Using Alcohol to Cope With Divorce and Life After Divorce

Using Alcohol to Cope With Divorce and Life After Divorce
Photo by Apolo Photographer on Unsplash.
Lee Hawker
Lee Hawker
Clinical Director
The Cabin Chiang Mai

Divorce is a journey laden with emotional and spiritual challenges, impacting every aspect of wellbeing. The unravelling of a marriage brings forth grief, loss, and shattered expectations, resulting in profound emotional distress.

In the realm of emotional pain, divorce marks the loss of a significant relationship, triggering a mourning process akin to grief. It encompasses not only the end of a marriage but also the mourning of dreams, shared experiences, and future expectations.

The termination of a marriage can thrust one into an identity crisis, challenging their sense of self-worth and leading to feelings of rejection and inadequacy.

The divorce process introduces uncertainty, legal complexities, and changes in living arrangements, contributing to heightened stress and anxiety. Feelings of isolation often emerge, especially where social circles are transformed. Intense emotions, including anger and resentment, often surface during divorce, directed towards the former spouse, oneself, or the circumstances leading to the divorce.

The breakdown of trust in the previous marriage may cultivate a fear of entering new relationships, with concerns about potential repeated emotional pain or failure.

From a spiritual perspective, divorce can sever the connection to shared values and beliefs that formed the foundation of the marriage, leaving individuals spiritually disoriented. The emotional upheaval often prompts existential questions about beliefs, purpose, and the meaning of life, contributing to spiritual distress. The fundamental psychological need for connection and belonging is often disrupted by divorce, fostering feelings of isolation and a profound sense of loss. This impact on self-worth then becomes a crucial aspect of the individual’s psychological well-being.

Coping with the amalgamation of mental, emotional and spiritual pain involves seeking professional help, providing a safe space to explore and process the complexities. Therapists assist in navigating existential questions and rebuilding a sense of self.

It is important to address the mental and emotional impacts of divorce and recognising that the emotional and spiritual pain of divorce is a complex and individualised experience is crucial. Taking steps such as seeking professional support, fostering new connections, and engaging in practices that promote emotional and spiritual wellbeing are essential for healing and rebuilding a sense of connectedness. Undertaking some therapy during this difficult process can provide solace and support. Engaging in mindfulness practices can also foster a sense of presence and inner peace while connecting with one’s beliefs.

Joining support groups or communities with shared experiences also mitigates feelings of isolation and can provide a platform to discuss emotional spiritual concerns as well as receiving some guidance.

Why do people turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism?

People may turn to alcohol for several reasons, and the factors influencing this behaviour are complex. It can serve as a temporary escape, providing stress relief and emotional regulation. Social influence, cultural factors, genetic predisposition, self-medication for mental health issues, and a lack of healthy coping skills can all contribute to the adoption of alcohol as a coping mechanism.

The relationship between alcohol consumption and the avoidance of psychological and emotional pain is a complex and often detrimental coping mechanism. Individuals facing stressors, trauma, or emotional challenges may turn to alcohol as a means of escaping their difficulties temporarily.

One primary reason individuals turn to alcohol in the face of psychological and emotional pain is its role as a coping mechanism. Alcohol can temporarily alleviate feelings of anxiety, sadness, or stress, creating a sense of numbness that offers a brief respite from the intensity of emotional turmoil. This temporary relief may seem appealing, especially when individuals are grappling with challenging situations.

Genetic predispositions play a role in determining an individual’s susceptibility to alcohol use as a coping mechanism. Some people have a higher genetic risk for developing alcohol use disorders. Additionally, social and environmental factors contribute to alcohol use, especially for those surrounded by a culture or social circle where alcohol is readily available and seen as a coping mechanism.

Underlying mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, can contribute to the use of alcohol as a form of self-medication. The numbing effect of alcohol provides a temporary escape from the complexities of their emotional state.

While alcohol may offer temporary relief, relying on it as a primary mechanism of avoidance can lead to negative consequences. The relief provided by alcohol is short-lived, and the underlying psychological and emotional issues remain unaddressed, creating a cycle of dependence on alcohol to manage pain.

It’s worth noting that alcohol impairs cognitive function and judgment, leading to poor decision-making, impulsive behaviours, and a decreased ability to navigate challenges effectively. Excessive consumption can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, contributing to a decline in mental health.

Using alcohol to avoid emotional pain interferes with the natural healing process, preventing individuals from addressing and resolving underlying issues.

Excessive alcohol use can strain relationships with family and friends, further isolating individuals who may already be dealing with the social challenges of emotional pain. Identifying excessive drinking during a divorce involves observing signs such as increased frequency, neglect of responsibilities, changes in routine, physical and mood-related symptoms, and legal issues.

It’s essential to approach the situation with sensitivity and consider the overall impact on a person’s wellbeing, relationships, and daily functioning.

If an individual consistently consumes large amounts of alcohol than usual, experiences disruptions in daily routines, neglects responsibilities, displays mood swings, or exhibits physical signs of excessive drinking, these could be indicators of problematic alcohol use.

Occasional increased alcohol consumption might not necessarily indicate a problem. Open communication and support are essential when addressing concerns.

I would advise against using alcohol as a primary coping mechanism during divorce. I would strongly discourage the use of alcohol in overcoming the pain caused by divorce due to its temporary relief, the risk of dependence, the impaired judgment it causes and all the associated negative impacts on mental health. All of these interfere with and hamper the healing process.

Coping strategies for a healthier divorce process include therapy and counselling for emotional support, mindfulness and meditation to manage stress, regular exercise to reduce stress and improve mood, prioritising a healthy lifestyle, establishing stable routines, engaging in enjoyable activities, maintaining social connections, using journaling as a therapeutic outlet, seeking legal and financial support, and setting clear boundaries around alcohol consumption.

While alcohol may provide a temporary escape from psychological and emotional pain, it is not an effective or healthy long-term solution. Address the root causes of their pain and building healthier ways of dealing with life’s challenges is always better than avoidance. Recognising the potential pitfalls of relying on alcohol for avoidance is a vital step towards fostering genuine emotional wellbeing.

Facing the emotional, psychological and spiritual challenges of divorce requires a holistic approach, emphasising healthy coping strategies rather than a reliance on alcohol or other forms of substances. I fundamentally believe that seeking support from friends, family, and professionals is essential for long-term wellbeing during what is for many one of the most challenging periods of their life.

More articles about alcohol and divorce.

About Lee Hawker

Lee Hawker is the Clinical Director at The Cabin Chiang Mai.

He is a Registered Member of the British Psychological Society. He graduated from Anglia Ruskin University in the UK with a degree in Behavioural Science and a postgraduate clinical focus on addictions from the University of Bath. Lee is a focused and ambitious individual who has in-depth training and experience in a broad range of clinical psychological interventions in the treatment of addiction, dual diagnosis, and complex trauma.

Having worked in the field of addiction for over twenty years, Lee has experience having assessed and treated many clients and families presenting with substance misuse and chemical dependency along with managing and treating trauma. Lee heads the clinical programme for The Cabin and shapes the treatment plan bespoke to individual client needs; so that focused treatment is delivered to address specific individual needs – and thus providing for higher treatment quality that is measurable and progress that is observable to both client and clinician.

Lee’s passion is to provide the best possible clinical quality and experience to ensure that clients have an opportunity to achieve lifelong recovery and are able to be a beacon to others in their lives.

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