Lo♥︎ing Legal Life: Drinking alcohol and staying well

This week Systemic Coach Zita Tulyahikayo and Barrister and NLP Master Practitioner James Pereira QC discuss the role of alcohol in the legal profession and what steps can be taken by those who want to manage their relationship with alcohol.

Without doubt, many people enjoy a drink, and lawyers are conspicuous among them.  Drinking alcohol is perfectly lawful and socially acceptable, so in one sense there is nothing inconsistent with being a professional who enjoys a drink.  For many, a drink can be one of life’s little pleasures. A tipple here and a nip there sweep those troubles away and make life light and gay.

In general we mostly tend to think of problematic drinking as being somebody else’s problem. Indeed that is the beauty of drinking: it diminishes awareness of self, it blunts the sword that might leave us asking. Culturally, drinking is encouraged to the detriment of our national identity – we are ‘The nation of alcoholics in denial’.

Zita Tulyahikayo
Zita Tulyahikayo

The truth is alcohol is a worldwide problem. From a nutritional perspective it is very easy for a human being to develop a problem with alcohol. Alcohol is a fascinating compound it is a high –energy molecule. It can provide the human body with so much energy when chemically broken down that the body can actually run on alcohol alone. No doubt if you want your mind and body to purr like a Jaguar then this is not the kind of fuel you want to put in it.

It is a strange irony that the people drawn to the legal profession, those who believe themselves to be the best and the brightest, are the same people who are most likely to use alcohol frequently as fuel for their body. Alcohol is literally and metaphorically cheap fuel and it will rapidly deplete your body’s supply of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Zinc, magnesium, copper, iron and B – complex are vital to the healthy functioning of your brain cells, nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system.

It is not long before a vicious cycle comes into play. With the depletion of nutrients in the body from consuming alcohol, the body starts to feel lethargic, to override the lethargy the body craves other low-grade fuel to redress the balance, coffee, fried foods, carbohydrates, more alcohol and so it goes on. Before long you are easily drinking at least one glass of wine every other day or bingeing on for or five glasses at the end of the week. And this is how it has been for hundreds of years and on it will go until we understand our relationship with alcohol and the real impact it has on our lives professionally, personally and economically.

James Pereira QC
James Pereira QC

Alcohol is a drug for the Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. Most of people who drink alcohol are drinking it to make life seemingly bearable; to create a tentative sense of belonging with those they are drinking with, work colleagues, new friends and so on. Alcohol provides a lift. The only other way to get this kind of lift, is to develop your self confidence and then give your body a chance to rest and recover, which might also involve experiencing a sense of despair (withdrawal) as the mind and body repairs itself from the effects of alcohol.

Another significant side effect of consuming alcohol is that we are more inclined to draw negative conclusions about life. As happy and smiley as alcohol might make you on the night, it is a depressive. So whatever negative feelings you were inadvertently using the alcohol to suppress or run away from will become even bigger monsters under the bed in the morning. In reality the shift to negative thoughts will be quite subtle, regardless they will permeate and affect you on multiple levels.

To counteract this effect it can be helpful to keep some uplifting books around you to remind you of the great, the good and the wonderful in life. It may be useful to work with a professional, counselor, therapist, rabbi or coach to explore underlying issues that trigger that itch that it seems only a drink can fix. Beyond the celebratory and the festive, try to discern what uncomfortable feeling or mood you are trying to alter or reward artificially. Remember, you are more powerful than you think.

What are some of the signs that alcohol might be a problem for you?

The following checklist is published by the US National Institute of Health to indicate the circumstances when drinking could become a problem, depending on the number and severity of events identified. The list may appear quite sobering.

In the past year, have you ever:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — caused job troubles, or often interfered with taking care of your home or family?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once been arrested, been held at a police station, or had other legal problems because of your drinking?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?

What practical steps can you take to manage your relationship with alcohol?

  • Keep track: Keep track of how much you drink. Find a way that works for you, like entering notes in a mobile phone. Making note of each drink before you drink it may help you slow down when needed.
  • Set goals: Decide how many days a week you want to drink and how many drinks you’ll have on those days. It’s a good idea to have some days when you don’t drink.
  • Pace and space: When you do drink, pace yourself. Sip slowly. Have no more than one standard drink with alcohol per hour. Have “drink spacers”—make every other drink a non-alcoholic one, such as water, soda, or juice.
  • Find alternatives: If drinking has occupied a lot of your time, then fill free time by developing new, healthy activities, hobbies, and relationships, or renewing ones you’ve missed. If you have counted on alcohol to be more comfortable in social situations, manage moods, or cope with problems, then seek other, healthy ways to deal with those areas of your life.
  • Avoid “triggers.” What triggers your urge to drink? If certain people or places make you drink even when you don’t want to, try to avoid them. If certain activities, times of day, or feelings trigger the urge, plan something else to do instead of drinking. If drinking at home is a problem, keep little or no alcohol there.
  • Know your “no.” Have a polite, convincing “no, thanks” ready. The faster you can say no to offers, the less likely you are to give in. If you hesitate, it allows you time to think of an excuse to drink.

The bottom line

The incidence of problem drinking and the culture associated with alcohol has important implications for law firms as employers and the leadership role of more senior members within a firm. The profession as a whole must adapt and reflect more ecological thinking if they are to attract and retain talent and reflect the diverse values of modern society.

Figures released by the Office of National Statistics in 2017 showed that more than a quarter of 16-24 year olds do not drink at all, and the prevalence of tee-totalism within the wider population is markedly lower among white respondents (16 per cent) compared to all other ethnic groups (56 per cent).

These are sobering statistics for any forward thinking profession. Sustaining a successful legal career is challenging enough as it is; why make it harder for yourself?

The authors welcome feedback from anyone concerned with the issues raised in their writing, and are also interested in hearing from anyone with suggestions for future articles. You can reach them at zita@lifetherapywithzita.com and on Twitter @LifeTherapyZita and at james.pereiraQC@ftbchambers.co.uk and on Twitter @JamesPereiraQC.

The full Loving Legal Life series can be found here.