Alcohol and Stress
Why Alcohol Can Make Stress Worse
Alcohol and Stress
Why Alcohol Can Make Stress Worse
Table of Contents
Did you know that during the pandemic, the amount Americans drink has increased? In fact, 57 percent of Americans who make less than 50,000 dollars a year say they’ve been drinking more during the pandemic.
In addition, 50 percent of Americans between 25 and 54 years old also state the amount they are drinking has increased. What is it about the pandemic that has caused a spike in drinking?
The most straightforward answer is stress. Alcohol and stress often seem to go hand in hand. At the end of a stressful day, kicking back with a glass of wine or can of beer sounds relaxing.
However, alcohol can actually increase your stress levels. If your typical response to stress is to drink, keep reading to learn the connection between alcohol and stress.
What Is Stress?
As a culture, we tend to think of stress as a negative thing. However, there are two types of stress, good stress, and bad stress.
Good stress occurs when exciting things happen to us. For example, the excitement of a new job, getting married, or having a baby are sources of good stress. You can even experience this type of stress when doing something fun like riding a rollercoaster.
However, bad stress or distress is much different. This is the type of stress that we will focus on today. This type of stress can wear you out and be harmful to your health. It can cause anxiety, confusion, poor concentration, and impact performance.
Chronic stress can be either long-term or short-term. If you’re able to find ways to relieve stress, short-term or acute stress doesn’t take as heavy a toll on your body.
But, long-term stress can cause both behavioral and physical symptoms. These can increase if you use harmful coping mechanisms.
What Causes Stress?
Stress can get caused by a variety of life circumstances. However, all of the things that can cause stress can get categorized into four different categories. All of these categories of stressful circumstances can increase the risk of alcohol use.
General Life Stressors
We’re all familiar with general life stressors. This is the stress you experience at work. It’s the stress you feel when your car breaks down, or you’re having money problems.
Essentially, general life stressors are things that happen to you every day that cause stress. Research has shown that using alcohol to cope with stress from general life stressors increases the risk of an alcohol disorder.
Typically, when we think of catastrophic events, we think of things like Hurricane Katrina or a tornado. However, catastrophic events can be natural disasters or man-made.
For example, 9/11 or a bombing would get considered a man-made catastrophic event. A catastrophic event is essentially any sudden event where change and destruction happen.
It hasn’t been just the pandemic that has caused increased use of alcohol. Increased use has occurred after other past catastrophic events.
Abuse that occurs during your childhood can impact you into adulthood. Neglect or emotional, sexual, or physical abuse that occurs during childhood can cause stress into your adolescent years and adult years.
In addition, adolescents and adults who were abused as children are more likely to struggle with abusing alcohol, especially if they grow up in homes where a caregiver is alcoholic.
Ethnic Minority Stress
Ethnic minority stress is a type of stress that has been front and center over the past years. The stressors here can encompass a big range.
However, some might include getting overlooked for a promotion or being the victim of a hate crime. This type of stress can be caused by both emotional and physical factors.
Research has shown that perceptions and objective indicators of discrimination are associated with alcohol use and alcohol use disorders. This is true for racial and ethnic minorities and sexual minorities.
More Connections Between Alcohol and Stress
Stressful life circumstances can increase the risk of alcohol use and alcohol use disorders; however, the connection doesn’t stop there. Using alcohol to cope with stress can create more stress and anxiety in your life.
These reasons aren’t just because of the impact of alcohol on your life, but also because of how alcohol abuse and stress interact with your body.
How Does Stress Impact Your Body?
While stress can have an impact on your body, your body responds to it in a way meant to protect you. When you become stressed and feel threatened, your body responds by creating more stress hormones.
Two of these hormones include cortisol and adrenaline. This is an evolutionary response that prepares your body for fight or flight. You’ll either stay and fight the perceived danger or flee from it.
This is a good response that you need when you’re in danger. However, if stress is chronic, it can create problems like:
How Does Using Alcohol to Cope Impact Stress?
Current culture has taught us that the picture of relaxation is kicking back with alcohol. However, what if we were to tell you that alcohol can actually make stress worse?
Understanding how alcohol can impact you when it comes to the psychosocial isn’t enough. Alcohol can also affect the hormones in your body in surprising ways.
Alcohol and stress research has looked at heavy alcohol consumption and the impact it has on the body. It found that chronic drinking can increase cortisol levels in the body.
Cortisol also gets produced when you’re under stress. Researchers looked at two different groups of people in a rehab facility.
It was discovered that the alcohol-dependent patients had increased levels of cortisol in their bodies in comparison to the abstinent patients. In addition, as the patients who were alcohol dependent began to detox, their cortisol levels increased more.
The Effects of Cortisol
Cortisol isn’t all bad; it actually serves several purposes within our bodies. Some of these include:
However, chronic stress and alcohol can both increase the levels of cortisol in your body. While your body needs a certain amount of cortisol to function correctly, the increased levels of cortisol caused by stress and alcohol use can lead to damaging effects on your body.
The Impact of Alcohol & Stress
There are a variety of symptoms you might see that result from chronic stress and alcohol use.
Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression can occur when your body is constantly in fight or flight mode. Mixing alcohol and anxiety can have some of the same adverse effects.
Even moderate use of alcohol can increase anxiety.
There are many physical concerns that come with prolonged increased levels of cortisol in the body. This can include things like headaches, problems with digestion, and heart disease.
Physical symptoms over time can begin to impact other parts of your life as well. For example, another effect is memory and concentration problems.
For many, work stress and alcohol use for stress relief go hand in hand. But because of the physical symptoms associated with increased levels of cortisol, you can actually put more stress on yourself in the workplace.
