Emotional Drinking As a Coping Mechanism: Why Booze Isn’t The Answer

Last Update on June 7, 2024 : Published on June 9, 2024

Life is a new surprise every day and every time a new surprise pops up, I feel so under-prepared to deal with it. I’m sure you’ve faced something similar in your rollercoaster of a life. Situations like a bad breakup, a stressful job, or a fight with your loved one can leave us feeling overwhelmed, and to deal with them, we look for ways to cope.

Here, enter the ever-present social companion – drinks! You might find yourself pouring a glass of wine to unwind after a long day, or reaching for a cold beer to drown your sorrows after a fight. But, is this a healthy way to cope with your emotional pain?

Today, we’re exploring the murky bar of emotional drinking, how it affects our emotional pain, and what we can do to stop emotional drinking. Does alcohol numb pain, truly? Does drinking to numb the pain work? Let’s find these answers, shall we?

What is Emotional Drinking?

In simple words, emotional drinking is using alcohol to manage difficult and distressing emotions. It’s that desperate attempt to reach for a bottle instead of addressing the root cause of our distress. We might drink to feel less stressed, anxious, or sad, hoping it will become our temporary escape from the real world.

Now, let’s talk about alcohol numbing the pain we feel. At first glance, alcohol might seem like a magic potion for emotional woes and sorrows. It does give us a feeling of – albeit temporary – relaxation and disinhibition. However, research paints a different picture.

Studies show that alcohol usually intensifies the negative emotions we feel in the long run. A 2017 study found that people who used alcohol as a coping mechanism to cope with negative emotions experienced greater emotional reactivity over time.

Simply put, alcohol might dull your feelings and distressing emotions temporarily, but as it wears off, those emotions come back stronger than ever, often accompanied by feelings of guilt and shame.

Emotional Drinking As a Coping Mechanism

So, why do we drink to numb emotional pain, despite its negative effects? Research has several reasons for us;

  • Negative Reinforcement: Although alcohol doesn’t solve all problems, it can offer temporary respite from emotional pain. This “reward” of feeling slightly better reinforces the behavior, making us more likely to reach for a drink again in the face of similar situations.
  • Lack of Healthy Coping Skills: Sometimes, you might reach for that glass of wine or that shot of vodka because you never learned healthy ways to manage stress or troublesome emotions. This lack of healthy coping skills can cause you to rely heavily on alcohol and emotional drinking as a default coping mechanism.
  • Unaddressed Mental Health Concern: Emotional drinking can also be an underlying symptom of a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety. You might take to emotional drinking as a way to self-medicate to manage the impact of these disorders, creating a vicious and dangerous cycle.

The Impact of Emotional Drinking

The emotional effects of alcohol and emotional drinking on our mental health are far-reaching. As I mentioned earlier, research suggests emotional drinking can worsen anxiety and depression rather than alleviate them. Moreover, alcohol can work against melatonin and disrupt our sleep patterns, which can further contribute to anxiety and depression.

Emotional drinking or not, alcohol in any form can lead to lowered inhibitions which, in turn, can lead to poor decision-making. Furthermore, alcohol can increase your chance of engaging in risky and impulsive behaviors and even cause strain in your relationships.

Frequent emotional drinking can eventually lead to an unhealthy dependence on alcohol, making it harder for you to function without it after a time. This kind of behavior can result in alcohol use disorder (AUD).

While anyone is at risk of developing AUD, certain factors that you can watch out for can include;

  • Family history of alcoholism
  • Underlying mental health conditions
  • Early exposure to alcohol

How to Stop Drinking to Numb Emotional Pain?

Breaking the dangerous cycle of emotional drinking needs a multi-pronged approach. Here are some ways you can stop emotional drinking or using alcohol to numb pain;

  • Figure Out Your Triggers:

The first thing you need to do to stop drinking to numb emotional pain is to figure out what situations or emotions make you crave a drink. Jot down the times you want to drink to numb the pain and look for patterns. Knowing your triggers can help you develop healthy alternative coping mechanisms.

  • Develop Healthy Coping Skills:

Next, you need to work on developing healthy coping skills. Explore healthier ways to manage stress and difficult emotions. You can explore options such as exercising, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, dance movement therapy, journaling, or even think about talking to loved ones about your issue.

  • Seek Professional Help:

If you’re struggling to stop drinking to numb emotional pain on your own, then you can consider seeking help from a therapist or a counselor who specializes in alcoholism and its subsequent treatment. A professional can offer you support, teach coping skills, and address any underlying mental health issues.

  • Join Support Groups:

Another way to stop emotional drinking is to connect with peers who are going through the same thing. The best way to do that is through support groups. Connecting with others going through similar experiences and trying to overcome emotional drinking can not only prove helpful in terms of coping skills but can also be motivating.

Wrap Up…

Emotional drinking can seem like a quick fix at first glance, but it can be a recipe for long-term problems. Knowing the impact of drinking to numb emotional pain and developing healthier coping skills can help you better work through life’s never-ending challenges without alcohol and emotional drinking.

You’re not alone in your fight, never forget that. Resources are available to help you break free from this cycle and develop a healthier and happier you!

If you need additional help, you can reach out to these agencies and support groups;

For more, you can reach out to your nearest emergency or hotline number, or talk to your therapist about getting the right help.

I hope this blog helped you understand what emotional drinking is, why we drink to numb the pain, and how to stop drinking to numb emotional pain. You can share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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