Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Liquid Courage

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 3, 2013

As we enter into 2013, the party season winds down, and the social demands diminish. I am left to reflect on how people connect with one another, and how alcohol, for some, provides much needed disinhibition in order to allow for a certain amount of emotional intimacy. The fear of rejection is so powerful, for some, that talking to people, especially those that are not part of daily existence, can be frightening. Yet, with a glass of wine, social ease can be  available. This intrigues me. Does the alcohol suppress the frontal lobe, such that a more authentic self comes through? Would Freud say that the wine diminishes the harsh superego which judges every word? Or, is there a social pressure to drink, just to be one of the gang?

Desiree, a fifty-year old patient (fictional, of course), said she could not bring herself to go to her best friend’s holiday party because her dog passed away three months ago, and so she “just could not face anyone.” The grief, I imagine, took away her access to her social courage. She did not imagine alcohol could fix this problem. Her melancholia turned her inward. She knew her friend would be deeply hurt if she did not go, but she also knew that this time of mourning, was a time for the self to trump the friendship. She felt guilty for not going, but she also felt entitled to take time for herself. If I think to myself that her child died, then I am sympathetic to Desiree’s perspective. Desiree does not forecast that going to this holiday party will not only support her dear friend, but in turn, she will feel loved and supported as well. By contrast, Desiree sees the party as a drain of her already depleted self. This mourning period is no time to muster up courage; she convinces herself. I continue to be intrigued. Liquid courage only goes so far.

6 Responses to “Liquid Courage”

  1. Jon said

    There is an emotional ambivalence that the fictional Desiree feels – the emotional drain of mourning and the emotional need of connecting with friends. Both are real and both drive her actions.

    It is good that Desiree chose not to imagine alcohol could fix her problems, as it might have only complicated the issues at hand. I will leave it to the professionals to tell me the about potential mechanisms of biochemical suppression of frontal lobes and its physiological effects on the superego. However, I recall that a wise friend has said to me that he will never drink when he is sad. I see this as another way to say that “Liquid courage only goes so far.”

    • Thanks, Jon. You clearly explain the competing forces that Desiree is struggling with. How she resolved the issue in her mind was very interesting to me.

      I think the relationship between alcohol and emotional problem solving is quite complex. One has to know one’s ability to control one’s impulses, along with analyzing how alcohol impacts one’s mental state. Each person, each brain, is unique in this way. Thanks Again.

  2. Shelly said

    Welcome back. I don’t imagine that anyone drinks to solve problems but rather to escape from one’s problems even for a short while. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “Wow, my bank account is empty and my creditors are calling. Gimme a beer and by tomorrow all my problems will be solved.” I have heard, though, “I’ve had a hard day at work, I need a drink.” You’re right though that drinking is definitely a social issue, but I think that’s a very geographic attribute. In the US and Europe, people go out for drinks; in the Middle East, people go out for coffee and tea.

    • Thank you.
      I am not sure that I agree that alcohol, in small quantities, cannot be used to solve problems. A bit of a relaxant, alcohol can decrease inhibitions and thereby allow for relaxation and enjoyment, and thereby enable a person to ultimately have more energy to deal with life’s struggles. I do agree with you though, that culture is a large component of alcohol use, and as such, there is a social pressure to drink in the US and Europe. Thanks Again.

  3. Ashana M said

    I do find it surprising how much social pressure there is to drink among adults. I think people feel guilty for drinking around a non-drinker–or maybe just afraid they’ll do something stupid, and there will be a sober witness to remember it. I don’t drink very often, but I do find in a crisis the first thing I think of is usually a cup of tea. Or, failing that, a nap. There’s nothing a nice cup of tea and some sleep can’t solve.

    I am on the other hand puzzled that the party seems to be so important to her friend. Does a party really matter that much? Maybe Desiree is tired of people who see their own needs as so important that they are hurt when others don’t meet them.

    Anyway, I thought this video on alcohol’s effect on the brain might interest you:
    http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/11/27/your-brain-on-alcohol-animated/

    • Shirah said

      Hi Ashana M,
      Thanks. I think when people throw parties, their narcissism is on the line. Going to the party is affirming that the relationship is important. Although, as you say, this might not always be true, often times it is. The act of an invitation is an act of generosity, which when not appreciated, can be hurtful. No doubt, though, that the friend’s narcissism is shining through. As with so many things though, it is how Desiree bows out from the invitation which is critical, not that she bows out. Thanks also for the video.

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