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Alcohol and Mental Health

FOMO: What It Is and How To Cope

September 16, 2023
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
September 16, 2023
19 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
September 16, 2023
19 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
September 16, 2023
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
September 16, 2023
19 min read

Imagine attending a weekend barbecue where every sense seems to be engaged in the celebration. The smoky aroma of burgers on the grill fills the air, punctuated by bursts of laughter and chatter. In the background, the soundtrack of clinking beer bottles and wine glasses seems to affirm that everyone is enjoying themselves. For many, this setting is the epitome of weekend relaxation and social connection. 

However, for those of us who have made the conscious decision to change our drinking habits, the same environment transforms into a landscape of temptations and tests. Each clink of glass may reverberate as a reminder of the choice we’ve made, casting a shadow on our social experience. What was once a leisurely get-together can feel like navigating a minefield of social expectations and self-imposed limitations. This is one of the challenges of FOMO, and in this blog, we’ll explain why it happens and what we can do about it.

What Is FOMO? Examining the Science

When it comes to making healthier choices, especially concerning alcohol consumption, it's often easier said than done. A major roadblock people face is not just the physiological craving for alcohol but the psychological dread associated with missing out on something seemingly important — commonly known as the fear of missing out, or FOMO.

FOMO: Beyond the Buzzword

FOMO has garnered a lot of attention from the scientific community. Researchers at the University of Essex, for instance, demonstrated that FOMO is linked to lower life satisfaction and poorer emotional well-being. FOMO has been shown to induce a form of social anxiety, making people more susceptible to external pressures, like peer influence. This is why the fear feels so potent — it's not just a figment of imagination but is rooted in actual psychological disturbances.

The Neuroscience Behind FOMO

From a neuroscience standpoint, FOMO is closely related to the brain's reward system, which involves neurotransmitters like dopamine. When contemplating the decision to skip drinks at a social event, the brain weighs the potential "loss" heavily. A 2016 study discovered neural correlates of FOMO, highlighting that it activates the same areas of the brain that are associated with rewards and pleasure. In essence, the brain tricks itself into believing that not partaking in alcohol is missing out on a rewarding experience, making the decision to abstain or cut back exceedingly difficult.

FOMO and Alcohol: Research-Based Insights

Alcohol consumption, particularly in social settings, amplifies this FOMO effect. It's not merely the elixir in the glass that beckons; it's the entire ambiance. The toast with colleagues, the celebratory chug among friends, or even a simple wine toast at a romantic dinner — all these contribute to a heightened sense of loss when abstaining or cutting back. Moreover, the social acceptability of drinking culture makes alcohol a convenient social lubricant, further complicating the internal tug-of-war between the intention to change our drinking habits and the fear of missing out.

Beyond The Glass: The Deeper Implications

It might be tempting to dismiss FOMO as trivial, but its implications go beyond that Friday night hangout. Studies have shown that chronic exposure to high levels of social stressors, such as FOMO, can adversely affect both mental and physical health. It increases the risk of developing anxiety disorders and contributes to higher levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, which are harmful in the long term. In a way, this forms a vicious cycle — stress leads to FOMO, which then leads to actions like excessive drinking that induce more stress, thereby fueling a continuing loop of unhealthy behavior.

A Multi-Dimensional Issue

The relationship between FOMO and alcohol consumption is multi-dimensional. It is influenced by individual personality traits, socio-cultural norms, and even brain chemistry. Its understanding requires an interdisciplinary approach that blends insights from psychology, neuroscience, and social science. The importance of unraveling this complex interplay cannot be overstated, especially when considering the far-reaching impacts on mental and physical health.

Understanding the science behind FOMO and its relationship with alcohol provides crucial insights into how deeply ingrained this phenomenon is. It's not just a fleeting concern but a significant psychological and neurological event that can shape choices and influence behavior in impactful ways. Armed with this knowledge, the path towards healthier habits may still be challenging, but it's one illuminated with the light of understanding.

HOW FOMO Shows Up As We Cut Back or Quit

While the initial decision to quit or cut back on alcohol might come with a sense of empowerment and optimism, what often follows is a more nuanced emotional landscape that includes the resurgence of FOMO. This fear tends to strike hardest during the first weeks and months of changing our drinking habits, but its echo can persist much longer.

