Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Alcohol Is a Way of Coping

Do you use alcohol to numb emotional pain?

Why do people use alcohol? Good question.

A few drinks with friends. Laughter. Smiling. Great conversation into the small hours. Fabulous memories of a wonderful evening. What a lovely picture.

But all too often, the true picture is a few drinks on your own. Misery. Tears. Vomiting in the small hours. Waking up with a blinding headache.

Tonight, I attended a talk given by Dr. Tanzeel Ansari, who is a consultant psychiatrist. He specialises in trauma and alcohol misuse. His main message was that alcohol misuse is often a way of coping used by people suffering from posttraumatic stress.

We know from many studies that survivors of trauma often begin drinking more. Alcohol numbs emotional pain: It helps people to disconnect from themselves.

Knowing this to be true, here is a question: To what extent does trauma underpin alcohol use in everyday life?

Advertisers might want us to believe that alcohol is fun, friendly, and part of the good life. But let us be honest: Those people in the adverts are only pretending. The reality of drinking is often far more sordid. Many people drink to numb themselves because of the pain they are in and to forget temporarily their conflicts and stresses.

We need effective interventions to help people with alcohol problems. But do we also need better and more effective preventative social policies to create a cohesive and compassionate society in which people do not need to self-medicate themselves in the first place?

Visit my website

More from Stephen Joseph Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today