The Psychology of Alcohol

For many clients, alcohol can be a touchy subject.

It serves a purpose (and sometimes more than one) that is deeply engrained in daily coping mechanisms, and tied up with identity and mindset. Because of this, you need to take care when discussing it – and understand the many layers of complexity that a client may have in their relationship with it. It’s only once you understand why a client may be attached to alcohol as part of their daily or weekly life that you can offer the right support to help them make change.

Stress relief

Alcohol is a sedative and depressant that affects the central nervous system. It can reduce anxiety (in the short term – in the long term it can actually make anxiety worse) and distract people from what’s bothering them.

Social life

Alcohol plays a massive part in social interaction in many cultures. It makes us feel relaxed and uninhibited; it’s also a big part of the ‘ritual’ of many social occasions (think making a toast or going out for a few beers with the lads).


For many, alcohol is tied up with their very understanding of who they are. Our personalities are the result of accumulated habits. If we are the ‘type of person’ who likes to curl up on the sofa with a bottle of wine and a book every night, then suggesting that we cut down alcohol can feel like a really scary change to the essence of what makes us, ‘us’.


Alcohol can also play a part in people’s evening routine, helping them relax and unwind, then drop off to sleep. As we discussed in the previous section alcohol actually has a detrimental effect on sleep quality, with regular use unbalancing the parasympathetic nervous system and making it very difficult for us to ‘switch off’ without its chemical input.