I recently read James Hamblin’s online article called ‘Wine and Exercise: A Promising Combination’.* Hamblin (who is a medical doctor) tells us that ‘many studies in the past have found that wine drinkers have healthier hearts than abstainers, but the current trial – called In Vino Veritas (In Wine Truth) – is one of the first studies to actually introduce wine into people’s lives and track its effects on their bodies’.
The results of this study, indicates that moderate wine consumption combined with exercise significantly improves cholesterol levels after one year. This may be promising news for heart-disease research, but is it an endorsement for the consumption of alcohol? And, since the health risks associated with excessive use of alcohol are well documented and cannot be ignored; how can it be suggested that ‘having a few drinks’ is inherently good (or bad)?
We often see people in our clinic who are confused and sometimes worried about their use of alcohol. ‘How much is too much?’ or ‘I’m going through a stressful time and seem to be drinking more often than I used to, do I have a drink problem?
Since psychoanalysis doesn’t consider that biological or genetic factors are solely responsible for making some more susceptible to dependency than others, we don’t adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach. We don’t consider any substance or activity to be inherently problematic; rather it’s our relationship to these substances or activities that can cause difficulties.
Psychoanalysts understand that there is a life force that drives us. It’s the source of our motivations, wishes, hopes, and fears; let’s call this amalgam desire. Desires are often ambivalent, pulling us in multiple clashing directions and forcing an unique approach by each individual; stress, tension and anxiety are expressed in multiple ways – appearing as symptoms.
Symptoms are neither ‘bad’ nor ‘good’, but something to be addressed when or if they become a source of concern. They cause additional stress when they aren’t working properly. It’s at this stage that people may increase their alcohol consumption, leading to further anxiety and more questions.
Psychoanalysis is called the ‘talking cure’ because it emphasises diction; the vocalising of the story surrounding a problem. Rather than directly trying to eliminate the substance (or object) of ad-diction, we maintain that the most sustainable way of alleviating stress and anxiety is by addressing the underlying, clashing desires that produce our symptoms.
Taking responsibility for our symptoms can be difficult and for this reason psychoanalysis may not be for everyone. But, what it does allow us is the possibility of both asking and answering ourselves, ‘Is this working, or not?’