By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
When you encounter stressful situations, what routines have you developed to handle them? Do you meditate? Do you engage in an activity as a physical outlet for the stress? Do you pray? Do you let the emotions pass and flow through you? Coping mechanisms for stress can be just as diverse as its causes.
For some, drinking alcohol is a short-term method of addressing urgent problems. For people who engage with alcohol this way, a major part of the appeal of drinking is how immediate and complete the effect can be. However, there are significant risks to drinking to relieve the stress of problems in the short-term, and without intervention, these risks can escalate quickly.
Since near the beginning of humanity, alcohol has been used to decrease inhibitions and as a tool of social engagement. Used in moderation, it often promotes interpersonal bonding and decreases anxiety. In excess, alcohol can have severe health consequences, both immediate and chronic. It can rapidly become a habit and can create physical and psychological dependence. Some people rely on alcohol to negotiate their world.
Yet many people are able to enjoy alcohol socially without significant consequences. They can enjoy drinking with friends and not increase their usage, or suffer any physical or emotional manifestations. At the other end of the spectrum, some individuals can quickly develop a problematic relationship with alcohol, even after moderate consumption. For them, even casual or social drinking can become a threat to physical or mental well-being.
The definition of “moderate consumption” depends on many factors, including culture, biological sex and other factors. One of the more commonly used Western definitions comes from American dietary guidelines, which define moderate drinking as no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Women have less water content in their bodies to distribute the alcohol than men do, which accounts for the difference between genders in the definition of moderate drinking.
One of the more common uses of alcohol is to find short-term relief from psychological and spiritual challenges. Examples of such challenges include stress, social anxieties, sleep problems or depression. One of the reasons why alcohol is so popular to use this way is because it is extremely effective at creating a sense of relief. Even though its effects are temporary and sometimes risky, alcohol allows people to experience a sense of escape from the burdens of their fears, worries and other emotions.
However, for some it is surprisingly easy to develop a reliance on alcohol to find an escape from emotions. This is especially true for people who have had a previous alcohol use disorder, or who are at risk for developing an alcohol use disorder. For these groups, at the first experience of pressure, cravings for alcohol ensue; that is evidence that a psychological reliance on alcohol may have been established.
Both the Western understanding and traditional Buddhist teachings warn against this possibility. From science, it is understood that consuming alcohol, even short term, reduces the body‘s ability to naturally bring itself back to a state of rest and normalcy after it has been stimulated or stressed. When a person stops drinking for a period of time, this natural ability of the body is usually restored. But in some people, that is not the case; these individuals find themselves increasingly reliant on alcohol to resume a normal emotional and physical state. It is difficult to know who is going to quickly recover the ability to have the body return to its normal state and who will not.
The Fifth Precept creates a similar understanding of the risk of alcohol use. Excessive usage is discouraged because of its effects of making it more difficult to achieve mental clarity. When people drink, they may be more likely to act outside of integrity or in ways that tax the spirit rather than nurture it. While it is not clear exactly what is “excessive” and what isn’t, there is general agreement that using alcohol to the point of intoxication fits the intended meaning.
But there is a diversity of opinions within Buddhism about how the Fifth Precept ought to be interpreted. Some monks, leaders and scholars believe that alcohol use of any type should be discouraged. Others make exceptions for spiritual practices which are designed to raise consciousness and awareness. Many believe that the intent of drinking is important to consider. This school of thought is generally the most widespread, and is also open to the most interpretation. Whether in Tibet or Thailand, Mongolia or Myanmar, there are several opinions about how much alcohol a person can drink before their intake raises concerns about their ability to maintain a sense of true self.
Yet, both Western and Buddhist understanding of the short-term effects of alcohol arrive at a conclusion: to stop the harmful potential effects of using alcohol to address immediate problems, one may have to intervene swiftly. For over 20 years, studies have shown that even brief interventions with someone when they have a problematic relationship with alcohol can be quite effective, and the earlier the better. These interventions do not necessarily need not be complex. They can be as simple as stating something like “I’m concerned about your drinking and what it seems to have done to your body, to your energy, and to your community,“ or “Do you feel like you’re having trouble coping with your life without alcohol?”
For someone with a more severe alcohol use problem, a more stringent intervention may be necessary. For those who develop disorders of alcohol use, it may be best to talk with trained spiritual advisers in a more structured and rigorous manner. But how does a person know if they are likely to need a stronger intervention after the short term usage of alcohol? Many times, individuals do not know what shape their relationship with alcohol will take, and only understand this after that relationship has created harm.
If you are a person who uses alcohol to address short-term problems,You are more likely to need an early intervention if you:
If an individual’s alcohol usage becomes severe, or if stopping alcohol creates physical withdrawal symptoms, those individuals need to seek medical attention.
The people who are most at risk of developing a problem from the short term use of alcohol tend to be those who have not found, or easily found, ways of navigating difficult emotional experience.
People who have strong supports tend to fare better. As in so many other situations, having a supportive community is a fundamental aspect of decreasing a person’s reliance on alcohol for relief of short-term stressors. Such support can come from family, trusted friends, spiritual leaders or from trained professionals. Often, all of these groups are involved, producing a symbiotic and synergistic tapestry of connections that can keep you afloat and help you develop other strategies for navigating life’s challenges.
McIntosh, C., & Chick, J. (2004). Alcohol and the nervous system. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 75(suppl 3), iii16-iii21.
Lee, J. H., Jang, M. K., Lee, J. Y., Kim, S. M., Kim, K. H., Park, J. Y., & Yoo, J. Y. (2005). Clinical predictors for delirium tremens in alcohol dependence. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 20(12), 1833-1837.
