Do you find yourself drinking alone? When we think of someone who drinks too much, we tend to think of someone propping up the end of the bar in the local pub, or a young adult partying the night away in a club, surrounded by their friends. The reality however, tends to look a little different and if you tend to drink alone, you might want to consider the information on this page.
In my experience, drinking alone can place you on a slippery slope. The foundations of addiction can be firmly laid in solitary moments with very few checks and balances from other people to put the brakes on when things are getting out of hand. When reaching out to me for help, the vast majority of them drink alone, and / or hide their drinking from their loved ones. Often when they drink in a social setting, lone drinkers often feel quite conspicuous and I get many stories of people ‘topping up’ in other rooms, or then continuing to drink after others have left at social events. Drinking excessively is riddled with guilt and shame, and this does not enjoy external scrutiny. A relaxing glass of wine after a long day at work can seem like a well deserved treat, but if it simply ended there, then there wouldn’t be the scale of alcohol addiction we see across the developed world. Ask yourself this question and listen to your gut feel. Drinking alone is rarely a good idea.
Lone drinking is often born out of a desire to numb certain feelings out – perhaps feeling stressed due to a demanding job, feeling lonely due to lack of companionship, or simply feeling bored as you haven’t got anything better to do.
Alcohol is an addictive depressant. Momentary stress relief due to the depressant effects of alcohol are counteracted by the stimulation and anxiety your body produces to counter this. (Ever wake up after a heavy night feeling anxious? (The alcohol is wearing off, but your body hasn’t realised yet and is still producing anxiety!) Lonely feelings are amplified due to low mood and confidence inhibiting you from reaching out to friends and family. Lowered energy levels makes it all the harder to get up and about and do something that makes you feel happier.
When we see someone drinking alone, we tend to recognise this as an issue. Seeing someone you care about isolating themselves, triggers our own alarm bells and our natural reaction is to reach out. When this is coupled with unhelpful coping behaviours such as alcohol consumption, our alarm bells tend to ring – even if we are drinkers ourselves. Isn’t it funny how we can spot problems in others, but be very slow to acknowledge them in ourselves?
Lone drinking also tends to go unchecked. There is no friendly intervention to say, “Hey, maybe you have had enough and should go to bed?” The number of times I personally awoke on the sofa at 4am, cold, with a stiff neck and a sense of utter shame that I was slowly killing myself and was making everything ten times worse was excruciating.
In a word, yes.
Physically, alcohol is classified as a central nervous system depressant, so it reduces heart rate, slows brain function, reduces cognitive responsiveness and suppresses breathing. What starts as ‘relaxation’ very quickly escalates. Further consumption results in slurred speech, reduced concentration and dizziness. Alcohol also inhibits the neurotransmitter Glutamate leading to memory loss. Have you ever woken up, frantically checking your phone to see who you may have called / texted or what you may have posted on social media? This guilt contributes to the anxiety that heavy drinkers feel the morning after.
Emotionally, this lowering of your mood tends to have a significant effect on your self esteem. By feeling out of control of the situation, you tend to feel bad about yourself, feeling weak and agitated. Feeling in control of your own destiny (as much as we ever can be) is a key pillar of good mental health and alcohol kills that stone dead.
If you are concerned that you seem to have more desire to curl up on the sofa by yourself with a bottle than to get out and do other things, this is a key red flag.
If you think of this as a cycle of behaviour:
Do not get overwhelmed about the scale of the changes required. There are no huge steps on this journey - only little ones that add up over time. Have a look at how this cycle may be manifesting itself in your life, and see where you can influence it.
By starting with a small change, the cycle starts to repeat in a slightly different way.
For example, perhaps you used to enjoy going to the gym. You could decide to have 2 nights a week where you do just that. Initially this is going to feel like a challenge as it represents change. Provided you are doing something that you feel pretty confident is going to have a positive impact it will become a positive and normal part of your life.
Let’s play the above cycle out again with the positive intervention:
Does this resonate with you? The key thing is the principle of breaking the cycle where you can. Small changes set you off towards a different destination.
If you had gone back in time to see me in 2015 when my drinking was out of control It was a different story. I was grossly overweight and was walking with a stick, due to my Gout. If you had then told me that just 3 years later I would have ridden the entire course of the Tour de France for a children’s charity, be a qualified ‘spin’ instructor and be helping thousands of people ditch their alcohol addiction, I would have laughed in your face. You would simply have been talking about someone else!
In fact, such a monumental change would have felt completely overwhelming. I probably would have done nothing about it as it would have seemed to big a change. And yet here I am. Big things happen in tiny steps.
Remember when I mentioned ‘downward spirals’ above? I have seen time and again that the difference between a downward spiral and upward one is paper thin. A different choice, a tiny commitment – who knows where that will lead?
Taking action is its own reward. Fear keeps us stuck, but facing down the smallest fears can build confidence and get you moving.
Johann Hari, the Anglo-Swiss journalist talks of the opposite of addiction being connection. And it is worth considering how connected you feel in your life if you find yourself regularly drinking alone.
Greta Thunberg, the climate activist said an incredibly poignant thing in an early talk she gave: