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What Does it Mean When You Drink Alone?

More than 65 million people in the United States report binge drinking alcohol in the last month, which is almost half of alcohol users. Moreover, as many as 14.4 million adults cope with alcohol use disorder (AUD).

AUD, more commonly known as alcoholism, is a chronic relapsing brain disease that develops due to alcohol abuse or dependency on alcohol.

Given an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol intake, many alcoholics find themselves drinking alone.

If you or someone you know is consuming alcoholic beverages while alone, there may be an issue. Drinking alone doesn’t necessarily denote an alcohol problem.

Many people enjoy an alcoholic beverage to themselves every now and then, with or without company. 

Here’s what you need to know about drinking alone — and when it’s time to seek professional help:

Drinking Alone: Is It Always Bad?

While many people may drink alone because of alcohol addiction, drinking alone isn’t necessarily bad if done responsibly. About four in 10 people report that they did occasionally drink alone.

Drinking a beer or a glass of wine by yourself every now and then doesn’t mean you’re an alcoholic. However, you should be mindful of how many drinks you’re consuming and how frequently you reach for one. Drinking alone could potentially be a symptom of a larger issue that you’ll need to address — especially if it’s heavy drinking.

Look out for these signs to be sure that drinking alone isn’t becoming a problem:

  • You’re constantly thinking about alcohol throughout the day
  • Your tolerance for alcohol is increasing, which means that you require more and more drinks to achieve the same desired effect
  • You’re experiencing mental health issues like depressive thoughts or anxiety, or find that you’re more irritable with mood swings
  • You’re getting excessively drunk alone, blacking out, drunk driving, or practicing other dangerous behaviors
  • You’ve noticed yourself lying or making excuses about your drinking habits
  • You’ve found yourself neglecting your self-care, such as your hygiene and nutrition
  • You’ve realized that you’ve been letting your obligations and responsibilities (like work, school, and quality time with loved ones) fall to the wayside
  • You’re experiencing any alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, irritability, or tremors

Find Help For Your Addiction

You don’t have to overcome your addiction alone. Professional guidance and support is available. Begin a life of recovery by reaching out to a specialist today.

8 Causes of Drinking Alone

People drink alone for many reasons, and it’s not always because of substance abuse.

Here are just a few reasons as to why someone might drink alone or be tempted to drink alone:

  1. They simply enjoy the taste of the alcoholic drink
  2. They want to unwind at the end of the day with a refreshing happy hour drink
  3. Some people report drinking alcohol alone out of “boredom”
  4. They use drinking alone as self-medication in an attempt to avoid negative emotions
  5. Some people report drinking alone to ease “anxiety or stress”
  6. They drink alcohol before social events to ease social anxiety
  7. Some people report solitary drinking to keep their “spirits up”
  8. Alcoholics drink alone because they’re addicted to alcohol; drinking stops symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

Is Drinking Alone a Sign of Alcoholism?

Drinking alone isn't always a sign of alcoholism. However, if you find yourself drinking alone regularly or drinking more than intended, it could be a sign of a more serious problem.

Common symptoms of AUD, according to The DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), include:

  • Drinking more or for longer than was intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop alcohol use
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from alcohol consumption
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Failure to fulfill responsibilities at work, school, or home due to drinking alcohol
  • Continuing to drink despite having social problems caused by the effects of alcohol
  • Important social, work, or recreational activities are stopped or reduced because of alcohol use
  • Drinking in physically dangerous situations
  • Continuing to drink even though it is known to have negative effects on your health
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol
  • Having withdrawal symptoms after stopping alcohol use

Dangers of Drinking Alone

There are many risks associated with drinking alone, especially if you drink heavily. These risks include:

Increased Risk of Mental Health Issues

Alcohol abuse can negatively impact your mental health. In many cases, those addicted to alcohol are also diagnosed with a mental health disorder (dual diagnosis).

Depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and bipolar disorder are the most common mental health issues associated with alcohol addiction.

Alcohol Poisoning

The liver can only process one serving of alcohol per hour. If a person consumes two servings within an hour, there will be an additional unit in their system. This takes extra time for the body to process.

Someone who is experiencing an alcohol overdose (and is passed out) may choke on their own vomit. This can be especially dangerous when drinking alone because no one is around to help them.

