Drinking After Divorce: Risks & Alternative Ways To Cope

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Studies confirm that drinking after divorce is more common than during marriage. This makes logical sense: Divorce is often a stressful, emotional process, and alcohol may take the edge off. But while having a single glass of wine to relax in the evening may not be the end of the world, alcohol and divorce are generally a bad combination.

If you’re struggling with negative emotions while going through a divorce, you’re certainly not alone. It’s normal to look for some relief. But if you find yourself relying on alcohol to cope, here are some reasons you might want to nip this habit in the bud—and some healthier ways to take care of yourself.

Why Drinking After Divorce Is Dangerous

drinking after divorce, broken heart
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It’s well known that alcohol abuse can hurt your marriage. But even if you’ve only started drinking since the separation, there are several ways this habit can make things worse during divorce.

Your mental health suffers

Drinking to cope with negative emotions is a bad idea for your mental health. While it might ease things momentarily, you’ll often feel much worse once the effects of alcohol wear off. This may intensify the feelings you were trying to cope with in the first place. In fact, many people feel more depressed after drinking alcohol.

It can impact your family

Children are impressionable. If you have kids, divorce will put them under stress as well, and they’ll be looking to you as a role model. The more you rely on alcohol to cope, the harder it will be to show up for them. And, according to studies, seeing you drunk even a few times can increase their chances of excessive drinking during adolescence.

It may complicate your legal proceedings

Then, there’s the courtroom. Drinking too much after divorce can make you look worse during the legal process—and might even cause you to lose out in financial and custody battles. During a divorce, it’s best to keep up the appearance of having your “stuff” together, even if everything feels chaotic. Consuming too much alcohol won’t help.

man holding shot glass, drinking after divorce
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels

You might develop alcohol dependence

As a recent study in the American Journal of Psychiatry confirms, there’s a connection between divorce and the development of alcoholism. Many people turn to alcohol to deal with the loss of a relationship. And since drinking can make depression worse once it wears off, this can become a vicious cycle, leading to dependence.

Alcohol addiction can persist, even after you’ve gotten past the immediate impact of the divorce, leaving you with a longer-term problem to manage. Therefore, it’s important to decrease or stop drinking before the problem gets too established.

But when you’re dealing with all of the emotion and stress of a divorce, what other options do you have to cope?

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How to Get Through a Divorce Without Drinking

Seek therapy or counseling

If you feel like you’re drowning in guilt, confusion, and stress during divorce, there’s no shame in seeking the help of a therapist or counselor. This can give you a safe space to work through difficult emotions, grapple with unresolved questions about your relationship, and figure out the best way to move forward. A dedicated divorce counselor can also help both you and your ex navigate the process with grace, and minimize the impact on your children.

Express your feelings to loved ones

Whether or not you seek counseling, staying in touch with the people in your life can also make a big difference during divorce and separation. Talking to loved ones about your feelings can give you needed emotional support, and help minimize the urge to self-medicate.

Go to support groups

On top of talking to friends and relatives, finding others who are going through the same process can be a big comfort. Attending support groups—whether physically or online—can remind you that you aren’t alone, and give you a safe space to share your feelings.

Invite friends to alcohol-free locations and events

A healthy social life can bring much needed relief when you’re going through a divorce. But all too often, you may find yourself meeting friends “for drinks,” or in contexts where there is a lot of alcohol. Why not be proactive, and purposely set up activities that aren’t based on alcohol consumption? This will give you time with friends, without ensnaring you in a cycle of social drinking.

two women relaxing, alternatives to drinking after divorce
Photo by Jopwell on Pexels

Immerse yourself in healthy, relaxing activities

Find some other rituals that can help you relieve stress, while supporting your long-term health and well-being. Some good examples include:

  • Singing and dancing
  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Meditating
  • Reading
  • Cooking
  • Watching inspiring movies
  • Creative activities like painting, writing, or learning a musical instrument

Brad Pitt took up sculpting after his divorce, and it helped him overcome using alcohol to cope.

Find other drinks to replace alcohol

Sometimes, you just need a way to reward yourself after a long day. Why not try one of these alternatives to alcohol?

  • Mocktails
  • Kombucha
  • Alcohol-free liquors, wine, and beer
  • Fancy teas
  • Juices and smoothies

Practice moderation

As we’ve discussed, binge drinking and divorce are a bad combination. But drinking a small amount may be alright, so long as you stick with moderation. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines moderate drinking as 1-2 drinks per day, depending on gender and body weight.

What counts as one drink? Roughly 14 grams of alcohol, which is found in:

  • 12 fl oz of beer (at 5% alcohol)
  • 5 fl oz of wine (at 12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 fl oz of liquor (40% alcohol)

More than one of these each day for women, and more than two of these for most men, may increase health risks and your chances of dependency.

Support for Drinking After Divorce

Divorce isn’t easy for anyone. It’s completely normal to need a way to blow off steam, or reduce stress. However, while alcohol may seem like it is helping in the moment, it generally causes way more problems than it solves. After divorce, it’s best to limit your drinking, and turn to some of the alternative strategies outlined above.

If you find yourself drinking too much after divorce, and you’re struggling to cut back, Ria may be able to help. We offer flexible, customized support for alcohol use disorder, right from your smartphone. There’s no need to put your life on hold—and you don’t even need to identify as an alcoholic.

Get in touch with a member of our team today, or learn more about how it works.

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Written By:
Ade Kiseu
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
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