Humans have been consuming alcohol since 7000 B.C. Almost 10,000 years later, humans still enjoy beer, wine, and spirits all over the world. But, why do people drink alcohol?
In our society, alcohol consumption is usually seen as a form of leisure activity or a way to unwind after a long day. For most people, drinking is a ritualistic social activity used to connect with friends or family on special days; a glass of wine on Thanksgiving, a shot on a 21st birthday, or a beer during the big game.
Alcohol consumption might be a pastime for many, but what lies beneath the habit? For some, alcohol consumption can be a way to cope with depression or other mental health issues. Alcohol is known to reduce both physical and psychological pain, which may offer temporary relief from stress and anxiety. Consequently, some people drink in times of distress.
There are many reasons why people drink alcohol, and it’s important to understand them in order to make informed decisions about your own drinking habits. People drink on different occasions and for different reasons, but these are some of the most common.
Alcohol is one of the most popular drinks that people use to socialize. It often provides a sense of ease and comfort in social situations and can help reduce socially-induced stress. Many people use alcohol to make events more fun, or as a way to break the ice between strangers.
Many people use alcohol to reduce their symptoms of anxiety in social situations. In fact, studies have shown that people with social anxiety have reduced symptoms and feel more comfortable when consuming alcohol.
Symptoms of social anxiety might include:
- Feeling uncomfortable in social situations
- Excessive fear of embarrassment or criticism
- Difficulty making conversations and connecting with others
- Fear of being judged by others
While these symptoms might feel unbearable at times, excessive alcohol use or binge drinking to reduce symptoms of anxiety is not a good idea, as it can lead to unhealthy drinking habits, alcohol abuse, and alcohol use disorders.
It’s best to stick to healthy drinking habits, such as alternating alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic ones, as well as sticking with the CDC’s recommendations when consuming an alcoholic beverage. If you notice whenever you attend a party you give in to peer pressure or binge drink, it might be a sign you need to cut back or eliminate your drinking.
In addition, people with social anxiety can also benefit from using other techniques, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and/or mindfulness practices, to reduce symptoms of anxiety, and replace unhealthy drinking with healthier coping mechanisms.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but drinking alcohol might make it seem more manageable for some. Alcohol is a depressant that acts on the brain’s central nervous system, slowing down activity and making users feel more relaxed. It can also act as a distraction from the stressful things in life, even if only temporarily.
While drinking alcohol might provide temporary relief from stress, it can become an unhealthy habit if done excessively. Regularly drinking alcohol to cope with stress can lead to dependence and create additional alcohol-related problems, such as financial and relationship issues.
In addition, alcohol changes the chemistry of the brain for long-term users and those with an alcohol use disorder. As a result, the individuals drink alcohol to simply feel “normal.” Where people once felt relief, there is now only alcohol dependence and a worsening of the underlying stress.
In order to properly cope with stress, it’s important to use healthy coping skills such as mindfulness practices, talking to a therapist, or engaging in physical activity. Chronic stress and anxiety can also be managed with prescription medications, depending on the severity of the symptoms.
Reducing Physical Pain
One of the many reasons why people drink alcohol is also due to physical pain. Alcohol has a numbing effect, and for some alcohol users, can also be a tool to numb themselves physically and emotionally.
It’s important to seek professional medical help when dealing with physical pain and avoid relying solely on alcohol as a means of relief. Instead, consider using over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, or ask your doctor about other methods of managing pain. Of course, if you’ve consumed alcohol, it’s best to stay away from even over-the-counter medications.
Unfortunately, many people choose to not just drink alcohol, but also combine the effects of alcohol and pain medications. Alcohol consumption can be dangerous and even fatal, especially if mixed with medications such as:
- Tylenol: Both alcohol and acetaminophen can cause liver damage when taken together.
- Ibuprofen: Both alcohol and ibuprofen are hard on the stomach and can cause nausea or vomiting, as well as other serious side effects.
- Benzodiazepines: Combining alcohol with benzodiazepines like Xanax can slow breathing, which is dangerous and potentially fatal.
- Opiates and Opioids: Combining alcohol with opiates or opioids can cause increased drowsiness and slow reflexes, making it difficult to respond to dangerous situations.
It’s important to remember that drinking alcohol is never the right answer when it comes to managing physical pain or any other issue. You should always talk to your doctor about ways to manage your symptoms without relying on alcohol.
