases where it is the partner expressing angst and the man sees no problem in his flatter emotional demeanour, the therapies which may be more helpful are those which work with both partners to see how to accommodate both sets of needs and behaviours.

EFT is an empirically supported humanistic (couples) treatment that includes elements of experiential, person-centred, constructivist, and systems theory, but is firmly rooted in attachment theory. It is based on the concept that distress in intimate relationships is often related to deeply rooted fears of abandonment, as an individual’s emotional response to these fears may be harmful to relationship partners and put strain on a relationship. The insecurity may show up as partners asking questions such as, “Do you really love me?” “Am I important to you?” “Are you committed to our relationship?” “Can I trust you?” When intimate partners are not able to meet each other’s emotional needs, they may become stuck in negative patterns of interaction driven by ineffective attempts to get each other to understand their emotions and related needs. 

EFT reinforces positive bonds that already exist, and fosters the creation of a secure, loving bond between partners where there is not one. It does this through expanding and reorganising important emotional responses, which help to shift each partner’s position of interaction while initiating new cycles of interaction that are more beneficial for the relationship. In the non-judgmental environment of session, participants are able to contact and express deep emotions and experiences. In voicing their deepest concerns and conflicts without criticism, they are able to address them and move on to more collaborative, productive behaviours (GoodTherapy.org, 2018). 

Thus if the female partner is experiencing the despair of little emotional validation from a man who does not readily show emotion, he can be helped to see how, if he learns to do that in a way that is meaningful to her, it can benefit not only her but also the whole relationship. She can be assisted to recognise the ways in which he does show emotion – albeit “sideways”, such as Markway (2014) describes above – and to learn to accept how he is without criticism, asking directly at times for her needs to be met. EFT helps people learn to interact with their partners in more loving, responsive, and emotionally connected ways, which can result in a more secure attachment and – we say – greater freedom of emotional expression.

Summary

It’s easy to agree that men generally do not show as many emotions, or as intense of emotions, as their female counterparts. What we have seen to be more difficult is assessing whether a given man is pathological or not in the apparent emotional holding back. Without judging that, this article has demonstrated that there are several options for response if a man’s emotional expression seems greatly inhibited. One is to understand the ways in which men “convert” emotions: to other emotions, to other domains, or to their bodies. The other option is to encourage the man – either alone or with his frustrated partner – to attend therapeutically to the roots of the inhibition, which are likely to reside in insecure early attachments and/or socialisation against expression.

References

  1. Ackerman, C. (2017). 19 narrative therapy techniques, exercises, & interventions (+ PDF worksheets). Positive Psychology Program. Retrieved on 10 October, 2017, from: Website.     
  2. Archer, J., & McCarthy, C.J. (2007). Theories of counselling & psychotherapy: Contemporary applications. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Education, Inc. 
  3. Assagioli, R. (1965). Psychosynthesis: A manual of principles and techniques. New York and Buenos Aires: Hobbs, Dorman & Company.
  4. Geist, M. (2013). Reflections on psychology, culture, and life: The Jung page. Cgjungpage.org. Retrieved on 22 July, 2019, from: Website.
  5. GoodTherapy. (2018). Emotionally focused therapy. Goodtherapy.org. Retrieved on 22 July, 2019, from: Website.
  6. Markway, B. (2014). How to crack the code of men’s feelings. Psychology Today. Retrieved on 17 July, 2019, from: Website.    
  7. O’Connell, B. (2006). Solution-focused therapy. In Feltham, C., & Horton, I., Eds. (2006). The SAGE handbook of counselling and psychotherapy. London: SAGE Publications.
  8. Schexnayder, C. (2019). The man who couldn’t feel. Brain World. Retrieved on 17 July, 2019, from: Website.
  9. Seligman, L. (2006). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy: Systems, strategies, and skills, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
  10. Sonoma.edu. (n.d.). Handout on Carl Gustav Jung. Sonoma University. Retrieved on 13 November, 2018, from: Website.
  11. Thompson, J. (2010). Normative male alexithymia. In search of fatherhood. Retrieved on 18 July, 2019, from: Website.
  12. Young, J.E. (2012a). Early maladaptive schemas. Schema therapy. Retrieved on 8 June, 2015, from: Website.    
  13. Young, J.E. (2012b). Common maladaptive coping responses. Schema therapy. Retrieved on 8 June, 2016, from: Website.    
  14. Young, J.E. (n.d.). Schema therapy: Conceptual model. Retrieved on 8 June, 2016, from:Website.

