For our third week, we will be talking about substance abuse
during the Au Pair program, focusing particularly on alcohol
. The word “abuse” might sound very extreme, but in this case it is referring to the misuse
of something, most specifically of a substance that can deeply harm you if used improperly.
Alcohol as a coping mechanism
Drinking alcohol can be used in different contexts and for different reasons:
as a way to unwind after work, to get away from the stress of your everyday life;
in social settings, as a way to lubricate conversation and help people feel less shy or awkward;
when somebody is feeling down, alcohol can be what they resort to, as a means to alleviate their mental state and forget temporarily about their problems.
All these situations can be problematic to a certain extent, as they embody alcohol as a coping mechanism. But what is a coping mechanism and why is alcohol an unhealthy one? Generally speaking, a coping mechanism is a compulsion or a habit that helps a person deal with something that is particularly hard for them to face.
Coping mechanisms can be of different types, and they depend entirely from the person itself. Alcohol is a very common one, as it offers some short term benefits: better mood, increased self-confidence, improved social skills and generally less inhibited behaviour. This is because alcohol slows down your central nervous system, making you feel relaxed, less judgemental towards yourself and others and more euphoric.
Unfortunately though, there are more downsides to this than advantages. Indeed, even if these effects can seem great, there are many others that come after, or sometimes even during, alcohol consumption. Loss of memory, delayed reactions, slurred speech, slowed-down senses, nausea and vomiting, change of moods, balance difficulty are only but some of the other short term effects that are not positive.
In addition to this, it is important to know that alcohol is what is considered a “depressant”. This means that by slowing down the activity of your brain, when the effects of the substance wear off, you are left with what is known as a “hangover”: your body reacts to the absence of alcohol and blood sugar by showing unpleasant physiological and psychological effects. These could include headache, drowsiness, fatigue, anxiety
, nausea, sweating, sensitivity to strong light and sounds and many others.
Alcohol also has some potentially very negative effects on a long-term level as well: it can affect your health, relationships with the people around you, your lifestyle and even your career. And worse of all, it can lead to dependency, psychological but also physical.
Alcohol abuse during the Au Pair program
But what does all of this have to do with the Au Pair program? Let’s have a quick look at the possible causes of using alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Do any of these factors ring a bell? As we have seen in the other articles of our mental health awareness month
, these are all very common feelings amongst Au Pairs.
It is normal to feel stressed out after a day spent with kids and sometimes all you want to do is have a glass of wine at the end of the day.
In most situations though, the social factor plays a bigger role: loneliness, social anxiety, boredom, homesickness
and wanting to have fun are all aspects that can bring you to drinking way more than you should. You might think that it’s fine to do that for one or two nights of the week, but in the long run, it might have consequences that are far more serious than a hangover.
Damage to your health: even if drinking, especially in your late teens - early 20s, doesn’t seem to have any effects on your body, and after a few hours of being hangover you feel fine again, it is important to know that your body registers everything you do. You might not realise it at first but, by drinking alcohol, you are slowly weakening your brain and your body. Moreover, drinking regularly will build up your tolerance for the substance, which means that everytime you will need to drink more in order to have the same effects. This is very dangerous, as it could eventually lead to dependency, and even addiction.
Damage to your relationships: the effects of alcohol can make you act differently than you normally would. You are less inhibited, which means that you might say and do things under the influence that you might regret the day after. This can affect your relationship with friends, family and, in the case of Au Pairs, your Host Family. Being hangover could prevent you from doing your job in the best way and your Host Family will notice.
Not actually getting rid of problems: if you’re trying to deal with some difficult emotions or situations, this might not be the right way to go about it. Your problems might seem gone while you’re drunk, but once the effects are over, reality will still be there for you to deal with. You might even develop the feeling that you can only face those problems when you’re drinking. This belief can also lead to dependency and eventually, addiction.
Healthy coping mechanisms
There are plenty of other healthy coping mechanisms that you could adopt during your Au Pair experience in order to feel better and deal with your uncomfortable feelings.
They entirely depend on what works for each person, so you should find out what works best for you, but here are some ideas that could inspire you!
Talk to somebody: friends and family are always there for you to share the load, to ask for advice and sometimes just to be a shoulder to cry on. If this is not the situation for you, your Host Family might help you figure out what to do! If you think the situation can get quite serious, talk to a professional, such as your GP, a therapist or counsellor in your Host Country.
Exercise: physical activity is a great way to get endorphins, those hormones that will make you feel better, and it will improve your lifestyle in general!
Mindfulness, yoga and breathing techniques: these are also great ways to deal with your anxiety or with difficult feelings.
Cultivate your passions: TV series, films, books, music, art or anything that you might enjoy doing in your free time can be great distractions to your problems.
Get enough sleep: this goes without saying, but sometimes when we are stressed and busy with working, we forget the basics. So this is just a friendly reminder!
Practice your social skills: if drinking is for you a way to become more sociable and less shy, there’s other ways to get out of your comfort zones! Start by approaching just one person and get slowly comfortable with that feeling! Eventually, you’d be able to make friends without having to rely on alcohol!
It is important to understand that drinking can be done in moderation - when you start realising that it might be becoming a coping mechanism for you, then it could be that you need to slow down your consumption, or even talk to somebody about it. Remember that alcohol abuse is related to mental health issues in most of the cases, so do not be afraid to reach out for help. It might be hard at first, but it will definitely benefit you in the end.
Next week former Au Pair Marina will share her story about her very negative Au Pair experience
and how it brought her to her limits.