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The Psychology Behind Drunk Texting: Why Do We Do It?

We’ve all been there. You’re finally feeling good about your breakup and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. So good, in fact, you decide to head out and have a few drinks with friends. 

As the night continues, you have a few more, and suddenly, the “I miss you” texts (or worse) start flowing. 

Drunk texting is a phenomenon that spares no one. Whether you’ve done it yourself or been victim to it, drunk texting leaves most of us confused and embarrassed in the morning. 

So, what’s the psychology behind drunk texting? Are drunk texts truly sober thoughts? How do you come back from a night of drunk texting? Let’s talk about it. 

Why Do We Drunk Text?

Alcohol primarily affects areas of the brain associated with behavior regulation – big surprise there, right?

This impairment in judgment makes you much more prone to sending that risky text you normally wouldn’t sober.

A sober brain helps weigh the good and bad consequences of any decision. However, add a few vodka cranberries, and suddenly the angel/devil on your shoulder is mute. 

As we add more drinks, we lose our ability to realistically gauge the weight of our decisions.

Drunk you” may think it’s completely appropriate to tell your boss off when he texts you asking you to cover a shift the next day; however, sober you really wouldn’t want to lose your job. 

There are a few reasons you reach for your phone when you drink.

These include:

  • A desire to entertain yourself or escape some other feeling.
  • Feeling more confident and less accountable for your actions when drunk.
  • Wanting to emotionally unload or confess your “true” feelings.
  • A desire to get laid (blunt, but true).

Of course there are a number of other reasons, but these are the most common. But what’s really driving the behavior beneath the surface? Luckily, we have studies to help us understand drunk texting better.

An embarrassed woman stars at four pints of beer and a text message. The title reads The Psychology Behind Drunk Texting
The psychology behind drunk texting

Research on Drunk Texting

A 2021 study explored the relationship between drunk texting and drinking habits. The study sample included 2,559 women and sought to clarify the role of emotional regulation and motivations for drunk texting.

Researchers found that:

Or, more simply put, if you text to distract from your problems and you’re not good at handling your emotions, you’re more likely to text when drunk.

For example, if you’re the type to randomly hit people up when you’re feeling anxious about something unrelated, that’s an example of texting to run away from your problems. It’s not that you want to chat so much as you want a distraction.

Interestingly, the study noted that if you primarily text as a way to express yourself and your feelings, you are less likely to drunk text.

Emotional Regulation and Drunk Texting

In addition to the aforementioned study, a second study in the journal Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking from 2016 also noted the role of emotional regulation in drunk texting.

This study also found that people who struggle with emotional regulation have a higher tendency toward drunk texting. This is especially prevalent among binge drinkers who drink emotionally, in part, because they lack healthy coping strategies to manage stress.

What’s especially interesting from the 2016 study is that it suggests that some people might actually use drunk texting as a way to manage their emotions.

The drunk texting becomes their coping mechanism for stress (albeit a really unhealthy one).

Do Drunk Texts Hold Any Meaning?

Drunk words are sober thoughts. We’ve all heard this phrase a million times, but is it true?

The question, “Do drunk texts mean anything?” is complicated.

As people drink, they loosen up their inhibitions, leading them to say whatever pops into their head without thinking twice. 

Sure, maybe, they’re using liquid courage to unveil some deeply held feelings.

The truth is, drunk texting is a byproduct of alcohol-induced changes throughout the brain that lead to poor decision making and shifts in personality.

If the drunk texter wouldn’t tell you any of those things sober or admit to them after the fact, take those texts for what they are – lapses in judgment.

Sending Drunk Texts:

So, what happens when we’re the culprit of a drunk texting episode? 

This may not be what you want to hear, but if you are a chronic drunk texter – especially in the case of an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend it’s likely that you lack adequate emotional regulation skills.

If, while sober, you have difficulty communicating the way you’re feeling, or you don’t know how to manage intense feelings without booze, it’s more likely you will act upon this once your inhibition is lowered. 

So, the ex that broke your heart or the new bartender at work that has caught your eye now becomes the ‘victim’ of this newfound confidence. 

Is it truly the way you feel?

It’s impossible to say, as every person’s situation is unique, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. The meaning is less important, in my opinion, than the impact of drunk texts, which do have meaning for people on the receiving end.

