Last Updated on September 25, 2020
Do you ever ask yourself why you’re drinking?
Sometimes the answer is as simple as somebody pouring wine into your glass at dinner. But often, there’s a little more to the story—especially if you find yourself drinking frequently.
Alcohol may be known as a social lubricant or a glass of happiness after a hard day. But where do we draw the line between normal drinking and using alcohol as a crutch?
This guide points out ways you may be using alcohol to cope, and lists options you can use to gain healthy control over your habits.
Ways You May Use Alcohol as a Crutch
Even if we don’t consider ourselves a person who abuses alcohol, we may sometimes find ourselves overindulging. While there are numerous reasons, oftentimes overdrinking is a sign we’re using alcohol as a crutch for something. Below are common examples.
Liquid Confidence and Alcohol
Does alcohol make you more confident? If you’re like many people, you can recall having a drink and feeling the discomfort lift as you begin to speak easier. An alcohol confidence booster may not seem like a big deal when used at the occasional party or social situation. But over time, that action may begin to form a pattern that trains your mind to drink.
Although it’s true alcohol lessens our inhibitions, that may not be the only factor making us feel more confident. In a 2012 study, 94 volunteers were told they’d randomly receive an alcoholic drink or a fake one (placebo). Those that believed their drink was alcoholic had more confidence and rated their performance higher, even if the drink contained no alcohol. Those that believed they had the placebo rated themselves lower, even if they actually had alcohol.
Anxiety and Stress
Although anyone can fall into this, if you have a history of alcoholism in your family, you may have more difficulty dealing with stress, leading to alcohol use problems. Other factors, like childhood neglect or abuse, can also make you more likely to use it as a stress crutch.
Does alcohol numb emotional pain? The truth is, alcohol problems and depression are often present together (called a co-occurring disorder).
In the short term, drinking can make you feel better by releasing endorphins—hormones that impart a positive feeling. We may also engage in emotional drinking for other reasons, such as a crutch to deal with grief. For example, in a 2020 UK study, 33 percent of young bereaved adults increased their alcohol use after their loved one’s death.
Why Emotional Drinking Isn’t a Solution
Emotional drinking can feel like a good answer when the first glass leaves us happier or more confident. Unfortunately, though, those benefits diminish over time, until our supposed solution becomes the problem.
Tolerance Reduces Benefits
Using alcohol as a crutch may seem to work okay in the beginning. But soon enough, you’ll need to drink more to get the same effect. What’s the problem with that? The more you drink, the more the negative effects start to take over. If you drink moderately and occasionally, you may still feel some benefit. But using alcohol as a crutch means the negatives will soon override the positives.
When we have a seemingly “quick fix,” it can deter us from finding real, healthier, long-lasting solutions. If you’re struggling with alcohol, and delay cutting back or quitting, you’re also often delaying finding solutions to the underlying problems. Those problems remain, waiting to rear their head whenever you stop drinking.
Increased Sensitivity to Stress and Anxiety
It feels like alcohol solves our stress, so how can it make us more sensitive to it? Research shows that long-term, heavy drinking changes your brain chemistry, altering what your “normal” level of stress means. It can also change the way we perceive and respond to stress, negatively impacting our mental health. So, something that wasn’t a big deal before may start to cause us major anxiety.
Read More: Can Drinking Alcohol Cause Anxiety?
Alcohol and Sadness/Depression
If you’re a long-term drinker, after a while you may start wondering, “Am I an alcoholic or just depressed?” Oftentimes, the answer is both. Of the many emotional effects of using alcohol, depression is among the most common. In fact, having either alcohol addiction or depression can double your chances of having the other.
These problems can also make each other worse, leading to a cycle of drinking to self-medicate. This also contributes to what some people call “alcoholic mood swings.” One moment you may feel confident, while the next you may feel depressed or anxious.
Read more: Can Alcohol Make You Depressed?
If drinking boosts your confidence, shouldn’t that also mean stronger connections? In reality, the effects of alcohol can make us behave erratically around those we love. Intoxication can cause unexpected behavior changes that can drive our partners or friends away. Research also shows that relationship satisfaction tends to be lower the more alcohol is used.
Health Problems and Addiction
Last but not least, if you don’t stop using alcohol as a crutch, you can experience addiction and numerous health problems. These include cancer, diabetes, pancreatitis, heart problems, and of course, liver damage. And the more often you drink, the more likely you are to develop physical dependence on alcohol, making it harder to stop.
Read More: Diseases Caused by Alcohol Abuse
How to Stop Using Alcohol as a Crutch or Coping Mechanism
Just like using crutches for a leg injury, there comes a time when we need to try to walk on our own. If not, we’ll never walk normally, and we’ll always be dependent on the crutches. The same goes for alcohol: Going without feels awkward and uncomfortable at first, but you’ll eventually begin to feel better and stronger.
If you’re not sure how to stop using alcohol as a coping mechanism, here are a few tips.
Sober Curious Movement
Looking for a way to socialize without needing to drink alcohol? It turns out there’s a movement towards sober socializing, and you may be able to find like-minded others. This can be an especially strong option for a “grey area drinker” who doesn’t feel they are addicted. Sober curious individuals don’t necessarily quit completely, but they place a priority on being comfortable socializing without alcohol.
Coping Skills for Alcoholics or Problem Drinkers
Of course, it’s one thing to decide to drink less socially, it’s another to become comfortable functioning without a glass in your hands. This is especially true if you feel physically dependent on alcohol. Learning coping skills for alcoholics or problem drinkers can be critical. One way to do this is to meet with a counselor. It’s also important to find other activities, stress management techniques, and even non-alcoholic drinks to sip instead.
Learn More About Alternatives To Binge Drinking Alcohol
Apps to Help You Quit Drinking
When you realize you need alcohol abuse help, another good first step may be apps to help you quit drinking. These apps are a low-pressure way to get your feet wet in the world of sobriety or sober curiosity. And if you’re still having trouble quitting, there are complete, evidence-based online programs available as well.
Moderation and Anti-Craving Medication
Advances in treatment for alcohol abuse and alcoholism mean you no longer need to quit completely, or even identify as a full-blown alcoholic to get help. Modern treatment for alcohol misuse is about helping you be your healthiest self—whatever that means for you. Medications for alcoholism, such as naltrexone, can help you reduce your alcohol cravings over time, while online coaching can help you learn new coping mechanisms.
Ria Health is one modern treatment option available 100 percent online. We can help you stop using alcohol as a crutch by combining:
- Full medical support through a HIPAA-approved telemedicine app
- Expert online recovery coaching
- Anti-craving medication
- Virtual support group meetings
- A breathalyzer and digital tools to monitor your progress
Learn More About How It Works
Summary of Using Alcohol as a Crutch
Using alcohol as a crutch is more common than you may think, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Whether you’re using a drink as liquid confidence, to beat social anxiety, or ward off sadness, there is always a downside. The short-term boost can lead to long-term problems like tolerance, health concerns, and worsened depression, stress, or anxiety. However, getting help doesn’t need to mean giving up alcohol completely.
Learn how coaching and medication can help you stop using alcohol as a crutch. Schedule a call with a member of our team today.