Men Who Drink: Exploring and Changing Old Patterns in Therapy

Cropped image of two people clinking shot glasses together for toastDid your anxiety level skyrocket upon thinking about confronting this topic? Do you have the instinct to run away? Maybe you feel like it’d be a good idea to go out for a drink in order to avoid an uncomfortable discussion.

In a previous post, I shared some ways in which a person’s gender can affect how they experience substance use issues, particularly alcohol abuse. Research supports a link between one’s gender and both the way they use alcohol and between gender and the effects of excessive use. While this article attempts to address a number of the challenges leading some men to abuse alcohol, and some concerns often resulting from alcohol abuse, it does not attempt to speak for the experience of all men who drink or present assumptions or stereotypes.

I am not going to focus on relationship issues or anything you did “wrong” here. You’re not “in trouble.” My goal is simply to provide you with facts about how alcohol may be impacting your life and what you can do about it. I want to make sure you are able to seek the right kind of help if you are concerned about your drinking. 

Therapy for Understanding and Change

If you feel you may be drinking excessively or for the wrong reasons but aren’t sure how to change this behavior, therapy can help you find answers and work toward change.

A qualified therapist can help you begin this process of exploration by considering the following areas:

1. Sex.

You might have experienced some level of sexual dysfunction in the past—maybe just once, maybe multiple times. Maybe you were humiliated it happened but even more scared it would happen again. Alcohol, a central nervous system depressant, can cause this type of performance issue. Drinking decreases the blood flow to the penis, which can result in less satisfying orgasms and even an inability to sustain an erection. One or two drinks may help you relax and unwind, but any more than that can lead to performance difficulties.

Alcohol can also impact mood and decrease desire. Some studies have indicated the number one cause of erectile dysfunction is heavy drinking. Regular alcohol use, therefore, may not only impact your mood but also decrease intimacy with your partner. For many, this can lead to an increase in alcohol consumption to cope with negative emotions.

It’s important to find a therapist who is comfortable discussing sex and with whom you are able to discuss sexual concerns.

2. Emotions

Many men are still socialized from a young age to believe it is “wimpy” or “childish” to express emotions (though this is slowly beginning to change). When people are never encouraged or allowed to discuss their feelings, it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, for them to learn to discriminate subtle differences between these feelings. A person who never learned about emotions may have no idea what to do with them and thus be unable to cope with them in a healthy or productive manner.

For many, drinking becomes the primary way of dealing with feelings. In therapy, individuals can learn how to recognize their feelings and understand what is going on emotionally. Therapists will not simply say, “Stop drinking,” but will work with individuals to help them develop the tools needed to cope with their emotions and feelings without drinking. This exploration and self-discovery can be empowering, and many individuals find the knowledge gained helps them become better able to maintain successful personal and professional relationships.

3. Drinking to celebrate. 

Maybe alcohol has been a rite of passage for you. When you turned 21—ugh, let’s not go there again. What about when you have a big achievement at work? A promotion? When you want to celebrate a life transition, like your recent engagement or closing on a new home?

Therapy can offer you a safe place to learn more about your reasons for drinking and to develop, if necessary, new methods of addressing feelings and coping with life’s challenges.

Drinking is often associated with honoring transitions, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with commemorating your success with a drink or two. But troubling drinking patterns may be indicated if the “morning after” consistently brings regret or if you can’t even remember what you were celebrating.

If this is true for you, you might consider commemorating future events with your favorite meal or maybe an adventure—skydiving, a challenging hike, an overnight getaway with your partner. Do something out of the ordinary, something you’ll remember—without regrets.

4. Drinking to numb emotions and cope.

Again, men are more likely to be socialized to appear tough and never show weakness. As a result, many may be uncomfortable with crying. Crying, however, is a normal, healthy way the body vents emotions. When we cry our tears have a different chemical makeup than when our eyes water from onions, smoke, or other irritants, and in fact, scientists have found emotional tears actually contain hormones indicating high stress levels and chemicals proven to reduce pain. Thus, many believe a good cry helps us release negative hormones that are then replaced with calming ones.

