Often we can get stuck in a mood and not realise how it affects our behaviour. When it comes to drinking, it helps to know how our moods can affect our choices to drink and how much to drink. In the long-run, being aware of how mood affects drinking can help you gain more control over your change journey.
Knowing when you’re vulnerable to picking up a drink helps you make better choices to change your drinking habits.
Understanding Mood and Drinking
We all know that our thoughts can influence how we feel. If something difficult happens to us and we believe we are having a ‘bad day’, we become grumpy and frustrated. The reverse is also true and our emotions can also affect our thoughts. If we are feeling discouraged about a certain situation in our lives, we can also tend to see other situations with a more negative perspective.
Drinking and Mood
It’s really common for people to drink in order to deal with uncomfortable situations or emotions. Emotions like boredom, fear, loneliness and shame can be distressing, and if these emotions continue for a period of time, they become a ‘mood’. Moods are clusters of emotions that are experienced over a longer period of time.
It’s also common for people to find themselves in a pattern of drinking to manage distressing emotions and moods. It is also natural to want to try and control these overwhelming emotions. Alcohol can commonly become the main coping mechanism, and part of daily life. The problem with drinking to feel (or not to feel), is that alcohol doesn’t relieve these emotions. They are still within us and can resurface during a period of being sober, or during a stressful experience.
My Emotional Triggers
Knowing your own emotions can help you in the long-run with maintaining a healthy relationship with alcohol. By identifying what emotions trigger you to want to drink, you are more prepared to reach your goals with reducing drinking.
Mastering Mood Activity Sheet
personal emotional (feeling) triggers by doing
an exercise in our ‘Mastering Moods’ activity sheet.
It can be helpful to connect some dots between how you feel and when you choose to drink. Knowing about what drives your drinking can give you better control over reducing your intake. You’ll know what your challenging situations and experiences are, which gives you a starting point to make a plan.
If you like, you can try a ‘Connecting the Dots’ Activity, also in our ‘Mastering Moods’ activity sheet. If you’d like to learn more about how to manage emotional triggers, consider reading our Managing Urges information pack.
If you had any difficulty connecting the dots with the example you chose, you might like to try another example and see if you can make any connections to your feelings and drinking.
Knowing when you’re vulnerable to picking up a drink puts you in a position to make a choice about whether you want to drink or not. A useful way to help you assess your emotions is by thinking about HALT (Hunger, Anger/Anxiety, Lonely, Tired):
This is an interesting trigger, since it is one we don’t think about too much. However, when we think about our brains, they are organic matter, and need nutrients to function properly. When our bodies go for too long without food, our blood sugar levels drop and we can start to feel weak, foggy and depleted. In those moments, high calorie beverages such as wine and beer become very attractive, since they offer both emotional and physiological relief. For many people that 5pm ‘wine witch’ is silenced by making sure they are well hydrated and fed at this time, and their bodies are able to function at a high level.
When we are feeling strong emotions such as anger and anxiety, we can feel extremely uncomfortable – and one of the reasons we often use alcohol at a time like this is because it is a relaxant. Unfortunately, it is also dis-inhibiting, meaning we are likely to say or do things that we wouldn’t normally do if we were sober. Most of the time it is not a great idea to use alcohol when you’re experiencing these emotional states – and there is value in finding other emotional regulation strategies. These might include: reaching out to friends for support, self soothing activities like a hot shower or listening to relaxing music, going for a long walk while listening to a podcast or music, or writing out your feelings. It is great to have a large toolbox of emotional regulation strategies so that alcohol is just one choice out of many.
Loneliness is an emotional state that puts us at risk of relapse or slipping back – it is a unique type of pain and one that can bring up unresolved emotions and pain. Alcohol is often used to ease the pain of loneliness, even as we know that it also contributes to the issue in some respects (since we are less likely to form meaningful friendships or relationships if we are drinking heavily). If you’re aware that loneliness is an issue for you, it is worth considering when this is going to feel most intense (eg. on weekends), and find some strategies to counteract this (eg. scheduled social activities, engaging hobbies, self care).