To Regulate Emotions
Regulating emotions doesn’t come easy for everyone. Emotional dysregulation is a real problem, and many people turn to alcohol as a means of coping. Alcohol is a depressant that can temporarily reduce emotional discomfort and make it easier to manage overwhelming emotions. At the same time, alcohol can also act as a stimulant, helping to increase feelings of happiness and euphoria. This dual effect makes alcohol highly addictive for people that use it for emotional regulation.
Unfortunately, this technique rarely provides any long-term benefit and can cause more harm than good. Consistent use of alcohol can lead to dependence, addiction, and other related issues, such as having no other coping mechanisms to regulate emotions.
Healthy emotional regulation requires the use of techniques such as CBT or mindfulness practices. These techniques help individuals learn how to recognize, manage and respond to their emotions in productive ways without relying on substances like alcohol.
Additionally, therapy may be beneficial for those struggling with emotional regulation. A mental health professional can provide guidance and teach new skills to manage emotions. For some, mental illnesses such as depression and other mood disorders might play a role in someone’s inability to regulate emotions. Therefore, seeking treatment for the root cause can be beneficial in the long run.
To Self Medicate
It isn’t just mood disorders or peer pressure that can lead to alcohol abuse. There are many other co-occurring disorders that can lead users to self-medicate with alcohol. Self-medicating means using a substance (in this case, alcohol) to cope with physical or mental health issues without the help of a doctor or professional. Some of the many disorders that people might try to self-medicate with alcohol include:
Alcohol can be used to reduce feelings of anxiety or stress. However, the short-term relief from alcohol is followed by an increase in anxiety and other emotions. In turn, more alcohol is needed to reduce these feelings which can lead to dependence and addiction.
Alcohol can be used to temporarily reduce symptoms of depression, but it will not solve the underlying issues. For instance, people with situational depression might feel their problems are solved with alcohol. On the contrary, all that’s been done is numbing the pain without seeking out a more lasting solution.
Self-medicating with alcohol only serves as a temporary distraction from trauma and PTSD-related symptoms, but does not treat the underlying issue. Instead, people with PTSD should seek trauma therapy and develop coping skills to deal with their triggers.
Evidence shows that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to misuse alcohol. This is because some people may use alcohol to self-medicate depression or mania episodes. In addition, withdrawal might make people with bipolar disorders experience more intense symptoms of mania and depression, leading to a vicious cycle of addiction.
When someone is struggling with grief, they may turn to alcohol as a way to self-medicate and numb their pain. Alcohol can provide a temporary escape from the intense emotional pain that comes with grief, and it can also help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression that often accompany the grieving process. However, using alcohol as a coping mechanism can quickly lead to addiction and exacerbate symptoms of grief.
Sleep disturbances are another common reason people might use alcohol. Alcoholic drinks have a sedative effect that can help reduce anxiety and make it easier to fall asleep. However, its lingering effects are disruptive to regular sleep cycles. People who drink alcohol to fall asleep often experience difficulty staying asleep and wake up groggy in the mornings. In turn, this disrupts their ability to function during the day and can lead to long-term sleep issues.
Rather than relying on alcohol to induce sleep, there are other solutions that could be more beneficial in the long run. A doctor may be able to recommend medications or therapies that can help regulate a person’s sleep cycle. Additionally, techniques such as mindfulness practices or sleep hygiene can help people get meaningful and restful sleep.
It’s important to remember that self-medicating with alcohol can lead to severe dependence and addiction, and it won’t solve the underlying problems. It is important to seek professional help for the proper diagnosis and treatment of any mental health disorders. Doing so can help you experience relief from symptoms and lead to a healthier lifestyle.
Recovering From Alcohol Addiction
All of these reasons listed above are treatable, but the most important thing is to seek help as soon as possible. Alcohol addiction and substance abuse can be difficult problems to overcome, and it requires professional intervention and treatment with evidence-based techniques. Instead of needing to consume alcohol, seeking help from a treatment center can help you gain better control over your substance use and begin a path to recovery.
At Clear Behavioral Health, we know there’s no simple explanation for alcohol use disorder. We aim to get to the root of the problem and help you start a life free of alcohol. We focus on personalized care, evidence-based therapy, and addiction treatment that help you develop the right coping strategies to move forward in recovery. If you’re looking for help with your alcohol use disorder, reach out to us today. Our team is dedicated to providing the best treatment possible and setting our clients up for success.
Last Updated on June 8, 2023