Related Post: Why Do I Get Angry At My Boyfriend When I Drink?

Receiving Drunk Texts:

You wake up in the morning after a peaceful night’s sleep to find your phone riddled with 9 text messages from your ex. Do they mean anything?

Even if they hit you up the next day swearing up and down it was the alcohol talking, it’s unlikely to settle your mind as you reread the 14 paragraphs they sent as the bar closed. 

So, what does it mean if your ex reaches out to you while drunk? There are a few underlying motives to unpack. Let’s take a look:

  • Ego Boost: If your ex reaches out to you while drunk, they may be looking for validation or a stroke to their confidence if they haven’t found it from anyone else yet. 
  • Unfinished Business: Did you and your ex end on abrupt terms? If your ex is messaging you late at night after a few beers, it’s likely there is unfinished business still bothering them. 
  • Sexual Motives: This one is the clearest to see. If they’re texting you after a night out with the goal of sex in mind, you’ll know fairly quickly. 

While these aren’t always the cases, it’s often common that their drunk text falls into one of these categories.

Whether you desperately want their drunk texts to be their true feelings, or you desperately don’t, it’s important to remember that drunk texts are born out of an altered mental state. They don’t actually matter.

If there is something important to discuss, it’ll happen when both people are sober.

More>> 7 Types of Drunks: What You Drunk Personality Reveals About You

How Do I Stop Drunk Texting?

If you’re a serial drunk texter, there are things you can do to fix your behavior (and one surefire way to end drunk texts for good).

1. Take Notes of Your Triggers:

Make a list of all the triggers that make you drink excessively and/or reach for your phone to start texting. Knowing your triggers is a powerful first step toward overcoming them.

Were you stood up on a date earlier in the evening? Did you just get out of a nasty breakup?

Think about all the potential people you may send a thread of embarrassing novels to later in the evening.

Take some time before going out to acknowledge these emotions before you decide to give in after a few tequila shots.

Make a note on your phone to deal with them later when you’re sober. 

2. Try New Places:

This is related to knowing and avoiding your triggers.

If you’re going back to the same bar you and your ex used to spend Sunday NFL games at, of course, you will be triggered after the drinks hit.

You’ll look around and imagine you and him (or her) pounding back a few Bud Lights and feel it’s an appropriate time to remind him that you miss him.

Try new places to avoid those memories coming up in the first place. 

3. Use Accountability:

Sometimes we can just feel the urge to text an ex before we even go out.

There are nights we just have a gut feeling it’s going to happen. Use friends as accountability.

Tell them that you’re feeling this way and you need help.

Oftentimes friends are far more ruthless than you are when it comes to an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend and are more than happy to help you stay away from them. 

4. Utilize Drunk Texting Apps:

Ahh, what a time to be alive. Instead of using manual willpower – which, let’s face it – doesn’t always happen when we’re drunk – there are apps specifically created for this situation!

Some apps will lock your phone entirely (besides emergency calls) from set hours of the night, or others will allow you to input a few phone numbers you’ll be unable to call or text while drunk.

Use this technology to your advantage!

5. Actively Work on Developing Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Remember that one of the main drivers of drunk texting is a lack of healthy emotional regulation skills.

There are things you can proactively do to work on that. These techniques should be done in your everyday life to improve your overall mental health and wellbeing. They’re not going to be as effective or accessible when you’re four glasses in, so think of these are preventative measures.

  • Deep Breathing: Deep breathing exercises, such as the 4-7-8 technique, can help calm the nervous system. Inhale through the nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale through the mouth for 8 seconds. This helps reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Cognitive Reframing: This involves changing the way you interpret an event or situation. For example, instead of thinking, “I’m going to be alone forever,” you could reframe it as, “Some things haven’t worked out, but all I can do is learn and move forward.” This shift in perspective can help you manage negative emotions more effectively.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This technique involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups in a specific sequence. Start from your toes and work your way up to your head. As you tense each muscle group, hold for a few seconds and then release. This can help relieve physical tension, which often accompanies emotional stress.
  • Take a Timeout: Sometimes stepping away from a stressful situation can give you the space you need to cool down and think clearly. If you feel yourself getting worked up or ruminating, take a short break to do something you find relaxing or enjoyable. I have these paint-by-sticker books I work on when I need to zone out and reset. This can help you return to the situation with a clearer mind and better emotional control.

