What happens to the psyche during prolonged consumption?
Fall: Alcohol has a direct effect on the brain’s reward system. The brain learns to know the drug alcohol as a reward, relaxation and activity. This system reacts very sensitively and can be reversed through regular consumption or through the use of alcohol in the sense of a certain function to be fulfilled. Without much notice, this can lead to a dependency disease.
According to studies, consumption increased mainly between the end of February and the end of March. Can you develop alcohol addiction within a month?
Herbst: There is no general answer to that. Whether a glass of wine at the end of the day or a bottle of beer to kick off the evening: many people reward themselves with alcohol. But not only the amount, but also the regularity can lead to dependence. However, addiction has to do with many factors such as insoluble burdens, personality problems, addiction structures within the family of origin, but also with unattainable demands on oneself or incomplete developmental steps in childhood. Loss of meaning in life can be a factor, but also habituation through fun.
Many people use alcohol to hide their fears and worries. Does the feeling persist even with regular consumption?
Fall: Regular consumption leads to habituation and habituation leads to more drinking. The purpose for which alcohol was originally used, namely to block out fears and worries, remains, but you need more and more alcohol to actually achieve this result. The focus is then on the negative effects of alcohol on the psyche and body.
When can one speak of an alcohol problem?
Herbst: We distinguish risky consumption from addiction. The first signs are that thoughts revolve around alcohol intake daily and often. This can concern the procurement of alcohol or the concealment of consumption. In addition, there can be a lack of drive and a lack of interest in social contacts, in the family or professional environment.
Is it possible to get rid of a beginning addiction without help?
Herbst: Yes, especially when it is first risky consumption without addiction. The transition is fluid, however, and there are no criteria that reliably tell you, “Warning, you’re already on the brink”. In any case, professional help within the framework of our addiction support systems (advice centers, doctors, therapists) is low-threshold, which means that everyone can take advantage of it. Employers also often have an addiction counselor in-house. Advice would always be helpful. There you also get a better insight into your own condition.
Do you expect the increased consumption of alcohol in the past few months with a rush of patients?
Herbst: Since patients repeatedly cite the loneliness caused by the lockdown and the fear of the economic consequences as an argument in favor of higher alcohol consumption, it is easy to imagine an impending increase in patient numbers.