When Drunk Texting Is More Than Just a Mistake

I will never forget a male client I had well over a decade ago. He worked in the hospitality business and was seeking psychotherapy to deal with his habit of drinking after his shift was over. While the drinking was common place in his work environment, the alcohol would inevitably lead him to make unwanted advances on his female colleagues. He had been fired a number of times and he wanted to better understand why he couldn’t control himself.

This was really prior to the widespread use of drunk texting. Now, according to one study, up to 89% of college students admit to drunk texting and about half of these students feel guilty about it later. There was also a positive correlation between how much the students drank and how egregious their social behavior was — increasing the guilt and shame levels. Now, however, in our post #MeToo culture, feeling of guilt or shame may not be enough to hold on to your job. Alcohol significantly increases the likelihood that innocent flirting will cross a professional boundary. When alcohol is involved we definitely feel braver in discussing our emotions or trying to set up that sexual encounter.

As we begin to head into the holiday season, many people will be celebrating at office parties or spending more time socializing. I am anticipating there will be more drinking that leads to socially regrettable behavior in general — but why?

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Poor Emotion Regulation Skills — A By Product of our Anxious Culture

One of the top reasons for the increase in drunk texting actually has to do with the fact that many people do not have the skills to regulate their emotions without alcohol. That ex who has really upset you or the really attractive person in your office becomes the recipient of your new found bravery because you don’t know how to talk about your emotions while sober. This, in combination, with your impulse control also being decreased while under the influence of alcohol means that you may also end up trolling someone on Tinder simply because you don’t know what to do with your anger and sadness. Frequent drunk texting, therefore, should also be seen as a red flag that new skills need to be learned so you can manage your emotions more effectively in general.

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You Are Who You Spend Time With and What you Read

One of the reasons why alcohol treatment programs suggest that you change your friend groups or places where you spend your time is that research shows that the more exposure you have to alcohol, the more likely you are to consume. In the United States, we live in a binge drinking culture which means the average person is likely drinking more alcohol than they would choose to drink on their own. We are constantly being conditioned by the culture around us and this includes what we are exposed to on social media. Thus, if you have a group of friends that drink a lot and are guilty of drunk texting — you may want to make some new friends or try new hobbies. You may also want to manage the advertisements and the photos of people drinking on your phone if you are worried about your drunk texting behavior. The more exposure you have to social drinking, the higher your alcohol consumption.

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Want to Stop Drunk Texting? Time to Heal your Toxic Insecurity

In a recent study about sexting, the researchers found that the rate of anxious attachment and levels of rejection sensitivity were important factors in experiencing sexting victimization. While this is not drunk texting per se, the rate of sexting increases while we are under the influence of alcohol. With our decreased inhibitions, we are likely to send more sexually explicit texts to the wrong people thereby increasing perpetration of sexual misconduct. Anxiously attached people may go along with the sexting as an attempt to try to create more intimacy but often feel victimized throughout the process. This has been the foundation in which most clients I have worked with have professionally crossed lines and have been confused about everyone’s behavior involved. It becomes the perfect storm — avoidant people default to the use of texting (and thus drunk texting) to keep the intimacy levels lower and anxious people feel more victimized but don’t necessarily say anything. If we add alcohol to the equation here, is is little wonder why we have so many socially regrettable behaviors — including drunk texting that may transition into drunk sexting.

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What to Do To Stop Drunk Texting

Become more mindful. There is ample research to indicate that starting a meditation practice or slowing one’s behavior down can decrease the number of alcohol related negative behaviors. I have always been a big fan of teaching people, that if you are going to drink, please do so mindfully. This means actually taking the time to enjoy and appreciate your glass of wine or whiskey using all 5 of your senses rather than use the alcohol to manage your anxiety. Doing so will decrease the amount of alcohol you consume and decrease the likelihood that your behavior will tip over to drunk texting. If, however, you are going through a breakup or emotionally are in a place where you know that you could easily be swayed to send a text you do not want to — planning a behavioral intervention ahead of time is warranted.

Today we all spend too much time on our cell phones. It is worth conducting an experiment to see if you leave your cell phone with a sober friend or even at home for an evening, whether your evening is actually more enjoyable and mindful. Too often drinking at a bar now coincides with Tindering — leading to much temptation in the drunk texting or sexting department. If you suspect you have a problem, do not have access to your phone while intoxicated.

You may also want to become more aware of the environments in which you are more likely to drunk text. Avoiding socializing in these places is another way to use a behavioral intervention to begin to make immediate improvements in your life. Highly sensitive people can be affected by the energy of particularly places and be more likely to do impulsive things while under the influence of alcohol. It is wise to check in and see if you are, indeed, sensitive to your environments.

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When to Seek Professional Help

Our behaviors are just symptoms of underlying issues that we need to face and learn from.

If you have been written up by an employer, fired or if someone has told you that you have a problem — you need to seek the assistance of a mental health professional who can assess whether your alcohol use is beyond what is considered healthy. Many people do not realize how much alcohol they drink and how quickly this can tip into a full blown addiction. If you are worried, early intervention is the best strategy to take care of your health and wellness.

My former client who couldn’t control himself with his inappropriate drunk advancements eventually made the decision to get sober. Losing more than one job and upsetting a woman he was interested in seeing more seriously were the signs he needed to take responsibility for learning better ways of managing his emotions. He made quite a bit of progress over the course of two years of psychotherapy and learned better ways to communicate his emotions and desires. Alcohol ceased to be a needed tool to deal with his rejection sensitivity and he overcame some of his toxic insecurity which was rooted in high levels of anxiety.

It is always wise to work through the behaviors that show up in our lives. They are opportunities for personal growth and it shows a lot of courage and bravery to start the journey.

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” — Carl Jung

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Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes is a licensed psychologist, relationship expert and the forthcoming author of Toxic Insecurity: Our Search for Authentic Love. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @jenniferbrhodes.

This post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.

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