Remember, these are all strategies to help you get better control over your relationships before you start drinking heavily and making bad choices with regards to your phone.

Here’s a video on the 4-7-8 breathing technique, in case you’re interested in trying it out:

6. Seek Support

All of the strategies I just mentioned are great tools, but in many cases, if you’re drinking emotionally and regularly unleashing onto people via text when you do, chances are that you have some needs to address.

This is where getting extra support in the form of therapy, counseling, or coaching is important.

Working with a trained professional can help you drill down underlying causes of both your drinking and emotional regulation issues and help you deal with them. There’s only so much you can do on your own via the internet.

Sometimes you need that one-on-one attention from someone to make meaningful progress (and that’s okay!).

7. Stop Getting Drunk

This is probably the most obvious solution to your drunk texting problem, but if you have a habit of drinking a lot and sending regrettable texts, take a break from alcohol.

It doesn’t mean you have some serious drinking problem, but sometimes there are seasons in our life when it’s best to stay away from alcohol.

If you are in a vulnerable, stressed, or otherwise emotionally fraught time in your life, it’s best to keep a clear mind so you can handle your stuff.

Try going sober for thirty days and see how you feel. If you feel like you can’t, you may have deeper issues. That’s okay, too.

There are a ton of support networks out there to help, and I’ve got an extensive library of resources to help you quit drinking if you ever need them.

If you’re questioning your risk level, I’ve included a quiz at the end you can take.

How Do I Recover From a Night Of Drunk Texting?

What do you do after you just sent your ex a string of “I miss you” texts? How do you come back from it? CAN you come back from it?

Here are a few tips to help you overcome the guilt and shame that comes in the morning after a night of sending (and drinking) a few too many:

1. Apologize

While you certainly don’t have to, sometimes the only way to face an embarrassing situation is to take it head-on.

Everyone has drunk texted at some point in their life, so as long as the other person is willing to hear it, an apology should make things at least slightly better. 

2. Laugh

Life’s too short to do anything other than laugh about embarrassing situations. So you drunk texted an ex… who hasn’t?

Laugh about the way you spelled their name wrong or the way they didn’t even respond. Laughter is the best medicine, and you’ll be much happier if you can laugh at your mistakes every once in a while. 

Of course, if you were entirely inappropriate or said something hurtful, this is obviously the wrong reaction, which leads me to #3 on this list.

3. Own It

Even if you have to fake it, confidence can be the best remedy when shame wants to run the show.

If you sent a regrettable text message, take responsibility for it.

We all make mistakes. Own what you did, even to the other person. At the end of the day, holding yourself accountable is the best avenue for change. 

4. Get Over It

Most drunk texts are nothing to get all up in your head over. (Notice I said, “most.” If text something epically terrible, that’s another story.)

A new day will begin, and life will continue on.

Of course, this all depends on what you said – however, no good ever comes from stressing and worrying about things you cannot change. It will only make you feel worse in the end. 

Final Thoughts on the Psychology Behind Drunk Texting:

In the end, drunk texting happens. The only way to curb drunk texting altogether is to cut booze out of your life.

Without alcohol, there will be no embarrassing texts at 2:30 as you suddenly remember you haven’t seen your ex in 6 months.

While it’s easier said than done to simply say get over it, the mental effects of drunk texting are very real. The guilt and shame you feel the next day can easily make you feel down about yourself and damage your self-esteem. 

Next time you go out, take precautions against drunk texting. While drunk texting may feel good at the moment, it’s rarely worth it.

Sources:

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

2. 
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)

3. 
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?

4. 
How often during the last year have you found that you were not able to stop drinking once you had started?

5. 
How often during the last year have you failed to do what was normally expected from you because of drinking?

6. 
How often during the last year have you needed an alcoholic drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session?

7. 
How often during the last year have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?

8. 
How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking?

9. 
Have you or someone else been injured as a result of your drinking?

10. 
Has a relative or friend or a doctor or another health worker been concerned about your drinking or suggested you cut down?

Additional Resources:

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One Comment

  1. I went on a bender and drunk texted my female boss for 5 days whom Im not totally infatuated with. She filed an order of protection and fired me. So drunk texting can lead to many more irritable consequences for both parties concerned. Put the bottle down people! Loved your article!