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Getting Drunk Alone: When Is It A Problem?

In Finland, there’s a word which directly translates as “underwear-drunk”: kalsarikännit. It describes a culture of getting drunk alone, at home, in your underwear, with no intention of going out.

But of course, this isn’t only a Nordic tradition – countless people in the United States engage in some kalsarikännit themselves from time to time. But when does getting drunk alone become a problem?  

Why Do People Drink Alone?

People drink alone largely for the same reasons they drink with others. They drink to feel good, to deal with difficult emotions, to help fall asleep at night, or because it’s simply socially acceptable to drink every day.

Some of the most common reasons people drink alone include:

1. Enjoyment

I get it. This is a site about addiction and alcoholism. And while it’s true that some people may drink compulsively or habitually, the fact is that most people – including those with an alcohol use disorder – drink because they enjoy the effect that alcohol produces.

You may simply enjoy the taste of your favorite beverage, or prefer the buzz that alcohol gives you better than the feeling of staying home sober. Addiction researchers call this an enhancement motive, where people drink because it makes their experience better in some tangible way.

Of course, alcohol use doesn’t always lead to positive experiences. Drinking may be enjoyable right now, but may lead to a hangover or stress the next day. And if alcohol becomes your main source of enjoyment, you can start to notice other things becoming less and less enjoyable over time. 

2. Boredom

Similarly, some people turn to alcohol because sitting at home alone leads to feelings of boredom. There is an old proverb that “idle hands are the devil’s playthings,” implying that anyone with too much time on their hands may turn to mischief to bring back some spark of novelty and pleasure.

In my experience, alcohol doesn’t always cure boredom. Sometimes it just leaves you drunk and bored. But boredom can lead you to trying anything to escape its clutches, and sometimes alcohol is what you have at hand.

Drinking when bored can be pernicious, particularly when it works. 

The human brain is a pattern-matching machine, and connecting the experience of boredom with the behavior of drinking can quickly become entrenched in your subconscious. 

For people with an alcohol use disorder, feeling bored can become intolerable – particularly when alcohol is available as a solution. 

A man is getting drunk alone at the bar. He rests his head on his hamd.
why people get drunk alone

3. Stress

Stress is an unavoidable part of everyday life. And while alcohol doesn’t cure stress, it can often provide some temporary relief from the challenges that you face day to day. Stress can come in any number of forms, including:

  • Workplace stress
  • Mental health symptoms
  • Relationship problems
  • Physical strain
  • Medical conditions

When the stressors of your life are constant and overwhelming, it’s commonly referred to as chronic stress. And many people will turn to a drink after a hard day to relieve some of the pressure that stress adds upon your life, even if it doesn’t make the stressors go away.

Drinking to deal with stress is called a coping motive

Essentially, alcohol serves as a form of self-medicating your stress away. If you’re feeling anxious, alcohol may provide temporary relief. If you’re feeling burnt out, a drink after a hard day can take your mind off things. 

But when people build a pattern of drinking to deal with these mental health challenges, they often find that their stress gets even worse after they’ve sobered up, leading to a destructive spiral of drinking more to deal with the stress that your drinking caused.

4. Loneliness

There’s an important distinction to make between drinking alone and drinking because you’re lonely. 

Loneliness is a distinct psychological concept from social isolation and has been identified as a clear risk factor for alcohol related problems. 

Defined simply, loneliness is a perceived deficit in the quality or quantity of your social ties. You can feel lonely even in a crowded room, or when you’re sitting at home drinking alone.

5. Depression

Depression was the main reason I drank alone. When you’re depressed, loneliness, stress, and boredom can feel like your default state. And while alcohol may not fix these issues, it can distract you from them. 

Unfortunately, in time, drinking alone to deal with your depression ultimately digs you into a deeper hole.

Alcohol use disorders rarely happen in a vacuum. 

Co-occurring mental health disorders are the rule, not the exception, and self-medication of depression symptoms is exceptionally common.

According to one recent study, nearly one quarter of the people who receive a diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder report using alcohol to self-medicate their depression or anxiety.

But this effect can happen the other way around, as well. For many people, living with an alcohol use disorder can cause depression.

