Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive man drinking alcohol alone at a bar and looking uncomfortable

Why HSPs Use Alcohol to ‘Turn Off’ Being Sensitive — And How to Stop

It took me years to realize that alcohol was a dimming switch that slowly turned off all my sensitive qualities. Then something changed.

My first drink was a 16-ounce can of warm Old English beer during my freshman year of high school. I choked it back, thinking it was absolutely disgusting — and also an inevitable rite of passage. 

It took me years to realize that alcohol was a dimming switch that slowly turned off all of my sensitive qualities, leaving me with just a shell of who I used to be. I boxed up my books, poetry, and quiet evenings, trading them in for push-up bras, lipstick, and loud party scenes. Of course, the latter were counterintuitive to what I preferred (and needed) as a highly sensitive person (HSP).

Drinking Added an Element of Adventure to My Otherwise Mundane Experiences

I began to identify with the person I was when I drank, powerful and enticing — only going back to feeling lost and “ordinary” again after sobering up. I believed drinking had this mystical ability to sprinkle an element of adventure that seemed to be missing in the otherwise mundane experiences. I started to conclude that most social events didn’t hold the same allure in the sober light of day. So the drinks kept coming and the gap of sober activities started to close.

Gradually, I experienced my relationship with alcohol change from adventure-seeking side-kick to reliable, supportive hand-holder — and, finally, as the anecdote to all my trauma and stress. The turning point for me was after the sudden death of my dad. Heartbreak and grief began my hastened descent into numbness and changed my reasons for drinking. 

It turns out that the same HSP qualities that I numbed with alcohol are what set me free. But, first, I had to admit that alcohol was having more of a negative impact on my life than a positive one…

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Getting to the Root of the Problem

In the aftermath of every night I drank, I began experiencing a horrific tug of war within myself. I continuously came to find that no one in my group of friends would admittedly relate to the inner conflict I was experiencing. I’d compare this mounting awareness to my immediate surroundings, conclude I was “fine,” and brush it under the rug until the filth started seeping out the sides, inevitably finding me again. 

I would often be the recipient of seemingly innocent reassurances following my expression of these concerns, such as you’re “too critical” or “nowhere near the level of an actual problem.” But that right there was the root of my issue. I allowed other people to grant me permission to enter the arena of my own demise, a place where I’d paid a hefty price.

It wasn’t long before I started seeing the holes in this picture. I came to discover that my own internal voice — expressing discontent toward alcohol — was up against normalized societal behaviors. Plus, against mass marketing, which whispered continuous messages to drink into my ear.

I got curious and wanted knowledge. I dug into spirituality, memoirs, psychology, human behavior, and sobriety. I collected bits of wisdom that resonated with me like magic pebbles lighting the path and leading me back to my true, sensitive self. 

Eventually, I came across This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. It really hit home for me and I made the decision to stop drinking in May 2021 after finishing the book. Here is how I paved a path to freedom — using my HSP superpowers and strengths — and how you can, too.

5 Ways to Find Freedom From Alcohol as an HSP

1. Tune into the subtleties and look at what’s really happening.

I made the decision to stop selling myself out. I used my HSP ability to think and feel deeply to dig into what was really happening. I started picking up on the subtle details that everyone else seemed to be missing about alcohol. I began asking myself questions like: If alcohol is really helping to relieve anxiety and overstimulation, wouldn’t I need less of it over time? And I committed myself to finding answers. 

I began to notice the way alcohol’s influence spread into my life beyond the glass. Alcohol-themed trinkets and signs — like “Wine fixes everything” — lined my walls and were staples in my decor. I thought about turning my basement into a bar. Country music consistently flooded my ears with fantasies of being on a pontoon boat, getting my “shine on,” or even sitting right here and drinking a beer, mourning the loss of a loved one

Drawing awareness to these subtleties helped me to intentionally choose not to buy into the alcohol-related messages that surrounded me daily and to investigate what was really happening.  

2. Recognize — and call out — your current beliefs.

These three tips have been profound in changing my relationship with alcohol and seeing it for what it really is.

