Pouring Out The Loneliness Of Alcoholism — And Healing
I have struggled with alcohol — and the loneliness it can bring.
Working as a standup comedian in Chicago, I think about alcoholism and my own alcohol consumption a lot because drinking is such a huge aspect of the culture.
Whether it involves me and my fellow comics or just the audience by themselves while I’m performing on stage, drinking and partying is an integral part of something that is my job — and I’m surrounded by it.
This is a lifestyle that can easily lead to alcohol abuse and loneliness — a vicious cycle that’s incredibly difficult to break free from.
It’s isolating to feel like everyone else can drink casually without giving it so much as a second thought — and without it negatively affecting their lives.
That’s something I can’t do.
It also makes me feel alone because I don’t want to admit that I’m having problems — especially not to anyone around me — partly because of the stigma associated with it, but because that means also admitting it to myself and committing to a real change.
Struggling with alcoholism — or even just the threat of alcohol addiction — can make you feel isolated, but trust me, you’re far from alone.
The most important thing is finding healthy ways to deal with loneliness — and breaking the cycle once and for all.
In this article, I’ll cover:
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing series The Roots Of Loneliness Project, the first-of-its-kind resource that comprehensively explores the phenomenon of loneliness and over 100 types that we might experience over the course of our lives.
Alcoholism And Loneliness: Why They Go Hand In Hand
Addiction and loneliness often go hand in hand because many people use alcohol or other substances to cope when they feel alone.
Loneliness is even considered a risk factor for alcoholism on its own.
When you feel alone and unsupported (even if that’s not actually the case) it makes it even harder to break out of a toxic cycle and find the help that you need to stop drinking.
As a standup comic, I’m surrounded by drinking culture all of the time since most of the shows I do take place in bars.
Whenever I have tried to limit my own drinking, it’s felt like I’ve also had to cut back on having a nice time or connecting with my friends.
It’s challenging enough to be the only one not partaking but as the night progresses, it’s even harder once you’ve become the only sober person in a group of happy drunks.
That’s an especially lonely feeling because it feels like everyone is on a separate wavelength from you. You’re not included in their fun, not really — you’ve become more of a spectator.
(And most of the time, the designated driver. Or the person who dutifully holds hair back while someone else is puking their guts out.)
Sometimes I would just have to remove myself from the situation entirely to avoid the temptation of alcohol. This only resulted in more feelings of loneliness and FOMO (fear of missing out) since my friends were all out together and I was sitting at home by myself.
Loneliness can be a huge factor in the development of alcoholism and a person’s success with giving up drinking. Studies have found that loneliness is more common in alcoholics than in most other groups.
Alcoholic loneliness may arise from:
- Depression, anxiety, PTSD, and/or trauma
- Difficulties readjusting to civilian life after military service
- The loss of a support system or close relationships because of your behavior while drunk
- Feelings of isolation from having to hide your drinking
- Loss of community when having to remove yourself from triggering situations like bars and parties
- A sudden disruption of routines and habits during recovery
- The stigma surrounding alcoholism, forcing you to keep secrets or hide what’s really going on from those around you
- Feeling like you’re disappointing your family and friends — especially if you can’t get a handle on your drinking
Feelings of loneliness can cause a person to drink in excess as a way of “drowning” their sorrows. If a little alcohol makes you feel numb, a lot more alcohol will dull those feelings entirely, right?
But when trying to limit your alcohol consumption — or stop drinking completely — you might stay away from your usual group of down-to-party friends and avoid social activities, which can lead to loneliness over time.
Healthy Ways To Overcome The Loneliness Of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a disease that almost 15 million Americans struggle with.
You might feel alone right now, but there are so many people just like you and me who are looking for ways to cope with the loneliness that accompanies an alcohol abuse disorder.
I won’t blow smoke up your ass and tell you that the road will be easy — because it definitely won’t. As Winston Churchill once said, however, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”
Eventually, you’ll find your way out.
- Find a support group:
It doesn’t have to be Alcoholics Anonymous — I know not everyone is into the whole 12-step recovery thing — but there are tons of other support groups for people who are struggling with alcoholism.
