Don’t Drown Yourself in Alcohol Post separation

Recently Separated or Divorced and Drinking

For many individuals, the weeks and months following a marital separation or divorce are filled with a myriad of powerful emotions.  Feelings of freedom, renewal, frustration, anxiety, loneliness, and apprehension all combine in a complex tapestry.  Feelings shift and vacillate, sometimes wildly, as individuals begin to chart a new course in their lives.

No matter what the specific circumstances of the separation/divorce, most people experience high levels of stress and other negative emotions during this time period.  For some, Alcohol becomes a way to experience some temporary relief from these unpleasant feelings.  For others who have felt repressed in their relationship, alcohol becomes a vehicle to “live it up” and “catch up on lost opportunities.”  Whether it is drinking for relief or drinking to enhance, increased alcohol consumption is a quite common development for many during the initial phase of separation/divorce.

Now don’t start freaking out….obviously, not everyone who separates or gets divorced becomes a raging alcoholic!  But, increases and changes in alcohol intake is something to keep an eye on.  Recognizing that changes are occurring with your drinking is an important part of staying out of trouble with alcohol misuse.  There are three primary ways that you can maintain perspective on your Alcohol intake, but they require that you be honest with yourself and open to feedback.  These are: Other people’s comments about your drinking patterns; the negative consequences that you are experienced as a result of drinking; and the “little voice in our head” that says something’s not right.  Let’s take a quick look at a few examples.

Other people’s comments: 

One of the best ways to keep tabs on our behaviors, such as alcohol consumption, is to listen to the comments of our friends and loved ones.  Comments and concerns expressed to you about the increased amounts, frequency or aftermath of drinking episodes are something to take note of:  “Haven’t you become quite the party animal now that you’re divorced?!!!”   “Now that you and Laura are separated, I’ve noticed you seem to be drinking a lot more.”  “Whenever I call you lately, you’ve always been drinking.”  “You’ve really changed since your divorce and you have been hanging around a very different group of people, I’m worried about you.”  While feedback and comments from our friends and loved ones can be some of the most telling signs that something’s gone awry with our Alcohol intake, it is often the most easily dismissed or explained away.  “Jane’s just jealous that she can’t live like a single person again, so what? I’m living it up a little now that I’m single.”  “Jim can’t begin to appreciate how difficult the last year has been, so I have a drink every now and then?!!…so what?!”  When others notice the compulsive or habitual use of Alcohol and bring it to your attention, it is important to hear the message of concern rather than to let defenses build up and reject what is being expressed.

Negative consequences:  

As drinking patterns increase, the consequences of this behavior usually follow.  Negative consequences can be as mild as hangovers, not feeling a general sense of health and well-being, weight gain, or emotional fatigue/malaise.  Other consequences can be decreased work performance, employment warnings/reprimands, DWI’s, unwanted or inappropriate sexual encounters while drunk, irresponsible, or reckless behavior under the influence or health concerns that are Alcohol related.  Again, an important issue about ‘negative consequences’ is to be honest with yourself about why the consequence(s) has occurred.  The initial reaction to these events can oftentimes be to blame the consequence on something other than ourselves or to offer a rationalization about why the event occurred.  Some questions to ask yourself are, “Were these type of things happening to me before I started drinking more…If I hadn’t been drinking would this have happened to me?…Is Alcohol the common denominator in the difficulties I am encountering presently?”

That “little voice in our head”:

One of the most important pieces of feedback about whether your Alcohol intake has become problematic is the messages we give to ourselves about our use.  Listen to the “little voice in our head.”  If you are saying, “Oh boy, this is not good.”  Then, it is time to listen to yourself and take a corrective action strategy.  The problem is that many people who are in the early stages of encountering a problem with their drinking do not listen to the messages they are sending themselves.  A state of disconnect takes place.  It’s almost like looking at a hot ring on the stove and saying, “Watch out Jim, that ring is hot.  Don’t touch it.”  And then…you go ahead a touch it anyway.  How crazy is that?!!  If your inner voice is telling you something’s wrong, or it is questioning whether something is wrong, listen to it!

If, after an honest review of these factors it appears that you have developed a heavier pattern of drinking than is appropriate, then it is time to make some changes.

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Kieran Ayre
Counselor, LCSW
Dr. Kieran Ayre is an addiction specialist who has helped thousands of individuals whose lives have been affected by substance abuse and chemical dependency for the past 30 years. He is the Executive Director of Ayre Counseling, LLC, a private multidisciplinary group practice located in Morristown, NJ.