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Introverts and Parties: Just Add Alcohol?

Is alcohol a good party-survival tactic for introverts?

Buck up, introverts. It's party season and chances are very good that you'll have to attend at least one or two over the next few weeks. We need to steel our spines and plan our approach.

Those of us who drink alcohol probably use it to help us loosen up for social events. And most us probably have, at one party or another, loosened up a little more than we would have liked. You know what happens next: morning-after regrets, perhaps a headache, or worse, depending on how loose we got. (And that's the best-case scenario. Much worse things can happen as a result of overindulging: DUI, alcohol poisoning, life-threatening behaviors.)

What is alcohol's proper place in introverts' party plans? Rather than tackle this important subject myself, I enlisted the help of two psychologists, who were kind enough to contribute guest posts.

Today we have the return of Dr. Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power; and welcome Dr. Elaine N. Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person; The Highly Sensitive Child; The Highly Sensitive Person in Love; and The Undervalued Self, which will be released March 10. While highly sensitive people, as described by Dr. Aron, are not exactly the same as introverts, many introverts have found much to relate to in Dr. Arons books.

My gratitude to both women for their very thoughtful contributions.

Dr. Elaine N. Aron: Research on shyness and highly sensitive people or HSPs may be relevant here, and it's good news. Not all sensitive people are shy; not all shy people are sensitive. But especially if you are both, although you may have one or two drinks to get through parties, you probably don't drink very much compared with other people. The reason for this is that sensitive people are not big risk takers. They don't want to do anything they're going to regret the next morning. They certainly don't want to get a DUI. People who drink a lot at parties are more likely to be impulsive sensation seekers--the opposite of sensitive types.

Still, there's always the temptation to bolster your party stamina with a little drink or two. And that's fine. One drink--maybe two if you're a man. But you need to know and respect your drinking comfort zone. If you are a highly sensitive person, you are probably more sensitive to alcohol. It's one of the many ways you're different. It's a good idea, right away, to own those differences.

Learning your limits with alcohol is a trial-and-error process. You overdo it, you don't feel good the next day, you realize that it didn't work, and you don't do it again next time. We've all had our experiences of overdoing it. I know I've had mine. It's like a rite of passage. Sometimes we make the mistake a few times before the lessons sink in. Most social drinkers figure out their limits by the time they are adults--although even people who are not alcoholics sometimes disregard those limits. If one drink makes you feel OK about being at a party, will five drinks make you feel great about it? Probably not, no matter how much fun other drinkers appear to be having.

Chances are very good you will always be the minority at parties. Other people will be having a ball, you'll wish you were in a quiet room. You'll want to nurse one glass of wine all evening, they'll finish their wine and move on to tequila. You will always be surrounded by people drinking. If you are young, you are often surrounded by people drinking a lot.

HSP's are very sensitive to social cues. They often adapt to people around them and do what other people want them to do. Their sensitive nature amplifies the messages they receive, and the message you get at parties is, "Have another one! Don't be a stick-in-the-mud!" And so they might drink past their limit just to make others happy.

But before you take that one more drink, look around at people who are drinking heavily. Are they the people you aspire to be? Think back on the last time you drank heavily. It began as a nice buzz, which you may be feeling after your one drink. But then you had more. Drunk, were you really the you that you admire most? Think about the aftereffects tomorrow. And don't forget the risk of a DUI, for you and others. Your friends may need you to keep an eye on them, to take them home. Drinking too much has a lot of negatives. Why pile them on?


Dr. Laurie Helgoe: Shortly after Introvert Power came out, I came across a blog entry by an introverted compulsive gambler who said he quit gambling after reading my book. He said he felt understood for the first time, and the casino lost its appeal.

At first his explanation seemed too easy, but I read between the lines. He had misread his introversion as emptiness and thought it was a problem. He escaped his "problem" through gambling.

Here was a man cut off from the riches of his inner life. When he recognized his own value, he didn't need his risky substitute.

I started hearing similar accounts from recovering alcoholics:

Now I realize that it was my dislike of myself as an introvert that motivated me to start drinking -- to become extroverted.

If I had read your book earlier in my life, maybe I wouldn't have started drinking. I needed to drink to tolerate the social scene.

I came from an extroverted family, so I thought there was something wrong with me. Drinking helped. I became the life of the party - and an alcoholic.

These recovering introverts (or should I say recovering extroverts?) said they started drinking to find fun the way "everyone else" seemed to. Problem was, as a friend put it, "the alcohol became the fun."

Non-alcoholic introverts who have a drink or two to loosen up are probably fine. But the "why" of drinking, gambling, and other potentially compulsive behaviors is important for us introverts (or anyone) to ponder:

1. You don't want to be there:

Solution: Go home. If you're there to support a loved one, it helps just to recognize that this is not your thing. Trying to make it fun and feeling bad about not having fun may have you running to the bar for cover. (See "The Anti-Party Guide" in my book for alternatives.)

2. You drink/gamble/binge shop to escape your shame about being an introvert:

Solution: Recognize that over half of the population is introverted. Start rehabilitating your introvert self. Frequent this blog, read Introvert Power, find an introvert-loving therapist. And recognize when you need traditional rehab to stop medicating away your introversion.

3. You're hot and a cold beer sounds good (and you're not an alcoholic); a glass of wine after work helps you unwind (and you're not an alcoholic); or a drink or two at social events helps you loosen up (and you're not an alcoholic):

Solution: If it doesn't lead to a problem, it's not a problem.

4. You attend social events for free booze, not because you like social events. You can't stop at one. You vow to quit. Friends and family worry about your drinking. You consistently regret what you do or say when drinking. You need more and more to get a buzz.

Solution: These are signs of alcoholism. Seek help.

When studies look at the personality types of alcoholics, they find more extroverts than introverts. But there's also evidence that depressed introverts are more likely to drink than depressed extroverts. Maybe these introverts seek to medicate the self-loathing (a central feature of depression). And if extroversion increases self-esteem, and drinking increases extroversion, hey...

Here's a key to the damage caused by escapist addictions: We betray ourselves - over and over. We do a terrible job of becoming someone else (i.e., extroverts), then feel bad about ourselves and try harder to become someone else.

We don't have to do that.


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Copyright 2010 Sophia Dembling