Using Alcohol to Cope: Why Does it Happen?

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Alcohol is a coping mechanism for some people. Infact, it’s a coping mechanism for a lot of people. Dependence on it can often arise as a result of wanting to cope with something that’s too much to handle. Alcohol as a method for coping is normal, common, even popular. And it makes sense why. Here in the United States our culture celebrates alcohol as a way to cope. We drown our sorrows in alcohol. After a hard day at work we turn to alcohol. We use it as a social lubricant of sorts. If we want to get comfortable in a social situation, we drink. It’s a catch-all way to deal with tough things, balance our emotions, and cope with the harder parts of life. But is it healthy? 

What is a Coping Mechanism? 

A coping mechanism is there to help people deal with difficult things. The benefit of using a coping mechanism is to provide the person with a real or perceived benefit. Some coping mechanisms are positive, while others have negative consequences attached to them. Coping mechanisms with a positive effect include, running, writing, making art, and etc. Alcohol is one such coping mechanism that is negative. The temporary, short-term benefits of alcohol use outweigh the long-term effects it has on a person’s health and relationships. In the short-term, alcohol use makes a person feel loose, less stressed, and euphoric. But, in the end, alcohol use leads to poor decision-making and the possibility of increased dependency. So, why do people still use alcohol as a way to cope? Here are a few reasons: 

  • To deal with “big emotions” 
  • To deal with difficult life occurrences 
  • To help with life events, including the death of a family member, a relationship break-up, and illness
  • Boredom 
  • Insomnia 
  • Stress 
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 
  • Social anxiety 

Why Does Alcohol Work? 

For a while, alcohol may work as a coping mechanism. But, eventually it doesn’t. Eventually the negative aspects outweigh the positive aspects. So, why does alcohol work in the beginning? First of all, it works to slow down the central nervous system. Alcohol use creates feelings of relaxation. It also reduces inhibition, and impairs judgment, and memory. That’s why, in the beginning, alcohol is used to keep stressors and challenges distant. For many people, grabbing an alcoholic beverage is the easiest and most accessible way to deal with stress – and that’s why they do it. But, by avoiding the challenges that happen in life, the person is opening themselves up to problematic drinking. If every time there’s a challenge or traumatic event the person grabs a drink, that means they’re never dealing with their problems. In life, some problems need to be faced head-on. Combine that fact with the fact that alcohol use can become problematic quickly, and you’ll realize that alcohol is not a good coping mechanism. 

Who Uses Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism?

If you’re trying to narrow down the “type of person” that drinks alcohol to deal with stress, you’re not going to be able to. That’s because people from all walks of life deal with stress this way. Alcohol as a coping mechanism is common. The type of person that deals with life by drinking alcohol can be anyone from a college student to a person with a difficult corporate job. It could also be a teenager with a tough time coping or a veteran with PTSD. It can be anyone. Man or woman, young or old. There are a few things that people who use alcohol to cope may have in common, including:

What are the Dangers of Using Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism? 

Why is alcohol as a coping mechanism dangerous? Because of what it can lead to. Here are just a few of the things it can lead to: 

  • Addiction – This is the biggest complication of using alcohol as a coping mechanism: the likelihood of developing an addiction to alcohol. That’s because using alcohol to cope becomes a pattern. The more alcohol a person uses to cope, the more they’ll need to cope. It becomes a trap. 
  • A Lack of Other Coping Skills – By using alcohol to cope, a person isn’t developing other coping skills. Coping skills are important for dealing with stress. 
  • Damage to Relationships – People who use alcohol excessively often have problems with their personal relationships. Some people might miss appointments with loved ones. Other people may get into arguments with the people they love. 

What are Alternative Coping Mechanisms? 

Other than using alcohol, there are good ways to cope with stress. The ways you can cope below are all positive. Alcohol is considered a “negative” coping mechanism. 

  • Reach out to friends and family for support
  • Exercise and do other physical activities like walking, swimming, and sports
  • Practice mindfulness 
  • Practice mediation and yoga
  • Distract yourself with TV and music 
  • Address social anxiety by practicing social skills and learning to assimilate
  • Attend therapy 
  • Make art 
  • Write 
  • Try breathing techniques

Treatment & Finding the Root of the Problem

In order to stop using alcohol as a coping mechanism, you’ll need to find a sustainable solution. But first, you’ll need to understand what alcohol abuse is and how addiction can take over your life. You need to understand the root causes of why you’re drinking. What is causing your stress? Are you dealing with things like: depression, anxiety, past trauma, high-stress,and/or  low self-worth. Here are other ways to better understand alcohol, addiction, and coping skills: 

  • Psychotherapy 
  • Group therapy 
  • Individual therapy 
  • Family therapy 
  • Intensive Outpatient programs 
  • Alcohol Use programming 
  • Daytime treatment programs 
  • Residential Treatment 

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