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Alcohol is often used as a tool to help numb uncomfortable feelings – something referred to as emotional drinking.
Maybe you have recently lost a loved one and are deep in the grieving process. Perhaps you are going through a bad breakup, or have been laid off from work. Whatever the root cause of your pain, you might find yourself pouring a glass or two of wine to help take the edge off.
This isn’t a problem when it only happens on rare occasions. Alcohol has a calming effect that can help you through a rough patch now and then. But when you find yourself forming a daily habit, and the amount of alcohol creeps up over time, this is a problem.
What Is Emotional Drinking?
Emotional drinking is a term that refers to the practice of using alcohol as a coping tool to soothe difficult emotions. It is the same concept as emotional eating, where someone overindulges in comfort foods or sugary treats to numb the pain. Both alcohol and food, when overindulged in, can lead to problems.
The main driver of emotional drinking is just that – emotions. No one likes to experience sadness, loss, stress, disappointment, loneliness, or anger. It is hard to endure these feelings. But in the long run, developing an alcohol problem is much worse than gutting out a tough chapter in life.
What is a Dual Diagnosis?
Not all emotional drinking is caused by a temporary setback or sad event. Sometimes, a person may be suffering from undiagnosed depression, and they use alcohol to numb the symptoms. The alcohol use gradually increases and can lead to a dual diagnosis, or depression plus co-occurring alcohol use disorder.
Dual diagnosis is complex and requires the expert support of a specialized treatment program. These programs include psychiatric expertise as well as addiction treatment so that both disorders are treated at the same time.
Co-occurring alcoholism and depression are very common. An article from Psychology Today reports that half of those seeking treatment for alcohol use disorder have co-occurring depression. The author also states that among people being treated for depression, nearly 40% will also struggle with alcohol use disorder.
Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder is staged from mild to severe based on the number of criteria present. These are the signs and symptoms that are common in people who have a drinking problem. The more of these symptoms that are present, the more severe the disorder.
Signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:
- Increased tolerance for alcohol, leading to more consumption.
- Neglects obligations at home or at work.
- Unable to control or stop drinking.
- Obsess about drinking and plan the whole day around drinking.
- The decline in work performance.
- Loss of a job due to absences caused by hangovers.
- Telling lies about how much you drink.
- Hiding alcohol around the house or at work.
- Waking up with a hangover and then drinking to relieve it.
- Having memory blackouts.
- Getting into an auto accident or a DUI arrest.
- Relationship problems.
- Continue to drink even with the adverse consequences.
- Attempt to quit drinking but cannot.
- Have withdrawal symptoms when the effects of the alcohol wear off.
Better Ways to Manage Difficult Emotions
The sooner you learn ways to manage emotions in healthier ways, the better. Try building some healthy new habits, such as:
- Mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness can be very helpful when you are experiencing difficult emotions. Being mindful of your state of mind, without letting it control you, let’s focus on the present moment. When we are mindful of our mood state we accept it without judgment. Meanwhile, we are free to pay attention to our five senses and be present in the here and now.
- Better sleep. Nothing makes us feel worse about everything than being sleep deprived. By getting better quality sleep you will improve your mood, focus, attitude, and energy. Help stabilize your sleep cycle by keeping the same bedtime each day.
- Get outdoors. One of the best things you can do for your mood is to get outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Your body will produce vitamin D through sun exposure, which protects against depression.
- Get moving. Regular exercise is a great way to decrease anxiety and depression. By making physical activity a priority, you are sending a message to yourself that you are worth taking care of.
- Be productive. Work and productivity make us feel good about ourselves. It feels awesome to complete a project, whether at home or work, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment. Staying busy also distracts you from any difficult emotions you might be dealing with.
When To Seek Treatment For Emotional Drinking
While that glass or two of wine each night may have started as a way to numb some difficult feelings, for some of us it doesn’t stop there. Be aware of these signs that the drinking habit may be escalating:
- Withdrawing socially. You are avoiding friends and family members. You may choose to be alone so you can drink without anyone judging you.
- Mood swings. You may be more moody and irritable lately or express anger more often than usual.
- Neglecting appearance. You have begun to neglect your personal appearance and hygiene.
- Ignoring obligations. You neglect your responsibilities or obligations. You may miss work more often, or show a decline in work performance.
- Secretive behaviors. You may be hiding alcohol around the house, or lying about how much you drink.
Emotional drinking is more dangerous than you might think. If you recognize yourself in these signs of an alcohol use disorder, reach out for some support.
Capo by the Sea Premier Addiction Treatment
Capo by the Sea is a leading addiction recovery center where evidence-based therapies are combined with holistic methods. If you have any questions about our program, please call us today at (888) 529-2114.