Why Bottling up Feelings Can Lead to the Bottle

alcoholism and tikvah lake

For trauma survivors, alcohol is often used to cope with difficult memories where a person’s drinking goes way beyond having a “tipple” at the office party or social gathering.

The urge to escape painful memories from the past often leads to chronic drinking, where escapism quickly turns to addiction and alcoholism.

Numbing away feelings

However, as tempting as drinking away our problems can be in the present, it cannot resolve the core issues that lie at the heart of substance abuse. 

Although numbing our feelings through alcohol may work for a while, once the “high” dissipates, all the painful memories come flooding back.

The problem with self-medicating

Self-medicating to forget or numb traumatic memories may work in the short term, but it’s a temporary fix. 

Alcohol does not function as a long-term solution to trauma; substance abuse often stands in the way of healing and recovery.

Drinking away our feelings

Alcoholism concept. Young man drinking alcohol too much.

It’s not surprising that many of us turn to the bottle during times of stress or crisis; that cool glass of wine, beer or whatever-drink-floats-your-boat can make it seem like your problems are melting away with each sip. 

With every gulp, you may feel more relaxed, social, and confident, and the day’s stress seems to fade to a distant memory as the alcohol travels through your system. 

If you are dealing with painful feelings or memories, alcohol can have a numbing effect. You may find the relief you so desperately seek through drinking, but it’s not long before the bad feelings begin to rear their ugly head.

The connection between trauma and substance abuse

Studies show a positive correlation between childhood trauma and affective symptoms, including alcoholism and anxiety. 

Another study found that those with long-term substance abuse also had post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. 

Furthermore, the research literature suggests that the severity of a person’s trauma correlated to the severity of substance abuse.

Alcohol use disorder statistics

A 2015 study showed that approximately fifteen million Americans between twelve and seventeen have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), a condition involving a chronic negative emotional state and compulsive alcohol use.

Alcohol can induce various feel-good emotions, making us happy, energetic, or incredibly relaxed. Still, it can leave many people anxious and struggling with negative feelings long after the bottle has been popped.

How alcohol makes us feel

One survey analyzed how alcohol made people feel, and the results were astounding.

The participants in the survey reported a combination of feelings from creative to sad, nostalgic to anxious after alcohol consumption.

The results showed that while 95% of women and men reported feeling happy after drinking alcohol, others said they felt much less enjoyable emotions (How Are Emotional Effects of Alcohol Explained? American Addiction Centers, July 18, 2022).

Additional statistics

Approximately one in five participants in the study said that alcohol made them feel anxious. 

In addition, a third of women and over half of the men said they felt disgusted after consuming alcohol (How Are Emotional Effects of Alcohol Explained? American Addiction Centers, July 18, 2022).

Moreover, 45.5% of men said they felt more creative when drinking, while the statistics for women were lower at 37.4% (How Are Emotional Effects of Alcohol Explained? American Addiction Centers, July 18, 2022).

Additionally, more men reported feeling scared (12.7%) when drinking alcohol than women (7.0%).

Co-occurring substance abuse

One of the biggest questions people ask is, “does trauma cause substance abuse or is it the other way around?”

Addiction experts say that trauma and substance abuse is often a two-way street; alcohol use increases the risk that someone will experience a traumatic event, and trauma increases the risk of alcohol abuse.

However, most mental health professionals agree that trauma is the leading cause of substance use disorders.

Help and support

Those with co-occurring mental health conditions and substance abuse must seek professional help and support. 

Treatment and guidance are always available, and most rehabilitation centers offer dual-diagnosis treatment.

Warning signs of alcohol abuse

Woman looks at a glass of alcohol

There are various warning signs that someone might be abusing alcohol. 

If you or a loved one has experienced two or more of the following symptoms in the last twelve months, it would be beneficial to speak to an addiction specialist for advice and treatment. 