Maybe your buddies take you out for a drink when you’re going through a tough time. Perhaps you just went through a breakup. Or your dog died. Or you lost your job. You tried to drink away the pain, and maybe it helps—for a while. But what happens the next morning when you are alone and the same concerns are running through your mind? What if you really just want to talk about how much you miss your partner or pet, or how worried you are about the next phase of your life?

Therapy, and the guidance of a qualified, compassionate professional, can offer you a safe place to learn more about your reasons for drinking and to develop, if necessary, new methods of addressing feelings and coping with life’s challenges.

Talking to a professional isn’t just sharing your feelings. Rather, the therapy room can be a helpful place for you to realize what isn’t working in your life, develop strategies for making change, and gain the confidence to put your plan into action.


  1. Arackal, B. S., & Benegal, V. (2007). Prevalence of sexual dysfunction in male subjects with alcohol dependence. Indian Journal of Psychiatry 49(2), 109-112.
  2. Hoyt, A. (2017, March 3). How crying works. Retrieved from
  3. Schulte, M. T., Ramo, D., & Brown, S. A. (2009). Gender differences in factors influencing alcohol use and drinking progression among adolescents, Clinical Psychology Review, 29(6). Retrieved from
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Addressing the specific behavioral health needs of men. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 56. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Cyndi Turner, LCSW, LSATP, MAC, Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Laurel

    August 25th, 2017 at 7:37 AM

    I have noticed that there are a lot of people my age, mainly millennials, who drink to celebrate but then it always tuns into so much more than that. I do think that there are some good friends of mine who may actually have a drinking problem but I am at a loss when it comes to what to say to them or whether it is even my place to confront them. I am only looking out for them but I wouldn’t ever want to risk a good friendship by saying something like that that wasn’t true.

  • Cyndi Turner

    August 28th, 2017 at 5:39 PM

    Laurel- I think a good friend should, lovingly, express concerns and offer support. Maybe you could even mention that you read this article and ask for their thoughts? It might open up a conversation and if nothing else, you have offered them a resource to get help when they are ready.

  • Bev

    August 25th, 2017 at 2:37 PM

    I had a rough childhood, a rotten marriage, and I’m not all that fond of my job. So yes I drink and I know that there are thousands of other men and women who live the same type of life that I do who drink to forget about all of the crap in life. It might not be the healthiest choice but if it gives me a little peace and allows me to unwind in a way that other things can’t then why does this make it a bad thing?

  • Cyndi Turner

    August 28th, 2017 at 5:45 PM

    Bev, I am sorry that you had a rough upbringing and your current situation is not what you would like. The concern is when we need a chemical to relax. In the short run it may help you relax, but in the long run it may be interrupting your brain’s ability to recover from trauma, impacting your mood (it’s a depressant), and may be affecting your motivation. Maybe try going alcohol free for a month and see how you feel. You know how crappy you feel when you drink, but you may be surprised how much better things can be without it.

  • lucinda

    August 26th, 2017 at 5:09 PM

    Working with the right therapist can be a real life saver for so many of us. No matter what your problem is there is bound to be a professional who is trained to help you with that. But the thing is that these people do not always come to you. You will definitely have to seek them out.

  • Cyndi Turner

    August 28th, 2017 at 5:46 PM

    Lucinda- you sound like you speak from experience. I hope your words will encourage someone else to reach out for support to live happier and healthier!

  • Don

    August 27th, 2017 at 2:03 PM

    Seems to run in the family for me. I drink, my dad and grandpa both drink, yeah we are not a Cheery bunch. I think it has been this cycle for so long I guess the men all think that this is what you do to cope with your everyday problems. None of us quite see that much of what goes on is of our own making, so here we are spinning our wheels.

  • Cyndi Turner

    August 28th, 2017 at 5:49 PM

    Don- you recognize that the males in your life have been stuck. Now it’s up to you to break the cycle! There are so many other ways to deal with problems. You can find happiness. I wouldn’t have been a therapist for over 20 years if no one got better;)

  • Tally

    August 28th, 2017 at 3:14 PM

    Women have these same sorts of problems with drinking- wouldn’t this be a concern fro them as well?

  • Cyndi Turner

    August 28th, 2017 at 5:52 PM

    Tally- yes, we have similar issues but our gender does impact how alcohol affects us. Click on my name on the top of this article and you can see my previous posts. Let me know what you think!

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