Tiredness is an interesting one – we all know that there are different types of tiredness – from emotionally exhausted, to physically tired after exercising, to just plain sleepy. Any type of tiredness is a risk factor for relapse, since we know that alcohol gives us a temporary boost in our reward centre – meaning we might experience mild euphoria after one or two drinks. This is appealing when we are depleted and tired, and many people use alcohol to try and lift their spirits and mood when they are in the midst of a busy time. It is useful to remember that, while it might feel like alcohol is helping perk us up, it also impacts our sleep, meaning that we actually end up more tired the following day if we are drinking. If you are feeling tired or depleted, see if you can make some small changes to improve your energy (eg. sleep hygiene strategies, drinking more water, temporarily reducing your commitments), and have some alternative pick-me-ups that don’t involve alcohol (eg. short walk around the block, hot shower, 20 minute naps, using a sleep tracker to make sure you get good quality sleep).
Get to know your moods
Moods are more general states and tend to be longer lasting, and less specific to a situation. You might not be aware of what your mood is until you sit down and have a think about what is going on for you, or until someone else points it out to you!
Let’s take some time to reflect on how you might get into a cycle with your mood and drinking.
First up, consider, am I in a drinking cycle?
A toxic drinking cycle is when alcohol is used to cope with certain feelings or situations, but ends up contributing to more uncomfortable feelings or difficult situations. For example, if feeling flat or more down than usual, it might be tempting to have a drink to get some relief. Drinking can then impact on sleep, which then messes up mood. Waking up the next day, you may feel worse, or regret drinking the night before. This can be demotivating, leaving you feeling even more down. Or you might feel hungover, and be unable to do the things you wanted to get done the next day. Feeling guilty, this makes you feel worse. You may choose to have another drink to distract yourself from those feelings. And so the cycle continues.
Don’t worry, there is good news!
By understanding the role alcohol plays for you, you can start to break the drinking cycle and introduce more positive patterns.
Try the ‘Understanding my drinking cycle’ exercise in our ‘Mastering Mood’ activity sheet.
You might also like to try the ‘Positive Momentum Cycle exercise‘. This can help you start to make changes not just in how much you drink, but in how you feel, you have a way of stopping the cycle from gaining momentum.
Sometimes it can be hard to believe that anything can change, especially when people have been in a negative drinking cycle for a long time. Have you thought about accessing the Daybreak Peer Support community? It sometimes helps when there are others around us who are experiencing similar things.
Looking for 'early warning signs' for low mood
Part of recognising and changing the cycle is to look out for early warning signs such as:
- Feeling a lot more tired/fatigued/less energy
- Sleeping more
- Starting to lose interest or not enjoying things you used to enjoy as much
- Procrastinating and putting off responsibilities
- Lack of motivation
- Thoughts of hopelessness, worthlessness
- Increased anxiety (e.g. worrying more than usual)
- Bursting into tears for no reason
- Slower thinking/concentration difficulties
- Withdrawing or avoiding contact with other people
- Reduced interest in sex
Because early warning signs are usually the triggers making you want to drink, it can be helpful to start making a plan if you notice any of these in your life at the moment. They can help you know when you might need some extra self-care.
If you’ve noticed a number of these early warning signs, you might like to reach out to a healthcare professional for support. Visit our Get Help page for some suggested contacts.
How to manage a low mood
- Focus on eating well and catching up on sleep after a hangover
- Schedule activities for the morning to help you get up
- Schedule some time out for yourself to do something you enjoy
- Increase your activity level (go for a gentle walk, do some yoga, anything that gets you moving gently)
- Try to double down on your efforts to reduce your drinking
- Call someone for support (friend, family member, helpline) – talking things through can help
Learn Strategies for Managing your Mood
There are many ways to start managing your mood while you are making changes to your relationship with alcohol. Check out our top four strategies below:
- More Movement
- Pleasurable Activities
- Sticky Thoughts
- Emotional Self Care
Getting exercise can significantly boost your mood. In fact, research suggests exercise acts almost like an antidepressant for mild to moderate depression. It has a range of benefits, like increasing endorphins (the feel good chemicals), reducing stress, losing weight and feeling stronger. As you find yourself getting fitter, it can also increase self-confidence. Some people notice that the more exercise they do, the less they feel like drinking. You may want to consider using exercise as a replacement behaviour for drinking (e.g. plan an afternoon run with a work colleague instead of Friday night drinks) – win win! Have a look at the ‘More Movement’ section in the Activity Sheet for more ideas.