Symptoms of alcohol addiction include:

  • A strong desire or craving to use alcohol
  • An inability to control alcohol consumption (or cut down) despite persistent attempts to quit drinking.  
  • Neglecting your responsibilities, including childcare, household or work duties
  • Continued use of alcohol in dangerous situations, such as driving 
  • Spending a significant amount of time doing activities that involve alcohol or recovering from the effects of drinking
  • Persistent relationship problems due to alcohol use
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol and needing more of the substance to get high or feel the effects
  • Being unable to discontinue use despite physical, social or interpersonal problems
  • Memory loss
  • Preoccupation with thoughts of obtaining and consuming alcohol

Risk factors

Various factors can put someone at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder, including:

  • Peer pressure 
  • Drinking at a young age
  • A family history of alcoholism, such as an alcohol-addicted parent
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety or depression
  • Trauma
  • Binge drinking – this may involve drinking large quantities of alcohol in spurts over a long period

Brain changes

When an individual drinks vast quantities of alcohol, this can cause specific brain changes that may lead to an alcohol use disorder.

According to addiction specialists, these brain changes increase the euphoria that a person experiences when drinking alcohol, making them want to consume more despite its harmful effects.

The dangers of long-term alcohol abuse

Alcohol addicted man portrait alone with spirit bottle

There are many physical, mental and emotional effects of chronic alcohol abuse that, if left untreated for too long, may lead to:

  • Problems with muscle coordination and speech
  • Central nervous system depression – continued alcohol use can lead to depression of the central nervous system, causing sedation.
  • Physical health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, liver problems, cancer, diabetes and stroke.

Alcohol compromises the immune system.

Drinking alcohol excessively compromises your immune system and may cause inflammation to specific body parts; scientists say alcohol can cause cell damage, particularly when a person engages in heavy drinking.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that alcohol-related diseases were the cause of over 51,000 annual deaths in the US between 2011 and 2015.

Why bottling up our feelings can lead to the bottle.

Traumatic experiences can lead to avoidance behaviors and escapism; for many, this can lead to drinking or taking drugs to numb painful memories or feelings.

Others may engage in behavioral addictions like gambling, food or sex. 

Either way, when we bottle up our feelings, our problems remain unresolved, and the temptation to numb these unpleasant emotions can be overwhelming.

Picking up the bottle may seem like the easiest option, a way to curb bad feelings or take the edge off a stressful day, but one thing’s for sure, once the feel-good effects of alcohol dissipate, you may feel just as bad as you did before.

Healing and recovery

Life Coach Having a Counseling Session with a Female Client

Finding recovery from a substance use disorder may include joining a support group, engaging in therapy, or entering a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

Many rehabilitation facilities offer dual-diagnosis treatment; this involves treating your alcohol use disorder and other co-occurring conditions such as anxiety, depression or trauma.

Moving forward

Discussing your traumatic past with a therapist may seem daunting at first.

However, once you begin unpacking your trauma, you will feel less burdened by past events and much more capable of moving forward with hope and clarity in the knowledge that there is always hope for a brighter future ahead.

Reaching out for support and help is a sign of strength, a determination to push forward and overcome past trauma, and all this is possible with proper treatment and support.

Contact Tikvah Lake Recovery

We offer comprehensive mental health and addiction treatment programs in stunning, tranquil surroundings at Tikvah Lake Recovery.

Our specialist team treats various mental health conditions and addictions, including substance use disorders, behavioral addictions, anxiety, depression, and more.

We aim to help you become the best version of yourself through tailored treatment programs that allow you to live the fulfilling, joyous life you deserve. 

All this is possible at Tikvah Lake Recovery. Please speak to one of our friendly specialists today.

Additional resources

  1. How Are Emotional Effects of Alcohol Explained?: American Addiction Centers, July 18, 2022
  2. Childhood Trauma and Alcohol Abuse: The Connection, Psychology Today, Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., July 29, 2013

About Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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