The Lure of Social Events

Consider social invitations, the harbingers of temptation. The simple act of receiving an invite to a happy hour or a wine-and-cheese soiree might instigate internal conflict. The immediate reaction could be an excitement, promptly followed by the remembrance of the commitment to sobriety or reduced drinking. Now, the excitement is tinged with anxiety. The prospect of being the only one not drinking, or worse, having to explain the decision to abstain, can stir a variety of apprehensions. These apprehensions often root themselves in FOMO — the fear that by saying “no” to alcohol, we are also saying “no” to social connections, fun, and even opportunities.

Amplification Through Social Media

In the age of social media, FOMO finds another arena to flourish. Picture friends sharing Instagram Stories or posts from a raucous night out, complete with artisanal cocktails and champagne toasts. Witnessing such narratives can make anyone reconsider their choices, even when intellectually aware that social media is but a curated highlight reel. FOMO capitalizes on these moments of vulnerability, exacerbating the feeling that everyone else is having a better time — probably because they're freely enjoying alcohol.

The Social Pressure Element

It's not only individual neurochemistry at play here; social pressures significantly bolster FOMO. In many cultures, alcohol consumption is not merely tolerated but celebrated. There are toasts for milestones, drinks for celebrations, and spirits to lighten spirits. To abstain or cut back can sometimes feel like swimming against a very persistent tide. It’s not just the fear of missing out on the drink but also the bonding, the shared laughter, and the communal experience that comes with it.

The Paradox of Awareness

Strangely enough, being aware of FOMO doesn't necessarily make it easier to combat. Knowledge doesn't always translate into emotional immunity. However, awareness does offer a starting point for developing coping mechanisms. It allows for the space to dissect why the fear arises, what triggers it, and how it can be either sidestepped or confronted.

So, for those of us on the path to reducing alcohol intake or quitting altogether, be prepared: FOMO will try to make an uninvited comeback. But understanding its many faces — social, psychological, and neurological — can better equip us to fend off its insidious influence.

Overcoming FOMO

Let's face it, changing a deeply entrenched habit like alcohol consumption isn't just about willpower; it's also about reengineering social experiences. The temporary void that is left behind when we decide to change our drinking habits can be rather daunting. This is where intentionally curating new social activities can play a game-changing role. Here are some ways to reroute the course of social life that don't involve alcohol.

1. Fill That Social Calendar — Creatively!

A common reason why FOMO surges during alcohol abstinence or reduction is that our social calendar may suddenly look depressingly empty. But who said fun and socializing can only happen over drinks? Organizing a game night with board games or video games can offer an equally exhilarating social experience. If the outdoors beckon, a nature hike or even a simple picnic can serve as a bonding activity that also benefits physical health. Movie outings, cooking parties, or even joining group classes — be it dance, pottery, or cooking — are great ways to socialize and learn something new. You can even join a community meeting our check out one of our science-backed courses on the Reframe app! By keeping our calendar brimming with alternative social plans, FOMO's grip loosens, and our mind gets increasingly preoccupied with new forms of enjoyment.

2. The Art of JOMO: The Joy of Missing Out

One powerful antidote to FOMO is JOMO, or the "joy of missing out." This is about relishing the present and appreciating the unique benefits that come from changing our drinking habits. Instead of looking at pictures of friends with cocktails and feeling left out, the focus shifts to the physical and psychological improvements we experience. Better sleep quality, improved liver function, increased energy levels, and clearer skin are just the tip of the iceberg. The psychological boosts can include enhanced focus, less anxiety, and a more robust emotional equilibrium. By consciously shifting focus to these gains, the so-called “losses” begin to pale in comparison.

3. Find an Alcohol-Free/Alcohol-Conscious Buddy

Journeying alone on the path of alcohol reduction or sobriety can sometimes make the challenges appear insurmountable. This is why having an alcohol-free or alcohol-conscious buddy can make a world of difference. It could be a friend, a family member, or even a co-worker who shares the same goal. When there's another person invested in the same objective, it establishes a support system that's reciprocal. Sharing struggles, strategies, and small victories adds an accountability factor that can be incredibly motivating. Plus, the emotional support that comes from someone who understands the specific challenges makes the entire process less lonely and more attainable.