A woman holds a glass of whiskey as she drinks alone
reasons why people get drunk alone

Drinking Alone vs. Getting Drunk Alone

Of course, there’s a fundamental difference between having a few drinks and setting out to get drunk. Alcohol may be part of your regular routine, and even if you’re concerned about your drinking alone, it might not always be a problem.

But setting out to get drunk often shows a different type of intent: typically trying to escape your problems. 

When considering whether your alcohol use is problematic, this intent matters a great deal. Drinking to cope is frequently associated with more alcohol related consequences than drinking to socialize, for instance. 

But another factor should be considered as well. If you start drinking intending to only have one or two but find yourself profoundly intoxicated by the end of the night, it might be an indication of an alcohol use disorder.

Risks of Getting Drunk Alone

Drinking alone is often considered one of the most dangerous forms of alcohol use – specifically because of how often drinking alone is related to coping motives. While some people drink to enhance their experience at home alone, it is far more often the case that getting drunk alone is an attempt to self-medicate the stressors and challenges you face.

Self-medication in this way often leads to a destructive downward spiral:

  1. You feel stressed, anxious, depressed, lonely, or bored.
  2. You drink to diminish the uncomfortable feeling you experience.
  3. You find temporary relief.
  4. When the alcohol wears off, you feel even more stressed than before.
  5. You drink more alcohol to deal with the greater stressors, escalating your mental health challenges and alcohol use indefinitely.

The danger in getting drunk alone this way is that it is inherently self-reinforcing. 

Alcohol works – if only for a time. Without taking a step back and looking at your challenges holistically, it can be all too easy to fall into the cycle of drinking to deal with the stress of everyday life over and over again.

But regularly drinking alone comes with countless other risks as well. Alcohol is a known carcinogen, can raise your risk of developing a psychiatric illness, and an alcohol addiction can lead to financial, social, and personal devastation.

No alcohol use is without risk.

Does Getting Drunk Alone Mean I’m an Alcoholic?

Getting drunk alone doesn’t always mean you have a drinking problem, but it is an indicator that you should take a closer look at your drinking.

Determining whether a person is or isn’t an alcoholic isn’t about numbers; there’s no set limit of drinking more than X drinks or X days per week makes you an alcoholic. 

Rather, alcoholism is defined by whether your alcohol use is starting to cause problems in other areas of your life, and whether you keep drinking anyway. 

But since getting drunk alone is so frequently associated with these problems, consider taking the AUDIT quiz at the bottom of this article. The AUDIT can help you determine the impact that your alcohol use has on your life and may provide some guidance as to whether it’s time to quit drinking once and for all.

What to Do if You’re Worried About Getting Drunk Alone

If you’re worried that your solitary drinking is getting out of hand, the simplest thing to do would be to stop drinking alone. But simple doesn’t mean easy – and if you’re living with an alcohol use disorder, you might struggle to stop drinking on your own.

But recovery is possible.

We’ve developed countless resources to help you identify whether you have an alcohol problem, the steps you can take to stop drinking, and to understand the way an alcohol addiction can affect your life. 

You can start your own path to recovery today by looking at our guide for how to quit drinking, getting counseling, or simply reaching out to a friend or loved one to open up about your struggle.

Recovery isn’t always easy – but it’s worth the effort.

Take the AUDIT

The following quiz is called the AUDIT, which is short for Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. It’s used by medical professionals to assess your risk for alcohol dependence. Curious about how your drinking habits stack up? Take the assessment.

This is not an official medical diagnosis nor is it medical advice. Rather this is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions or concerns, share your results with your doctor.

Welcome to your Alcohol Use (AUDIT) quiz

1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?

How many units of alcohol do you drink on a typical day when you are drinking?

A unit of alcohol is one standard drink. Examples of one standard drink include:

  • 12 oz can of beer with about 5% alcohol
  • 5 fl oz of wine (roughly 12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 fl oz shot of spirits like vodka, rum, or whiskey (about 40% alcohol)

How often have you had 6 or more units if female, or 8 or more if male, on a single occasion in the last year?

How often during the last year have you found that you were not able to stop drinking once you had started?

How often during the last year have you failed to do what was normally expected from you because of drinking?

How often during the last year have you needed an alcoholic drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session?

How often during the last year have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?

How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking?

Have you or someone else been injured as a result of your drinking?

Has a relative or friend or a doctor or another health worker been concerned about your drinking or suggested you cut down?

Additional Resources on Alcohol and Drinking

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