Sometimes we can forget about other activities that will help in the long-run with goals to reduce drinking. By improving your mood, you are much more likely to want to achieve your goals. Even if you don’t currently feel like doing anything from the list below, we encourage you to try at least one out, as they can help you shift your mood. You may consider choosing activities to break a negative drinking cycle, or as a distraction technique if you have an urge to drink.
Be mindful of how you are feeling when you choose an activity. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you might like to choose an activity that is soothing or relaxing. If you are feeling down and low energy, you might want to try some activities that are more activating and energising.
We all have unhelpful thoughts sometimes. Some can be more unhelpful than others as we start believing they are true. Unhelpful thoughts not only impact on how we feel, but can also influence our choices to drink. The first step is to notice the thought…
Common themes that your thoughts might be related to:
1. Catastrophising (Blowing things out of proportion).
Has anyone ever said to you – you’re making mountains out of molehills? You tend to imagine all sorts of worst-case-scenarios or disasters that could happen from a relatively minor negative event.
2. Black and White Thinking (It’s all or nothing)
This is extreme thinking, not considering the ‘shades of grey’ or the in-between possibilities. Either something is perfect or otherwise it’s a failure. Things will either work out or be a complete disaster. You tend to see things, yourself, and other people as being all wrong or right, all good or bad.
3. Personalising (It’s all my fault)
You blame yourself for everything that could or does go wrong, even if you are only partly responsible or not responsible at all. You assume you are entirely responsible for negative things that occur.
4. Jumping to Conclusions (Mind reading, Fortune telling)
You tend to assume something negative when there is no actual evidence to support it. For example, you assume that you know what someone else is thinking or what their intentions are, without having much evidence (e.g. ‘He thinks I’m a loser’). You may think that you can predict what is going to happen in the future – that things will turn out badly (e.g. ‘I won’t get the job’).
5. Filtering (Not looking at the whole picture)
You tend to focus on the negative aspects of your situation, and forget, ignore or dismiss any positive aspects. Its ‘tunnel vision’ – focusing on only one part and not the rest. You pick on a single negative detail and dwell on it.
6. Shoulds and Musts
You put unreasonable demands or pressure on yourself or others. You often use the words ‘I should’ or ‘I must’. You can be quite hard on yourself and may have unrealistic expectations of yourself or others.
You might like to start watching out for these sticky thoughts, and reach out for some additional support with a healthcare professional if you need to talk anything through.
Emotions are a part of life. We have all had experiences of feeling wonderful and this is great. There are also some emotions that we can get caught up in that aren’t good to be feeling a lot of the time. Taking care of your feelings can make a big difference to how you experience life. When we feel better, we do better.
Often when we drink we are wanting to escape from a difficult emotion and relax and soothe ourselves in some way. When we decide to move away from alcohol, we are going to need other ways to deal with our feelings.
In our ‘Mastering Moods’ activity sheet, check out the ‘Taking Care of your Emotions’ exercise for some strategies that have been used as alternatives to alcohol when difficult emotions come up.
- Drinking to feel better or to mask feelings can develop an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, trapping you in a cycle
- Knowing how your feelings impact your drinking can help you reduce drinking, and develop a better relationship with alcohol
- There are many ways to start mastering your mood to drinking
Want to learn more?
Organisations and Services
Books and Articles
There are lots of great books and articles offering help. We have selected a few to get you started:
- The Happiness Trap – Book by Russ Harris
- Mind Over Mood – Book by Dennis Greenberger Christine A. Padesky
- First, We Make the Beast Beautiful – Book by Sarah Wilson
If reading this brings up tough stuff for you, please talk to a trusted family member, friend, GP or one of the other services listed on our Get Help page. For additional support, we encourage you to follow the recommendations provided to you in your Personal Snapshot Report.