Loneliness is on the increase and it can affect a diverse range of people. More women tend to report feeling lonely, compared to men. But that could be because men are frequently told to ’suck it up’.
Loneliness and alcohol have the potential to go hand in hand and create a chicken and egg situation.
Loneliness and alcohol issues – which comes first? Does one trigger the other?
The answer is – it depends on an individual’s circumstances. Some people drink because they’re lonely or bored…and some people are lonely because they’ve become alienated through drink.
Let’s start by considering what is loneliness?
It may seem straightforward, but loneliness can take many forms:
- Feeling left out or feeling like you’re missing out
- Worrying that you’ll always feel this way
- Feeling like you can’t connect with anyone physically or emotionally
- Feeling hopeless and abandoned
- Feeling as if no one cares about you or that no one likes you
- Feeling as if no one understands you
Why is loneliness such a big deal? Surely we all feel this way at some point in our lives?
Well, socialising is a basic human need.
Even Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs features “socialization and relationships” – meaning they’re a key factor taking us towards contentedness, productivity and general motivation.
We need to form bonds with others in order to lead a happy and full life. After all, friends are there to help celebrate the good times and get us through the bad times!
Why is loneliness on the increase?
One of the favourite theories is the increasingly frequent use of social media. People don’t need to call one another for a catch-up…or even meet up often. A lot of people communicate primarily on social media sites.
The other problem with this is the ‘social media bubble.’ We often surround ourselves with people who lead similar lifestyles and have the same political views. This means we’re not exposed to a wider world and remain narrow-minded. It’s a good idea to break free from the bubble and create a friend network made up of people who not only bring out the best in you, but also hold varying cultural and political views. That way, you’ll see there’s a big world out there just waiting for you to meet new people and forge meaningful relationships.
Social media, memes & FOMO
It’s one thing being in a social media bubble, but it’s another when it comes to memes about alcohol. You’ve seen them – the mocking inspirational quotes saying “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy wine and that’s the same kind of thing” and “Shut up liver, you’re fine.”
Sure, I know they’re meant to be funny and they mean no harm…but they are harmful. For example, it normalises the ‘wine o clock’ culture among mums – and we see it every day on Facebook. It isn’t normal to down a bottle or two of wine every single night, but those with alcohol issues may feel like these posts validate their drinking habits.
People tend to post a filtered version of their lives on social media. It may seem they have the perfect partner, perfect home, perfect children, perfect life…but you never know what’s going on behind closed doors. There’s rarely any vulnerability on social media…because people see it as a weakness (it isn’t).
This can ramp up ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) in some people. You might see someone partying all the time, drinking champers in a club and generally living the high life. This can cause people to feel incredibly lonely as they believe their life doesn’t match up to that.
Using online communities for good
There are so many positive communities online including the Club Soda Facebook Group and Soberistas (it even has its own chat facility!). Start using social media for good – not to beat yourself up, or validate behaviour that you know, deep down, probably isn’t good for you.
Now let’s talk about the alcohol itself. Alcohol can be used as a self-harm method. People may feel they’re not worthy of having any friends or feel like noone likes them and that people think they’re a bad person. So they stay away from people and drink because it’s a case of a “that’s what I deserve” mentality.
This concoction of low self-esteem, feeling worthless and lonely can spur someone on to drink more as an emotional pain reliever, as well as a way to chastise oneself.
Let’s talk about money, money.
On the whole, the current economic climate means people have less disposable income and more debt. The price of alcohol in bars, pubs and restaurants has also increased – a 175ml glass of wine can cost up to £4.93 in the UK! A bottle of wine in the supermarket costs around £5. It’s much more affordable to drink at home – which can encourage some people to drink alone behind closed doors on a regular basis.
Loneliness leads to boredom
Sometimes it’s loneliness itself that leads to drink. Being lonely can often come with being bored. Some may choose to drink for something to do and to alleviate negative thoughts for a while. But it can come with emotional and physical price-tags such as lack of energy, hangovers, depression, anxiety and more.
Beat loneliness, beat the bottle
So how can we beat loneliness and, as a result, alcohol issues?
It’s time to do some groundwork – find your triggers, inspirations and motivations.
Your triggers can be anything from seeing a certain person’s social media posts to being left out of a social event. This could be the prime time to take a social media detox. You could temporarily deactivate your social channels if it helps, as well as delete any social media apps from your phone.
Now write down your motivations – why do you want to overcome your issues with alcohol? Some ideas include:
- To start a new hobby
- Make new friends
- Be a better parent
- Be there for your elderly relatives
- Look, feel and be healthier
The plan of action:
- Realise that alcohol is a one-sided friendship that tries to take away the best of you
- Disconnect from any people in your life that contribute towards your feelings of loneliness and urge to drink (those people who constantly post alcohol memes or make you feel like you’re missing out). These people aren’t genuine friends and anyone who can’t support your decision to face your alcohol problems isn’t worth having around.
- Make amends with those you may have alienated through drink: Apologise and salvage the friendship. If the friendship is unsolvable then you can make peace with the fact you tried and move on.
- Try new activities: Take an evening class or try a new activity. This is where you’ll meet new friends…likeminded people who are far more likely to support you.
- Focus on you: Build your own self-confidence and learn to love yourself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Bunmi Aboaba a Sobriety Companion and Coach and founder of the Sober Advantage. Bunmi is dedicated to helping professionals overcome drinking problems. Her combination of holistic therapies is used to prepare a bespoke plan designed to fit around busy schedules. Bunmi helps people battling a variety of addictions to get control of their lives and beat their addiction – for good. Bunmi uses a variety of techniques to help her clients, all of which she has used herself to help her gain her sobriety and remain sober for 10 years.