Why do people turn to alcohol to manage a breakup?
Alcohol is something that people often use to help deal with negative emotions. It can temporarily shift the mind away from uncomfortable feelings such as pain, rejection or disappointment; towards ordinary matters – such as talking to strangers in bars and dancing in nightclubs.
When our relationships aren’t going well, or we are dealing with the fall-out from a break up, we often feel an uneasy combination of fear, sadness, grief, anxiety, anger, frustration and loneliness. None of these are positive emotions, and often they can trigger old memories and feelings from previous painful experiences in our lives.
Ironically, alcohol can be the one thing that stops us from processing the emotional pain of a breakup.
We know that when we drink, our brains are much less efficient at processing memories and emotions, and we can find ourselves stuck in a cycle of feeling down and wanting to avoid this at any cost. It makes sense that we will want to numb some of those feelings and distract ourselves. That dopamine rush which comes with the first drink of alcohol is probably a welcome relief from the emotional chaos that is brewing inside.
However, alcohol is also a depressant that can amplify those original feelings. It can also lower our level of inhibition, meaning that we can do and say things that we later regret, all the while being influenced by these strong, overwhelming emotions.
We think that having a big night out will help us to process all of these feelings of hurt and sadness, but we also know from past experience that these nights out can actually unlock more feelings or prolong negative emotional states.
Alcohol is a depressant
which can amplify those
What might be an alternative that helps you deal with the very normal pain that you are feeling, while at the same time sets you up to move on with your life?
From past experience, what might be the best way to care for your wounded emotions, that doesn’t necessarily involve switching off or numbing yourself?
Below are three ways to process your emotions without the hangover or regret:
1. Support from your circle
One of the reasons we might head out for a night on the town is for the social connection. We know that being in a social environment, talking and interacting with other people that we are comfortable with, can help to shift our mood and feel a sense of connectedness and enjoyment. However, other alternatives might include hosting a games night at home, scheduling a hike with trusted friends or playing sports outdoors with mates. This might create the opportunity to receive unconditional support from your circle.
HSM’s tip: A good night rest will also help you to better prepare to face tomorrow’s challenge. Take it one day at a time.
2. Start processing
Once you have had the opportunity to process what has happened, the next step is to go a bit deeper with your emotions. One thing that alcohol does is to help us avoid fears and emotions. Facing our fear and emotions can be scary and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, in our society, there is often a tendency to consider crying or being sad as a sign of weakness. This goes for both men and women. Quite contrary to common perceptions, tears can be healing. And when you are ready to deal with your emotions, find the right support to help you on your path towards healing. Being in the company of those who love and care for you will serve as a reminder of your sense of worth which can often be hard to keep in mind when processing breakups.
If you feel you can process this in your own time, perhaps schedule in a nice long walk amongst nature and away from your day-to-day scenery or block out a time for yourself and write your experiences down whilst sipping a good cup of tea.
If you do want to work through your feelings, speak to a counsellor or psychologist who can guide you through some techniques to help with this process. Remember that you don’t have to do it alone. There isn’t a ‘set’ timeframe to get over someone – it might look quite different from one person to another, so don’t set a deadline for yourself.
Being in the company of those
who love and care for you will serve as
a reminder of your sense of worth
3. Set goals
One of the things that alcohol does is create a dopamine rush with the first drink that can often provide good feelings and motivation. This hack can trick your brain to give the impression of having a thrill and sense of purpose. But this rush wears off quickly, only to be replaced by those less helpful feelings of tiredness or low motivation.
Setting valued goals would give the same thrill and sense of purpose as we get in order to release the dopamine. This would generate a better long-term benefit than using alcohol. If you find it is a bit too early to start planning goals, it’s worth considering some things that you might like to change or things you’d like to achieve. Combine this with listing one or two things you are thankful for, and you can cultivate a mindset that could be helpful when you are going through a tough time. It can give you encouragement to focus on the big picture, rather than the pain you are in at the present time.
HSM’s tip: If there is a particular day or time that you find difficult, set a new and pleasurable routine around it. This will help you create a new memory while still acknowledging hard times.
When our relationships aren’t going well, or we are dealing with loss, it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed and upset – and we also know that, while alcohol can help to make things a bit easier in that moment, it can also be something that intensifies and prolongs our emotional suffering. Taking a step back from this and considering what needs the alcohol is meeting, can be helpful during times like this.