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How to Stop Using Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism

In times of duress, many people turn to alcohol to cope. The effects of the substance on your mental and physical state may give some people a sense of relief from the stressors that trouble them.

However, using alcohol as a coping mechanism can be a slippery slope. It’s easy for casual alcohol use to become a dependency or alcohol use disorder (AUD). While consuming alcohol may offer you short-term respite, it can’t solve your problems or heal any underlying emotional issues you may be experiencing.

There are healthier ways to cope with stress than alcohol. If you’re concerned about your alcohol use, you can take steps to change your habits and find a more appropriate outlet.

What is a Coping Mechanism?

A coping mechanism is a behavior or thought pattern people use to manage a stressful or traumatic situation. They help maintain equilibrium during a tumultuous time and help people function in their daily lives.

Coping mechanisms are not inherently unhealthy, though many of them can be. It depends on how you engage with the mechanism and its effects on you.

Common healthy coping mechanisms include:

  • Support – Talking about your issues with another person, whether a loved one or a mental health professional, can be a great way to relieve stress. It can also help you reach the heart of a problem by getting an outside perspective.
  • Relaxation – Techniques such as mindfulness or meditation can help reduce stress. Relaxation may look like your favorite hobby or a long, hot bath.
  • Problem-solving – Figuring out the root cause of your struggles can lift a lot of the mental burden.
  • Humor – Making light of a stressful situation can help you get some perspective or shift your mood.
  • Exercise – Physical activity has well-documented benefits, including stress reduction.

Healthy coping mechanisms can be used in unhealthy ways if taken to the extreme. When used carefully, however, they can help you get through a challenging time.

Common unhealthy coping mechanisms include:

  • Absorbed escape – It’s normal to turn to hobbies or interests such as books and TV shows to cope, but when it becomes obsessive or isolating, it turns unhealthy.
  • Compulsions and risk-taking – Adrenaline can act as a relief from stress, but it can also put you in dangerous situations.
  • Self-harm – Stress may cause some people to engage in self-harming behaviors to distract from what they’re going through.
  • Numbing – Numbing behaviors can take almost any form, but drug and alcohol use are the most common.

Why Use Alcohol to Cope?

Most people who drink alcohol to cope use it as a form of self-soothing or numbing. It can change your physical and mental state and allow you to forget your worries for a time.

People may use alcohol to cope with:

  • Difficult life events, such as losing a job or a breakup
  • Challenging emotions
  • Boredom or dissatisfaction
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • PTSD symptoms

However, alcohol can’t solve your problems, and it can actually make you feel worse instead of better. It may intensify your negative feelings, and you may feel shame after drinking.

Ultimately, though, alcohol will never get to the heart of your issues. The longer you use it as a coping mechanism, the longer you’ll need a coping mechanism.

The Dangers of Alcohol Use as a Coping Mechanism

Not only is alcohol an ineffective coping mechanism, but it can also be dangerous. When you use alcohol to cope, you run the risk of:

  • Alcohol use disorder – You could develop AUD if you continue to depend on alcohol to cope. AUD has various health and social consequences that can severely affect your life.
  • Damage to your relationships – Alcohol may distance you from your loved ones or create a barrier between you.
  • Interfering with your career – Frequent alcohol consumption can cause you to be late to or miss work or perform lower-quality work due to a fuzzy mental state.
  • Never developing healthy coping mechanisms – If you continue to rely on alcohol to cope, you’ll never try to develop healthy mechanisms that can help you move forward in life.

The first step is recognizing that you’re using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Once you realize what you’re doing, you can start working to shift your behavior in a positive direction.

How to Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms

It is possible to leave alcohol behind and replace it with healthier coping mechanisms. The best way to make the swap is to simply start adding in healthy coping mechanisms instead of focusing on reducing or quitting alcohol first. When you do this, you may find that you drink less naturally because the need has decreased.

How you go about this depends on what works best for you and what type of feelings you’re experiencing.

For example, if you’re mostly dealing with anxiety, you might find a soothing practice such as a breathing exercise to be effective. Alternatively, you might enjoy doing some gentle or moderate exercise to work off any excess energy.

If you’re primarily feeling loneliness, you might want to start by reaching out to friends and family to cultivate sources of support. Journaling or gratitude practices can also be helpful.

There’s no best coping mechanism–only the one that works best for you. Experiment with some of the different healthy options and try those before you reach for alcohol next time.

Getting the Help You Need

Sometimes you need to get outside help to improve your relationship with alcohol, develop healthy coping skills, and heal the root cause of your distress. Seeking the advice of a mental health professional is recommended when you feel like you can’t take on these challenges alone.

Psychotherapists, counselors, and group support are all excellent ways to start exploring your emotional landscape and learn what you need to cope through healthy methods.

If you believe you’ve developed AUD as a result of using alcohol to cope, you have options. Jackson House Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers provides a safe haven for you to start your journey to recovery. Take a look at our treatment options and reach out if you have any questions or are ready to get started.

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