Am I Drinking Too Much?
Alcohol use

Am I Drinking Too Much?


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Written by Stephen Feest

Clinical Social Worker

27 Sep, 2021

With alcohol use having many social correlations, it can be difficult for people to determine if their drinking has become a problem. Social situations that range from weekend meetups to dates and music festivals can all contain the sale and use of alcohol as a social lubricant. Alcohol use has been normalised even as drinking trends have begun to change to more overuse and misuse.

Data shows that drinking does more for individuals than enhance social situations.

It's common for men to consume a whopping 12 to 15 beverages, which is ripe for millennial alcohol addiction.

Drinking alone to cope with stress or negative emotions is one of the signs that drinking has become a problem. 

Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism

Culture celebrates drinking a beer or a glass of wine to unwind, deal with a rough day, and/or as a social lubricant. Even in these instances, using alcohol as a coping mechanism is not only unhealthy but dangerous. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, moderate alcohol consumption is fewer than one drink a day for women and two for men.  Using alcohol as a coping skill, often influences many people to consume beyond their normal limits.

So what exactly is a coping mechanism? A coping mechanism is something that helps a person deal with difficult emotions or situations. Some coping mechanisms are harmless and adaptive while others are a slippery slope that can lead to more problems. 

The use of alcohol as a coping mechanism can have negative health, relational, decision-making, and behavioural consequences. Alcohol helps some individuals as a coping mechanism by slowing down the central nervous system, providing feelings of relaxation, taking away anxiousness, and reducing overthinking. Unfortunately, alcohol can also impair decision-making, judgement, and memory.

It is important to understand the factors that cause people to use alcohol as a coping mechanism.  People primarily use alcohol to cope with difficult feelings, challenging life events, stress, insomnia, trauma, and social anxieties.

Lower inhibitions, happiness and relaxation are three main reasons for the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism. However, there is a broad array of other reasons that influence why people drink and drink to excess.  The array if reasons individuals drink largely includes social reasons and coping with mental health conditions.

Consequences of Alcohol Abuse

Using alcohol as a coping mechanism has potentially severe ameliorating effects.  Due to the addictive nature of alcohol, prolonged usage to cope with problems, leads to greater tolerance, increased consumption, and even physical dependence.  In some severe cases, if left untreated, the withdrawal symptoms from physical dependence can be fatal.  

It may seem counterproductive but social drinking that becomes alcohol dependency may lead individuals to drink in isolation to cover up the signs of dependency. Alcohol dependency links certain interactions and behaviours to be dependent on whether alcohol is involved. Treatment of physical and mental pain is one of the most detrimental ways of coping with alcohol. Treating pain issues with alcohol rather than finding underlying sources of pain is a negative feedback loop.

In addition, abusing or over-reliance of alcohol by using it as a coping mechanism can damage relationships, due to the behaviour it creates.  By continuing to use alcohol as a coping mechanism, many people fail to develop more healthy coping skills.  Without other healthy alternative coping skills, alcohol serves as a barrier to developing better ways of dealing with difficult feelings and situations.

Finding resources and individuals that can help create new, alternative coping mechanisms is vital to curbing the use of alcohol. There are many online resources for immediate support or awareness. In addition, there are anonymous resources available at the local community level that can help educate on the destructive nature of alcohol dependency. 

Seeking a Therapist for Alcohol Dependency

Therapy and counselling are essential to understanding and solving the emotional, mental, and behavioural problems that cause people to cope with alcohol. Alcohol dependency should also be treated collaboratively with a medical provider. Going cold turkey with alcohol dependency can lead to serious medical consequences and even death. Using only one intervention strategy to treat the alcohol dependency or abuse is like trying to treat depression with only counselling and no medication. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy is one therapeutic intervention that can help with alcohol dependency. Getting to the underlying issues that lead to the use and dependency of alcohol is important for treatment. Replacing negative patterns of thinking can help individuals start to replace those negative patterns with healthy, positive thought patterns. At this point, addressing alcohol as a coping mechanism can begin.

Dependent on the reasons for implementing alcohol dependency as a coping mechanism, addressing underlying issues can be helped by CBT. Whether underlying issues are the result of anxiety, a lack of social skills, or a lack of impulse control, these concerns can all be addressed through interventions related to cognitive behavioural therapy. Exposing individuals to uncomfortable feelings, slowly and systemically while lowering the uncomfortable feelings can help build resilience.

Group Counselling

Group counselling is another therapeutic intervention that can be useful in treating alcohol dependency. With the initiation of alcohol consumption having ties to social integration, including a social aspect of treatment may help individuals decrease social isolation while fighting to stop ineffective coping mechanisms. Also, group therapy allows individuals to find common ground to what has led to their alcohol dependency problems. 

Alternative coping mechanisms for experiencing stressors in life normally treated by alcohol abuse can be learned and supported in group counselling. Group therapy can also provide some added accountability for being consistent with treatment goals. Being able to listen and interact with others who have similar issues can help gain perspective on negative thought patterns that lead to alcohol dependency.


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Stephen Feest

Clinical Social Worker

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