Jamgön KLT (2003) The treasury of knowledge. Buddhist Ethics. Snow Lion, Ithaca
Benn JA (2005) Buddhism, alcohol, and tea in medieval China. In: Sterckx R (ed) Of tripod and palate. Food, politics, and religion in traditional China. Palgrave Macmillan, Gordonsville, pp 213–236
Kaner, E. F., Dickinson, H. O., Beyer, F., Pienaar, E., Schlesinger, C., Campbell, F., … & Heather, N. (2009). The effectiveness of brief alcohol interventions in primary care settings: a systematic review. Drug and Alcohol Review, 28(3), 301-323.
By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
How Trauma Changes Parenting
When we say someone has experienced trauma, or that they have been traumatised, what we are really saying is that they’ve experienced an event or series of events so stressful that it’s impacting their mental wellbeing as well as their ability to function normally in their day-to-day lives .
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is well-known as a form of mental illness caused by experiencing an extremely stressful event, such as being a survivor of war . However, living through war is not the only cause of PTSD; PTSD can also present itself in people who have experienced other traumatic events such as childhood trauma, sexual assault or abuse, natural disasters, or poverty [1,2].
Traumatic experiences can be lifechanging for the person who has directly experienced the event. This trauma also has the possibility to affect the people around survivors, such as family members. This phenomenon is called inter-generational trauma [3,4].
What is Inter-generational Trauma?
PTSD can greatly change a person’s behavior, such as their ability to process and regulate their emotions, communicate their feelings, moods, or reactions, and form meaningful connections with others . The transfer of these behaviors to others, such as children or other family members, is inter-generational trauma, also referred to as generational trauma or transgenerational trauma [3-5].
One of the ways trauma is passed through generations is by changes in parenting style.
Effects of Inter-generational Trauma on Parenting Styles
Survivors of traumatic events often have one of four adaptation styles that impact their parenting [3,5,6]:
These distinct behaviors and coping styles have various effects on parenting styles.
Reduced Effective Communication.
Parents may choose to enforce silence about the traumatic event they experienced and refuse to acknowledge or speak about it [4,6]. Alternatively, they may choose to play down the importance of the event, and instead, express hope that it’s not something that will ever happen again [4,6]. This lack of effective acknowledgement and communication can result in children having poor communication styles as they age.
Parents themselves may have poor emotion regulation and abilities to form bonds with others, which can extend to poor bonding with their own children. Not having healthy emotional attachments with children often results in unhealthy attachment styles in their children, such as avoidant or anxious attachments, which have lifelong impacts on child development [7,8] and lifelong impacts on their ability to form bonds with others in the future [7,8].
Increased Parental Stress.
Research shows that parents who have experienced significant traumatic events have higher levels of both general and parental stress compared to average ratings . This can result in an impatient temperament and lack of emotional control that can both cause an unhealthy home environment and be indirectly taught to children.
An important indirect effect to acknowledge is that people with PTSD experience higher than average levels of poverty . This can directly result in parents having a higher work burden and thus having compromised parenting and less time to attend to their child’s development , corresponding with issues with bonding and attachment.
Impact of Inter-generational Trauma on Child Development
Research from developmental psychology has shown that there are three primary parenting styles that influence child development: authoritative (warm and democratic), authoritarian (restrictive and hostile), and permissive (few enforced rules or restrictions) [10,11]. A meta-analysis from 2015 showed that parents with an authoritative parenting style, which many parents with PTSD adopt, negatively influence children’s stress resilience skills such as goal planning, emotional control, positive thinking, overall family support, and willingness to seek help with issues . An additional analysis showed that children of parents with PTSD have higher levels of various mental illnesses .
These findings illustrate that inter-generational trauma can result in a lack of positive trait development in children. This is critical because this lack of trait development can further negatively impact future generations in a cyclical nature.
Given the impact that trauma can have on parents, and that these behavioral and psychological issues can be transmitted to children through inter-generational trauma, it’s important that parents seek out tools for managing trauma to improve their mental health outcomes, thus improving behavioral traits and healthy development in themselves and their children. Research has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy in combination with mindfulness practices [13-15] can be especially beneficial for this.
As we write this, our very first blog, we look around us and we see that these are tough times in Cambodia. With many businesses forced to close, especially those connected to tourism and leisure, it might not seem like a good idea to be launching a new enterprise. But we feel the time has never been more right for The Beekeeper, our new, independent wellbeing centre which will open in one month in the centre of Phnom Penh.
For one thing, unlike previous centres offering the kind of therapies and healing practices we will offer, we are mostly focused on reaching Cambodian clients, so the fact many foreigners have returned home is not a great problem for us. We also know that many people have suffered greatly during this crisis, whether troubled by their health, their families’ well-being, their jobs or the future of Cambodia – and we know we can help.
We are a team of specialist therapists and psychologists, mostly Cambodian. We share a common vision of supporting the development of a happier Cambodia through improved mental wellbeing. We aim to achieve that through a range of community, therapeutic and mental health services, drawing on Eastern philosophies and Western approaches. As a social enterprise who will be pouring any income back into our business, and that means we will be offering our services at reduced rates for Cambodians who have limited financial means.
We will provide assessment, ongoing support, therapeutic and mindfulness services based on your unique needs and including specialist services around trauma, grief and addiction. For those who have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 crisis, we will be offering specialist services to help on the path to recovery.
We are passionate about our vision and excited about getting to work. We are very proud of the centre that we will be unveiling very soon, in a peaceful area close to Independence Monument. As well as our individual therapy services we will be offering complementary healing services including yoga, singing bowls and meditation. For those who cannot wait, we have already begun offering limited sessions, please contact us to find out more.
We aim to be here for anyone who needs us now, in the middle of this crisis, and in the future, as we rebuild Cambodia and turn it into something even better than before. Please join us.