What Alcohol does to the Human BodyWhat Alcohol does to the Human Body

1. Alcohol (ethanol) enters the body through the oral cavity (i.e., the mouth). The inner surface of the oral cavity is mucosal tissue to keep the cavity lubricated and it is capable of absorbing alcohol into the bloodstream. This absorption is considered “insignificant”.

2. Alcohol flows down the oesophagus to the stomach where 10-20% of ethanol will be absorbed into the bloodstream. Alcohol enters the bloodstream via the mucosal tissue of the stomach wall, and travels straight to the liver. Alcohol can take 5-10 minutes to reach the brain because of the ethanol absorbed via the stomach. If you drink alcohol on an empty stomach, the pyloric sphincter [gateway between the stomach and the small intestine] is going to be more open, and the alcohol is going to immediately enter the small intestine after reaching the stomach. If food is also present in the stomach, the sphincter will open and close at a rate that allows food to enter the small intestine gradually, therefore if alcohol is also in the stomach, it will gradually enter the small intestine.

3. Alcohol flows through the pyloric sphincter into the small intestines where most alcohol absorption occurs. Human intestines are attached the to the posterior abdominal wall by a fold of membrane called the mesentery. Alcohol is absorbed into the mesentery via veins and then travels to the liver.

4. One function of the liver is that it detoxifies toxic elements into non-toxic elements before passing it to the heart and then the rest of the body. The liver sustains considerable “abuse” from a variety of toxic elements and chemicals, and therefore it needs to be capable of full regeneration. NOTE: Many diseases and exposures can harm it beyond the point of repair. These include cancer, hepatitis, certain medication overdoses, and fatty liver disease.

In the liver, ethanol is met with an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase and converts ethanol into acetaldehyde [ass-eh-tal-de-hide]. This chemical is more toxic than ethanol, so the liver uses another enzyme to convert acetaldehyde into acetate, which is non-toxic to the human body. NOTE: the amount of alcohol consumed + the timeframe it is consumed [and a variety of other factors] will influence the ability of the liver to effectively convert acetaldehyde all the way into acetate. The liver can’t handle the entire workload effectively therefore ethanol (before being metabolised) will go straight from the liver to the bloodstream and make its way directly to the heart.

NOTE: Genetics will play a role! Certain people do not produce the liver enzymes in enough quantity to properly breakdown ethanol.

5. Blood leaves the liver through the hepatic veins. The hepatic veins carry blood to the inferior vena cava—the largest vein in the body—to the right side of the heart. The heart will beat and send the incoming blood to the lungs to oxygenate and expel carbon dioxide as we breath out. This is how ethanol can be on your breath. Inside the lungs, at the very end of the bronchioles, are hollow air sacs called alveoli where there is a gas exchange. Ethanol evaporates through capillaries into the air sacs and exhaled out of the body. Breathalysers can detect the quantity of ethanol in a person’s system based on the quantity of ethanol in our breath.

6. Not all the ethanol will expel from the body via the breath. The rest will flow back to the heart, with newly oxygenated blood, and then get pumped all the way up to the brain and around the body. NOTE: Ethanol is water soluble. It will be distributed to every cell in the body except bone and fatty tissue [some will enter fat cells but not easily]. Ethanol will interact with every other cell i.e., every organ, gland, nerve, muscle etc.

7. Ethanol will affect and compromise protein synthesis inside muscle tissue. Therefore, if you have been training at the gym, running, swimming etc., your muscles will not effectively be able to repair.

8. Once ethanol has reached the brain, it will cross the blood-brain barrier and begin to affect chemical messengers [neurotransmitters] in the grey matter of the brain. It affects serotonin, dopamine, gamma-amino-butyric-acid (aka GABA), glutamate, endorphins etc. The person will experience pleasure, euphoria, lowered inhibitions [related to dopamine], lowered cognitive ability (e.g., decision making/problem solving, emotion regulation) and lowered coordination and reflexes.