4. Embrace the Power of Transparency

One of the toughest aspects of cutting back on alcohol or quitting altogether is the inevitable explanation that seems required when declining a drink. How about eliminating that awkwardness from the get-go? Honesty can be a fantastic tool in this journey. If it feels comfortable, letting friends or event hosts know about the decision to cut back or quit drinking can work wonders. This straightforward approach has multiple benefits. Firstly, it lifts the emotional burden and internal tension that comes from trying to dodge the issue. Secondly, it usually reduces peer pressure; most people respect a clearly stated personal choice. Lastly, it may even inspire others to be more mindful of their drinking habits. Transparency can turn an internal struggle into an external declaration of self-care.

5. Dance to a Different Tune With a “No Drink” Playlist

Music is often referred to as the soul’s therapy for good reason. The emotional impact of a well-curated playlist can be as uplifting as any social drink. As part of this alcohol-free or alcohol-conscious journey, consider making a “No Drink” playlist filled with favorite songs that evoke happiness, nostalgia, or even empowerment. Turn on this playlist while getting ready to go out or even during a gathering at home. Let the music serve as both an emotional boost and a reminder of the ability to feel good — no alcohol necessary! 

6. Be Prepared With Responses

Social gatherings often pose the challenge of how to gracefully decline an offer to drink. Why not prepare for these moments in advance? Having a pre-practiced “script” or a set of polite, assertive responses can be incredibly helpful. It could be as simple as saying, “I’m focusing on my health right now, so I’m skipping the alcohol tonight.” No need for elaborate explanations; clarity trumps verbosity. The script doesn’t just make it easier to say no; it also reduces the stress and anxiety associated with such moments.

7. Incentivize With a Reward System

Humans are motivated by rewards. That’s basic psychology. So why not use this to our advantage? Setting achievable milestones — like completing a week or a month without alcohol — and rewarding ourselves upon reaching them can be highly motivating. These rewards can range from small indulgences like a spa day to more grand experiences like a weekend getaway. The key is to make the rewards appealing enough to act as a strong incentive to stick to the goal of changing our drinking habits. 

Final Thoughts on FOMO

While it may feel all-encompassing at the beginning of the journey to cut back on or quit alcohol, it's essential to remember that FOMO is not a life sentence. As the days turn into weeks and the weeks into months, something incredible begins to happen: new habits form, and the old ones, the ones that used to induce FOMO, start to fade away.

As the benefits of this new lifestyle accumulate, they serve as reinforcing loops. Imagine waking up fresh every morning, without the haze of last night's drinks clouding the mind. Visualize the physical changes, perhaps weight loss or clearer skin, that become noticeable and add a spring to every step. These tangible benefits have a way of pushing out the old worries and fears. The social scenarios that once seemed impossible without alcohol suddenly become manageable, even enjoyable.

So while the journey may begin with that single step, it certainly doesn't end there. It evolves into a trek of discovery, one where each milestone is a beacon illuminating the many rewards that lie ahead.

Summary FAQs

1. What is FOMO and how does it relate to alcohol?

FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is a psychological phenomenon in which people experience anxiety over the possibility of missing out on rewarding experiences.

2. Does FOMO still affect people who decide to quit or cut back on alcohol?

Absolutely, FOMO doesn't magically disappear when we decide to reduce or end our alcohol intake. It can manifest when invitations to social drinking events come up or when friends share experiences that involve alcohol.

3. How can someone combat FOMO when trying to change their drinking habits?

Combating FOMO involves both behavioral and psychological strategies, such as filling up our social calendar with alcohol-free activities, learning to appreciate the "joy of missing out" (JOMO), and finding an alcohol-free/alcohol-conscious buddy. 

4. What is JOMO?

JOMO, or the joy of missing out, is the positive counterpart to FOMO. It focuses on finding happiness in missing out on activities that don't serve our well-being, like excessive drinking, and relishing the benefits of healthier choices.

5. How can I gracefully decline alcohol in social situations?

Having a pre-prepared script can help. Simple, clear explanations like "I'm focusing on my health right now" can often suffice. Transparency with friends and hosts about the choice to cut back or quit can also help.

6. Can a rewards system really help in changing alcohol-related habits?

Yes, setting achievable milestones for alcohol reduction and rewarding ourselves when those milestones are reached can serve as a powerful incentive.

7. Will the feeling of FOMO ever go away?

While it may feel intense at first, the experience of FOMO tends to diminish as new, healthier habits take hold. The rewards of an alcohol-free or alcohol-conscious lifestyle can often eclipse the fear of missing out, leading to a new normal that feels both satisfying and sustainable.

Unlock a More Resilient YOU With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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