  • Identify what you believe to be true about alcohol — be curious and question it. One of the beliefs that I’ve held for years is that alcohol made parties fun. I would start drinking at home, until I was pleasantly tuned up with hopeful anticipation of the night to come. Then I’d unleash into the bar scene, on the prowl for someone (or something) to spice up the evening and make it interesting.  
  • Notice what happens and how you end up feeling as a result. Unless I was able to captivate the eye of an attractive male prospect and lure him in with my drunken gaze, most of these evenings would end promptly for me around midnight, when I would begin to fall from my euphoric high, declare I was “disgusted,” and call my dad for a ride home… followed by the next entire afternoon on the couch. Not only would I have an actual hangover, but probably an HSP one, as well. 
  • Explore other perspectives. I began to realize that large crowds of loud people tended to make me anxious and overstimulated — as is the case for most HSPs, I’m guessing. I considered that maybe I was really using alcohol to tolerate the situation and simply translated to calling it “fun.” Deep conversations and quality connections with smaller groups are truly what makes social gatherings enjoyable for me (and without alcohol, I’d come to learn).

Numbing my inhibitions with alcohol drew me to unhealthy people and situations because I believed the connections I found saved me from my own insecurities. As a result, I gave people access to me that I never would have with my mind intact. Through dismantling this belief, I was able to replace the word “fun” with “risky,” stop giving alcohol all the credit for a “fun” time, and start engaging in things that I genuinely enjoyed.

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3. Lean into connecting with others who have been in your place.

Stories are all around us. I was drawn to the language of people who have been through their own struggles and vulnerably shared how they got to the other side. These stories were like a warm blanket of support that encouraged me to stop hiding and making my sensitivity “wrong.” I found healing in these outlets — and they eventually empowered me to be seen and share my own.

Surrounding myself with voices that inspired me, reflected my own back to me, and reignited my passion for creative expression helped immensely. As a life coach, I now have the ability to channel it and help others. (Plus, this skill comes naturally to me as an HSP and empath.)

The support and hope I felt in seeing myself in others played a huge role in my journey and made my decision to stop drinking feel empowering. Once I started visualizing all of my potential — and how much better I could feel — it became much easier to let it go. 

4. Embrace your HSP intensity and emotions to their fullest.

It turns out, as an HSP, my emotions have always been my superpower. When I honor and sit with them, they point me directly to what I truly care about. Alcohol muted my experiences and everything just flatlined. I unlearned the idea that I’m “too intense” and fully embraced my grief. I found solace in the HSP-friendly arms of music, poetry, and writing. Lyrics and melodies helped me cut to the core of my emotions and feel into them. For me, it’s like plugging into a universal connection to release and recharge. Music is a place I go to tap into my inner, sensitive world and draw strength from it (which is common among HSPs, actually).

The same intensity that had led me to go all-in with alcohol allowed me to use my emotionally-charged knowledge to go against the grain and actively pivot my life toward health, freedom, and endless possibilities. This happened through getting the facts about drinking and separating them from what I came to believe was a fact, like: Everyone drinks. This was a truth I held simply because I observed this in my immediate surroundings and it went unquestioned for years because I came to accept it as the way it was. 

I stopped discounting my HSP hobbies of reading, movie-watching, and writing poetry simply because they didn’t fit the cultural ideal. Embracing them fully was how I stopped playing small and reclaimed control of my life. 

5. Intentionally create your life — without alcohol clouding it.

The most empowering part of my journey has been getting reacquainted with myself. Learning to untether myself from alcohol was life-changing. What I discovered on the other side of all that numbness and suffering was freedom and my own voice. I realized that I’d been sacrificing my true nature by numbing myself to avoid discomfort — the discomfort of my own emotions and being “different” (i.e., “too sensitive”). Self-sacrificing only results in amazing people not nurturing and sharing what wonderful things they have to offer the world. I made a commitment to choose self-restoration, not booze. 

There is beauty in the details. As HSPs, we have the heightened ability to experience it all fully and deeply. We have the heart, passion, and depth to create change. One of my favorite quotes states: “The healer you have been looking for is your own courage to know and love yourself completely” by Yung Pueblo. Ultimately, our power lies in the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. We all have the ability to stop cramming ourselves into places that no longer fit — and change the narrative to one that serves us much, much better. 

Now, I can see that alcohol was really only a barrier disguised as an act of rebellion. The truth is, it not only stripped me of my pain, but also of my ability to feel joy (and all the other wonderful things I feel as an HSP). 

A true act of rebellion is to be who you are, unapologetically. My sensitive nature is what drives me into action and fuels my mission to be able to show up for other people. As a result, I followed my passion to become a life coach. My hope is that by stepping into my own power, I can ignite that same spark in others. 

I help highly sensitive moms make alcohol small and irrelevant in their lives. To learn more, please visit my website at VibrantAndWorthyCoaching.com.   

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