The more ethanol ingested, the more dopamine is secreted and communicated between neurons (i.e., nerve cells). One of dopamine’s functions is to make you feel pleasure or ‘rewarded’ for doing things that are good for humans, hence, from an evolutionary perspective, we are likely to do them again to help us thrive in our environment and social world. Dopamine is secreted when we:

  • eat healthy foods (but also recently developed processed foods that are high in sugar and salt)
  • exercise
  • achieve goals
  • be productive (e.g., finish a task like cleaning, cooking, work-related tasks)
  • master new skills (e.g., learning an instrument or a new talent), and
  • have positive and stimulating social interactions

Ethanol influences so much dopamine secretion and communication that the brain becomes unable to make responsible decisions cognitively. The simultaneous experience of euphoria and lowered cognitive ability means we are more likely to be “happy” about making irresponsible decisions.

Increased dopamine is how drinking alcohol “blocks” unpleasant emotions like fear, stress, anxiety, and insecurity. When we don’t feel these unpleasant, yet necessary, emotions we will behave in ways that are dangerous, abnormal, potentially embarrassing, and generally problematic.

Another significant brain region affected by ethanol is the hypothalamus and the pituitary glad [together known as the hypothalamic-pituitary axis]. These structures control the entire hormonal system. The hypothalamus monitors the body, and it will send instructions to the pituitary gland based on information it receives from the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is aware that ethanol is flooding the brain and it starts adjusting the secretion of hormones via the pituitary gland.

One of the instructions it gives the pituitary gland is to start modulating the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol (i.e., stress hormone) and epinephrine and norepinephrine (i.e., adrenaline).

Now, our cognitive capacity is diminished, inhibitions are lowered, and we will experience a rush of stress hormones and adrenaline coursing through the body. Cortisol and adrenaline will provide a boost of energy. It will increase the heart rate, blood pressure, body sweat, sugar levels in the bloodstream, and enhances the brain’s ability to use glucose. Glucose is a “fuel” source for brain functioning, including the generation of neurotransmitters. Behaviourally, we can see this in children when we say they are “hyperactive” because they’ve ingested too much sugar.

The pituitary gland will also slow the secretion of anti-diuretic hormone (aka. vasopressin). A diuretic is something that makes us urinate. If the anti-diuretic hormone (also called vasopressin) slows down, then we won’t be “holding on” to water as effectively, hence we begin to urinate more. People call this “breaking the seal”.

9. South of the body, blood is pumped into the kidneys via the renal artery which spreads through the renal cortex. The blood is then filtered into urine and expelled from the body. The lowered anti-diuretic hormone will dilate (become wider/bigger or more open) blood vessels in the kidneys which means more blood gets passed through and filtered, but it also means we lose a lot more body water which leads to dehydration. Vasopressin is essential in the control of osmotic balance, blood pressure regulations, and kidney function, therefore, when vasopressin is lowered, we are losing essential water and minerals/electrolytes. Electrolytes are involved in urination because the kidneys need them to make the process of filtering blood more efficient.

The loss of water and electrolytes will contribute to a hangover. Electrolytes play a role in cellular water absorption so if we are losing more water than we are bringing in, and we are losing the electrolytes that support the absorption of water, we become dehydrated very quickly.

10. The Hangover

Symptoms: nausea, fatigue, diarrhoea, vomiting, paranoia, anxiety, anorexia (i.e., loss of appetite), increased thirst, muscle weakness, irritability, sweating, increased blood pressure, and headache.

The exact cause of a “hangover” is not yet known however variables affecting the hangover are:

  • individual differences such as sex, size, body fat, genetics etc
  • lack of sleep
  • general health
  • drinking behaviour e.g., frequency, duration, quantity
  • food intake before and during
  • water intake before and after
  • your body’s ability to metabolise alcohol i.e., excessive amounts of acetaldehyde due to fewer enzymes to metabolise alcohol in the liver before entering the bloodstream
  • general behaviour while drinking e.g., poly-substance use, dancing, sexual activity, risk-taking behaviours etc.

Strategies for Controlled Drinking

  • Setting personal drinking limits and sticking to it
  • Alternating alcoholic drinks with soft drinks i.e., one alcoholic drink then a water, soft drink, or juice
  • Have a meal before drinking
  • Switching to low alcohol drinks
  • Having regular alcohol-free days/weeks/months
  • Identifying high risk situations for heavy drinking and creating a management plan

Engaging in alternative activities to drinking