There are two environments where alcohol flourishes. The first is at social activities like happy hours after work, summer picnics and sports games. The second, and more sinister environment is when you’re alone, feeling isolated and depressed.
We’re living in an unprecedented time where social distancing is either required or heavily recommended, taking away our usual social activities. Restaurants and bars are shut down, parks are closed and spending time with friends, colleagues and family is restricted. Alcohol can seem like a comforting companion as we all try to fight through the stress, anxiety and loneliness of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Of course, that’s not to say drinking alone immediately makes you an alcoholic. But being socially isolated and feeling lonely may actually make you drink more.
The Impact of Loneliness on Alcohol Consumption
It’s normal that isolation from the people and activities you enjoy would at least tempt you to drink more, right? After all, you’re looking for a way to kill time and alcohol is incredibly effective at taking all your worries away (for a short while).
But does this mean you’ll automatically drink more and abuse alcohol? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but research suggests that it can.
In a 2015 meta-analysis that examined the effects of loneliness on physical and mental health of adults, researchers found that social isolation and feelings of loneliness increase the risk of suffering from an alcohol abuse disorder.
In an even earlier study conducted in 1991, researchers studied people in an alcohol addiction day treatment program in an attempt to understand what led them to alcohol abuse in the first place. Participants in the study reported that loneliness, alongside depression and sadness, oftentimes preceded the first drink on a typical drinking day.
Unfortunately, alcohol can also trigger increased feelings of loneliness and isolation. A strangling reliance on alcohol oftentimes leads to individuals physically and emotionally distancing themselves from loved ones. And the more withdrawn and isolated they become, the more drinking they do.
Why Do We Drink More When We’re Lonely?
Loneliness and alcohol abuse build on each other, but why exactly do we turn to alcohol when we’re feeling lonely in the first place? In some cases, it’s a result of physical isolation, while in other cases, it’s due to feeling emotionally lonely and depressed.
With situations like the COVID-19 epidemic, people are literally isolated from others and many are even dealing with unemployment, triggering boredom and stress. A lack of productive and fulfilling activities can make alcohol seem like a good solution, since it lowers your inhibitions.
Of course, loneliness doesn’t always come in a physical form. It’s possible to feel lonely, even if you’re surrounded by dozens of family members or friends. If you’re feeling out of place or struggling with trauma or depression, alcohol can help numb emotions and take away your pain temporarily. In the long run though, alcohol only makes these struggles worse.
Does Drinking Alone Make You an Alcoholic?
As dangerous as loneliness can be on your drinking tendencies, drinking alone isn’t necessarily a problem. And if you’re feeling lonely and decide to have a drink or two, that doesn’t automatically make you an alcoholic.
For example, if you’ve had a long week and your spouse and the kids are out of the house, you might pour yourself a beer or glass of wine and unwind in front of the TV. Or if you’ve suffered a setback at work or are processing a break-up, a couple of drinks may help take the edge off and give you the clarity you need to move forward in a healthy way.
If you’re worried about your drinking habits, consider your motives and how much alcohol you’re actually consuming. If you’re trying to drown your sorrows and forget the loneliness you’re feeling with alcohol, you may be struggling with a drinking problem that requires professional help. If you’re also drinking 5 or more drinks each day as a man or 4 or more drinks per day as a woman, you should also consider seeking alcohol addiction treatment.
5 Healthy Ways to Cope with Loneliness and Social Isolation
If you’re currently struggling with loneliness and social isolation and want to avoid using alcohol as a crutch, there are healthy ways to cope and keep your mood up:
1. Connect with Family and Friends. Even if you can’t see them in person, use video conferencing and phone calls to stay connected with your friends and family. Be honest with them about how you’re feeling and lean on them when you need to.
2. Get Outside. Despite COVID-19, you can still go outside and spend time in parks that are open. Go for daily runs or walks, spend an afternoon on a golf course or meditate in a quiet place where you can breathe in the fresh air without being disturbed.
3. Exercise. Physical activity helps to release endorphins to relieve stress and make you feel better. Look up free trials of virtual exercise programs, go hiking outside or practice yoga. Do whatever exercise you enjoy or try a new one to shake up your workouts.
4. Start a New Project. Doing something you’re passionate about can help you stay busy and feel fulfilled. Work on a digital portfolio, build your own personal telescope, read a new book series or learn something new with an online class. Whatever your passions are, now is the time to pursue them!
5. See a Doctor. If activities and actions like the above don’t help you cope with loneliness, don’t just give up and open a bottle of liquor. Instead, consult a doctor. A healthcare professional can help you get to the bottom of what you’re struggling with and develop a solution that can keep you away from alcohol abuse.
Overcome Alcohol Addiction and Social Isolation at The Raleigh House
If you’re struggling with loneliness and alcohol addiction, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck with no way out. There’s always hope for recovery, but it takes you making the decision to fight for a better life. At The Raleigh House, we can help you achieve a happier, more fulfilling life with our gold standard continuum of care.
If you’re ready to get started, our admissions team is available to take your call. Fill out our form or contact us today.