Alcohol poisoning can lead to death from asphyxiation, which is a lack of oxygen. Even if someone survives asphyxiation, they may suffer from long-lasting brain damage.

Drunk Driving

The more alcohol you drink, the more difficult it is to make rational decisions. People who drink alone may decide to drink and drive because no one is there to tell them otherwise.

The person might not be aware of how drunk they actually are. This can lead to drunk driving, which can result in a DUI, jail time, a car accident, or death.

How to Stop Drinking Alone

If you or someone you know is drinking alone because of a drinking problem, help is available. Various addiction treatment options are available, including support groups, therapies, medical treatments, and more.

Here are several options to get started down the path to recovery:

Support Groups

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are available. AA is a “nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical” program for alcoholics that’s global and available almost everywhere.

AA holds regular accountability meetings and discussion groups.

Alcoholics Anonymous also uses a 12-Step approach to overcoming an addiction to alcohol, including admitting to addiction, making conscious choices to change, and using prayer and meditation to overcome the addiction.

Rehabilitation

Addiction centers pair you with trusted healthcare professionals who are there to offer medical support through patients’ journeys to quit drinking.

Both inpatient and outpatient rehab facilities are available.

While inpatient care may be ideal for anyone with a severe addiction to alcohol, outpatient care may be enough for someone who needs professional help but doesn’t necessarily need constant supervision.

Counseling

Traditional therapy can help you unpack any mental or emotional traumas that trigger patients’ tendency to drink alone.

Counselors can help patients overcome alcohol addiction in healthy ways.      

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Some people use medication to treat alcoholism in combination with other methods of treatment. Medications include Naltrexone that can help to reduce alcohol cravings so they stop wanting to drink alone.

Likewise, Acamprosate can help to repair brain damage from drinking alone often. And Disulfiram can trigger a negative physical reaction to alcohol so that patients won’t want to consume alcohol.

Drinking Alone: Questions and Answers

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about drinking alone:

Why is drinking alone frowned upon?

Drinking alone is not necessarily frowned upon if done responsibly. However, drinking alone can be a symptom of alcoholism, which is a larger problem.

Developing alcoholism can take a significant toll on your health.

Is drinking alone a sign of alcoholism?

Drinking alone isn’t always a sign of alcoholism, but it certainly can be a symptom.

Many alcohol abusers drink alone because they cannot control their ability to stop or reduce their drinking habits.

But some people enjoy an alcoholic drink alone every so often, and they are not alcoholics.

Is drinking alone a sign of depression?

If you or someone you know is drinking alone, this does not necessarily mean that you or they are depressed.

People drink alone for a myriad of reasons — sometimes simply because they enjoy the taste of the drink.

Depression may lead to drinking alone for some people. It’s not a good sign if you find yourself drinking alone to self-medicate or escape reality.

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Resources

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“Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 29 Apr. 2020, www.medlineplus.gov/alcoholusedisorderaud.html.

“Alcohol Use Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 July 2018, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243.

“Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 18 Feb. 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics.

“Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4 June 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders

“Does Drinking Alone Make Me An Alcoholic?” Vertava Health, 27 Dec. 2019, vertavahealth.com/blog/drinking-alone-alcoholic/.

“Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Dec. 2019, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

Hello Sunday Morning. “Are We Drinking More During Isolation?” Hello Sunday Morning, 9 June 2020, hellosundaymorning.org/2020/04/22/are-we-drinking-more-during-isolation/.

Hodges, Bruce. “Why Do We Drink Alone?” Ria Health, 24 Apr. 2020, riahealth.com/2020/04/21/why-do-we-drink-alone/.

“Is Drinking Alone An Early Warning Sign?” Association for Psychological Science - APS, 22 Nov. 2013, www.psychologicalscience.org/news/were-only-human/is-drinking-alone-an-early-warning-sign.html

“Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” SAMHSA, www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.pdf.   

Kuria, Mary W et al. “The Association between Alcohol Dependence and Depression before and after Treatment for Alcohol Dependence.” ISRN psychiatry vol. 2012 482802. 26 Jan. 2012, doi:10.5402/2012/482802. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3658562/.

Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol Abuse.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/addiction/alcohol-abuse.

Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), March 2020, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-dangers-of-alcohol-overdose.

Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), 2014, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/treatment-alcohol-problems-finding-and-getting-help#1.

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