Drinking Alone: Do I Have a Problem?

When drinking alone develops into a frequent habit characterized by heavy drinking, it is important to address the issue. Drinking alone can be a sign of alcoholism when it is often and excessive.

man drinking alone

It is not unusual to want to relax with a drink after a long day. It’s a time to think over the day and recharge. Sitting down with a beer, cocktail, or glass of wine after work is not necessarily harmful in moderation.

If a person drinks alone on an occasional basis and is not experiencing any negative symptoms, it’s likely not a harmful situation. But when one isolates and begins to drink more than the daily recommended amount, this can be a sign of a deeper problem.

Why Do People Drink Alone?

Drinking alcohol can be understood as a way to escape reality. It is not unusual to have a drink after the end of a hard day as a reward or a way to relax. Having one or two drinks is not necessarily harmful when done on occasion, but this type of behavior carries its own risks and potential consequences.

Becoming intoxicated can be energizing and can make one happier and forget about the issues found in daily living, if only momentarily. Some might actually prefer drinking alone as there is no associated social pressure. For some, this might mean that they actually drink less. But for others, this could mean that they actually drink more, as they do not feel as though they are being judged by others.

Drinking alone can also be a sign of an underlying mental illness, as it is a method of coping, otherwise known as “self-medicating.” When someone self-medicates, they are using alcohol to mask adverse emotions and mental illness symptoms. Or potentially, a person might drink alone because social drinking situations cause them to experience social anxiety.

Some of the reasons for drinking alone include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • loneliness
  • anger
  • stress

However, as a coping mechanism, drinking alcohol only works briefly, and when the effects of alcohol fade away, one might feel more depressed and anxious than before. This can cause a pattern of abuse: a person might drink to drown out symptoms of depression, anxiety, and so on. When the alcohol loses its effect, those symptoms become more pronounced. A person then goes on to drink even more to cope with those symptoms, developing a never-ending cycle of abuse.

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Risks Of Drinking Alone

Drinking alone puts one at a risk of engaging in risky behavior. There is no one around to stop a person drinking alone from acting upon their thoughts and impulses. One may feel that social pressure prevents them from drinking more, so they keep their excessive drinking habits a secret. Potentially, their social circle does not drink to excess, and they prefer to consume more alcohol than socially acceptable. Hiding the amount of alcohol one consumes is a sign of alcohol abuse and potential alcoholism.

Risky behavior that may result from drinking alone can include:

  • driving while intoxicated
  • damaging relationships
  • drinking to excess
  • being sexually assaulted
  • short-term memory loss
  • blacking out

Risks For Women Drinking Alone

For women, drinking alone, especially in a social situation such as a bar or club, can be potentially dangerous. “Date rape drugs,” such as Rohypnol, ketamine, and others can be easily slipped into one’s drink. These drugs can put one into a vulnerable situation where they will not remember if they have been sexually assaulted. Women are at a higher risk of sexual assault.

Frequently drinking to excess while alone can also cause a number of health issues associated with alcoholism. Heart problems, cancer, brain and liver damage, hypertension, and mental illnesses are just a few of these problems.

Risks For Men Drinking Alone

There are associated risks for men drinking alone, especially while drinking in a public location. Men have higher risks of committing violence and potential physical assault, especially when there are not friends available to prevent them from committing those acts. Other threatening actions, such as driving while drunk, could occur when decision-making is impaired due to intoxication.

What Is Alcoholism?

It can be difficult to determine whether one has a problem with drinking or not. Alcohol abuse can begin casually in social situations, where drinking to excess might be commonly accepted.

Binge drinking and underage drinking is a common issue in the US, and both put one at risk for developing a problem with alcohol. Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks within a two hour period for men, and four or more drinks within that time period for women.

Adolescents are at a high risk of developing alcohol abuse disorders (AUD) when drinking at a young age. In 2015, 623,000 adolescents between the ages of 12-17 were diagnosed as having an alcohol use disorder. Drinking alcohol can hinder the adolescent development of the brain. Drinking at a young age puts one at a higher risk of developing alcoholism.

Warning Signs Of Alcoholism

There are a number of symptoms associated with alcoholism. Alcoholism can begin as a pattern of abuse and develop into a number of harmful consequences, both physical and mental.

The following are some of the warning signs of alcoholism:

  • frequently binge drinking
  • inability to quit drinking after attempts to stop
  • engaging in dangerous, destructive behavior while drinking
  • isolating oneself from friends and family
  • avoiding social situations that do not include alcohol
  • drinking more than before to achieve the same effects
  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit, such as nausea, vomiting, and tremors
  • drinking at inappropriate times, especially in the morning to ease withdrawal symptoms
  • regularly blacking out after drinking to excess
  • continuing to drink despite experiencing adverse mental and physical symptoms

Treatment For Drinking Alone And Alcohol Abuse

If one has been drinking alone to excess for an extended period of time, they may have developed an alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism. If you have experienced some of the warning signs of alcoholism while drinking alone, such as engaging in risky behavior while drunk or withdrawal symptoms, it may be time to seek treatment.

It is important to look at what motivates the behavior of drinking alone:

  • Is it a response to symptoms of stress or anxiety?
  • Is it because you are avoiding social situations where you cannot drink to excess?
  • Are you trying to hide the amount of alcohol you are consuming?

Entering into a treatment program will address these reasons behind drinking alone, and help a person develop healthy coping mechanisms. Drinking alone frequently is often a sign of an underlying mental health issue. When undiagnosed, someone can develop a habit of “self-medicating,” which can become destructive and dangerous.

By seeking the help of medical professionals, one can learn how to overcome the habit of drinking alone excessively.

Indian Health Service (IHS) - https://www.ihs.gov/asap/information/warningsignsalcohol/

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) - https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders

Office on Women’s Health (OWH) - https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/date-rape-drugs

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) - https://www.rainn.org/statistics/campus-sexual-violence

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - https://www.samhsa.gov/atod/alcohol

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