If you’re battling an addiction to alcohol right now, no one else is going to understand those struggles better than your fellow addicts will.
Support groups offer a judgment-free space to openly talk about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences — which is especially important because it can be difficult to discuss your alcoholism with loved ones.
Those attending group meetings have been where you are, and they can be a great source of emotional support — and hope.
Additionally, support groups can also open the door to making a new circle of friends — one that doesn’t involve alcohol.
I’m not saying that you need to ditch all of your existing friends, but if you find yourself limiting contact with them because of their drinking or alcohol-fueled social activities, a support group may just create a new sober social circle to become a part of.
If you’d rather not attend in-person support group meetings, turn to the internet, instead.
An online community dedicated to sobriety like the subreddit r/stopdrinking can be a helpful resource that offers camaraderie and a safe space to talk.
- Be honest with the people in your life:
Let your friends and family know how you are feeling.
It can be hard to admit you have a drinking problem — to others, but especially to yourself — and even harder to admit you are feeling lonely because of the social stigma we associate with both.
But your friends and family want to be there for you. Trust me, they do.
Plan some time to connect with them through a sober activity or even just a phone call.
It might be the hardest conversation you’ll ever have in your life — but at the same time, shedding some of the weight of your own feelings by sharing them with those you love can bring an incredible sense of relief.
And that helps to open the door to recovery and healing — particularly if the people in your life have also been struggling with your drinking.
Sometimes we forget that our actions affect others. We’re not selfish, or at least we don’t mean to be, but we see the world through our own lens — and alcohol has a tendency to blur that view.
Or black it out completely.
Heart-to-heart conversations with the people around us can help to heal not only ourselves but those we may have inadvertently hurt through our behavior.
This is true for everyone — not just alcoholics.
- Join a group or league activity — and fake it till you make it (if you have to):
It might not seem like it right now, but there are tons of sober activities you can do to take your mind off of alcohol, help you to stay committed to your sobriety, and ease your loneliness.
But such activities might be best undertaken in a group setting that gets you out of the house — especially if you live alone — and gives you an opportunity to spend time with others who are not drinking.
Join a local basketball or bowling league — provided it’s held in an alcohol-free bowling alley. Take cooking or pottery classes. Enroll in a Spanish class or if you’re into comedy, hook up with an improv group.
By doing this, you will have something to fill the hours of your day and you might even make some friends in the process.
But what if you’re just not feeling it? Folks who get involved in group activities tend to be happy, optimistic, enthusiastic, and “fun.”
You might not feel like a “fun” person unless you’ve had a drink or two. But you can be, with the right mindset.
The phrase, “fake it till you make it,” means that through the act of imitation — whether you’re imitating optimism, confidence, joy, or general know-how — you can gain those qualities for real.
I’m not saying you have to fake every aspect of your life — you don’t want to squash your authenticity or change yourself entirely.
But if you “fake” being happy or optimistic, especially when you’re first getting out there and joining groups for fun, you might just find yourself becoming happier and more hopeful as time goes on — and as you build solid social connections with others in sober environments.
- See a therapist or counselor:
It can feel like you have to struggle through your alcoholism loneliness by yourself, but there are many therapists that specialize in exactly what you are going through.
The process of finding a therapist can be intimidating, but once you do, talking things through with an objective and unbiased party can take a real weight off of your shoulders.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has a number of resources relating to treatment.
If you feel it’s time to consider inpatient or outpatient rehab, American Addiction Centers can help you find the program that will best suit your needs.
If you are struggling with your drinking and looking for more resources, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP or check out their website.
Alcoholism is a disease that many are predisposed to but the stigma that surrounds it makes outsiders look at those who suffer from it as weak or selfish.
Your addiction might also make it harder to maintain your friendships and support network, particularly if you have to remove yourself from social activities that tend to involve alcohol.
But if you’re struggling with loneliness and alcohol addiction, you’re not alone — and these feelings won’t last forever.
Even if it’s painful to admit your addiction and loneliness to others — or yourself — this is a battle that can be won, and you deserve happiness.