What Causes People to Drink Alone?
If you find yourself drinking alone frequently, it may be a sign to take a closer look at your relationship with alcohol. As a recovery coach, I often help people identify why they are drinking alone, and how to address their underlying wants and needs without turning to alcohol. Although everyone’s triggers are unique, some of the most common reasons people drink alone are:
- Isolation and loneliness
- Self-medication for underlying pain
Another common reason people drink alone is to hide their drinking habits from the people around them. At the height of my own alcohol use, I felt that the intensity with which I drank made others feel uncomfortable. Nights of drinking with friends had constantly turned into “babysitting Brandon.” This led me to spend years as someone who drank only in the privacy of my own four walls.
Whatever your own triggers are for drinking alone, they’re worth taking note of. Addressing these underlying triggers can help you establish boundaries for yourself as you work toward healthier habits.
Risks Of Drinking Alone
While drinking alcohol doesn’t change how your body processes alcohol, the experience and dangers of drinking alone can be very different compared to ‘social drinking’.
Firstly, many experts consider drinking alone a risk factor for developing alcohol use disorder (AUD), a medical condition characterized by drinking more than you want and for longer than you want, despite wanting to cut down. Studies also show that people who drink alone typically have to drink more in order to feel a ‘relief’ than those who drink socially.1 Moreover, when you’re on your own, there is nobody around to “cut you off” or hold you accountable to more mindful drinking. These factors can all contribute to an increased likelihood of AUD.
Another risk factor is a lack of safety. Alcohol inhibits our motor skills and other important bodily functions. If you’re alone, you may be more likely to injure yourself, drive drunk, or get lost. Importantly, if a dangerous situation arises while solitary drinking, it may be more difficult to get assistance.
Is Drinking Alone Concerning?
Ultimately, if your relationship with alcohol is having a negative affect on your health and happiness, it’s reasonable to have concern. Firstly, drinking alone can be an incredibly isolating experience. My clients who drank alone often found themselves in a depressed state without connection to others. This can have a ripple effect on someone’s entire life, including withdrawal from activities, relationships, and personal or professional goals.
Solitary drinking can also exacerbate the underlying issues that cause someone to drink in the first place. By using alcohol to numb difficult experiences, the underlying stressor goes unaddressed and can ultimately get worse due to the way alcohol affects the body. Many people drink more in an effort to find relief, creating an unhealthy cycle of using alcohol to cope.
Personally, when I drank alone, I lost all checks and balances on my drinking. My drinking skyrocketed to the most it had ever been, up to three bottles a day sometimes, and with it came a whole new myriad of shame and consequences.
Is Drinking Alone a Sign of Depression?
Drinking alone doesn’t always indicate depression, but there is a strong link between the two. Alcohol use disorder and depression are commonly co-occuring conditions, which means that they can often develop simultaneously, and exacerbate each one another. Many people drink alone to find relief from overwhelming feelings of depression. While alcohol may make someone feel better in the short term, it can actually worsen and even cause depression over time.
Everyone’s experience is different. Looking out for the signs of depression and speaking to a mental health professional is the best way to identify depression and find relief. Some of the most common signs of depression include:
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- General sense of fatigue
- Appetite changes
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Increased anxiety
Working with a therapist in alcohol therapy is an effective way to identify co-occurring depression and alcohol use disorder, and treat them simultaneously with evidence-based methods like cognitive behavior therapy. You don’t have to navigate these questions and feelings alone, and relief is within reach.
Free Support Group: How to manage emotions while changing your relationship with alcohol
Risks of Drinking Alone for Young Adults
While drinking alone can be risky for anyone, for teens and young adults, there’s a strong link between solitary drinking and the development of alcohol use disorder later in life. Researchers at the University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University ran a 17-year-long study which concluded that of the young adults who started drinking alone before the age of 18, there was a 60% increase in the rate of alcohol use disorder later in life. The participants studied (ages 18, 23 and 24), were more likely to experience symptoms of AUD by the age 35.
An individual’s relationship with alcohol is influenced by biological, psychological, and social factors, and the way in which alcohol was introduced into your life can influence your habits later on. For example, if a young person begins a routine of solitary drinking in their teenage years, they are more likely to carry this ritual into adulthood.
How to Stop Drinking Alone
Regardless of how long you’ve been drinking alone, or how much you’ve been drinking alone, know that healing is within reach. The most important lesson I’ve learned from my own experience and coaching others is that if we want to stop drinking, we are more than capable of doing so. One of my favorite quotes about recovery is by Johann Hari. He says, “the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety; it is connection.” And this is the quote that I have lived by within my 3.5 years of being alcohol-free.
Therefore, the first step I recommend for not drinking alone is to use your voice! Reaching out to trusted loved ones and exploring sobriety communities is a great way to get support and learn from people who have been through similar experiences. Seeing just how common this situation is can help relieve a sense of shame, and encourage you to treat yourself with the same kindness you would give a friend going through the same thing. If you’re looking for an accessible place to begin, you can join free alcohol support groups and online discussions at Monument completely anonymously, and from the comfort of your own home.
Along with community, there are several other tools to explore to help you stop drinking alone. These include:
- Engaging in therapy
- Taking medication to stop drinking
- Making a list of people you can call when you feel like drinking
- Removing alcohol and all physical reminders of drinking from your home
- Learning more about how to interrupt a drinking routine
- Finding alcohol-free activities you love, like yoga or cooking
I can’t stress enough how much of a difference it makes to get connected with others. Once I started to hear that others were also drinking alone, I started realizing that we all were experiencing a call for others. A call for help. A call to connect. A call for a community that can share in recovery with you.
- Curr Dir Psychol Sci. “Drinking Together and Drinking Alone: A Social-Contextual Framework for Examining Risk for Alcohol Use Disorder, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8920309/.” Accessed Sept, 30.