As you experience medical problems or memory and concentration problems, it will begin to impact your performance at work.
Stress and sleep are connected in significant ways. When you’re stressed, it’s hard to sleep. However, when you’re not getting enough sleep, your stress levels rise.
It’s a vicious circle that seems like it will never end. A lack of sleep also comes with a wealth of physical and mental health problems, like depression, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, and more.
Using alcohol to cope with your stress, can only exacerbate the problem as your body continues to create increased levels of cortisol.
Did you know that studies have shown that heavier people tend to have higher levels of cortisol? Increased levels of cortisol can contribute to weight gain.
But, they can also make it more difficult for you to lose extra weight. People who are obese are more likely to struggle with mental health and physical health disorders, which can increase the level of stress in their lives as well.
The Myth of Alcohol as a Stress Reliever
If using alcohol to relieve stress actually makes it worse, why do people believe that alcohol and stress relief go hand in hand?
Part of the answer to that question comes down to the culture and media. When we watch tv or movies, we often see characters using alcohol to kick back and relax. Outside of the media, in the American culture, it’s prevalent to use alcohol to relax and during times of celebration.
The positive portrayal and memories of alcohol make a drink at the end of the day sound like the perfect solution. However, there’s also a physical reason too. Alcohol is a depressant. It depresses your central nervous system or CNS. Because of this, alcohol will often have a sedative effect. It can create a feeling of euphoria and decrease your inhibitions.
Popular belief holds that drinking alcohol helps with stress and anxiety when, in reality, it can make it worse.
Finding New Ways to Cope With Stress
What can you do to relax when it’s been a long stressful day? If your automatic go-to for dealing with stress is alcohol, finding healthier coping mechanisms is important.
Whether you’re taking a day to yourself or need some relaxation after work, we have some self-care ideas to help you relax at the end of the day.
Learn and Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness-based stress reduction is an evidence-based practice that can help with anxiety, depression, addiction, and chronic pain. While it’s not a cure-all, there are some great mental health benefits to using mindfulness. Around 79 percent of meta-analyses and systemic reviews have found that mindfulness has positive effects on mental health, symptom management, and quality of life.
What is mindfulness? How often do you spend stressing about what happened or what is going to happen? Or how often are you overly reactive to what’s currently happening that’s causing stress? Mindfulness addresses all of these circumstances.
With mindfulness, you learn to be fully present and aware of what you’re doing and where you are. You also learn to not be overly reactive or overwhelmed about what’s going on around you.
While we all have the ability to be mindful, it’s something we need to learn how to do. This might sound complicated; however, it just takes practice.
There are even apps you can download to your phone to help you learn mindfulness exercises. As you practice mindfulness, you’ll be able to learn how to apply it to everyday situations and use it to manage your stress and anxiety in the moment.
Playing tennis, going for a run, or doing other aerobic exercises are great for dealing with stress. However, before you start a new exercise routine, be sure to consult with your doctor.
Make sure to schedule your workouts so that you don’t skip them and choose activities you love. For example, maybe you hate running on a treadmill, but you enjoy playing basketball. Find a group to play basketball with.
You’re more likely to keep up with your exercise routine if you enjoy it. Also, don’t increase your stress by trying to do too much at once. Not being where you want to be when it comes to exercise doesn’t mean you can’t build to that point. By just starting, you’re already doing wonders for your body.
Exercise can help to reduce stress in a few ways, and your body, mind, and soul will thank you.
When you engage in aerobic exercise, your body creates endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain killers.
They can make you feel great and create a sense of euphoria.
Stress prepares you for fight or flight, but what do you do when your body is ready to go, and you don’t? Working out can help you work through all of this.
In addition, it can help to protect your body from stress.
When you’re working out, you are concentrating on the movements of your body and your breathing. This can be a form of mediation.
Taking the time to focus on one thing can help you deal with the stress from your day and leave you in a better mood.
Exercising regularly comes with a wealth of benefits. Some of these include:
• Improving your mood
• Increasing self-confidence
• Helping you relax
• Lowering symptoms of mild anxiety and depression
As you relax and feel better about yourself, it will help with your stress levels.
Sleep is essential for helping with stress. One of the great benefits of exercise is that it can help to improve your sleep.
As you’re getting enough sleep, you’ll have the ability to deal with your stress more effectively. Exercise can help you break the cycle of not being able to sleep because you’re stressed and being stressed because you can’t sleep.
Yoga is another type of exercise; however, it’s an exercise that can get geared specifically towards helping with stress. There are various yoga poses and breathing exercises you can do to help with stress.
Yoga also will often incorporate elements of mindfulness. Some poses you might want to try for stress relief include:
Also, try out some of these breathing techniques:
Using mediation can be very beneficial to not only coping with stress but long-term management of stress. Meditation can retrain your brain so that when you’re using it daily, you can better deal with the stressors that come your way.
One of the great things about mediation is that it can be quick. It doesn’t have to be a long-drawn-out process. You can also use guided imagery and other tools available for free through apps and the internet to help as you learn to use mediation to cope with stress.
Talk to a Friend
Talking to someone about your day can help you with your stress levels. Sometimes something as little as a conversation or a hug from a loved friend can make your day instantly better.
Identifying the people in your life who are your support system is important. These will be the people you can talk to and take the time to breathe with during times of stress.
There are times in life when it’s hard to talk about the things happening, or maybe it’s easier to get out another way. Journaling can help with stress in two ways.
First, journaling can be an escape. It gives you a place to go and be quiet and put your thoughts into words. Second, journaling can be an emotional release. When you’re stressed, your mind gets filled with negative thoughts and feelings. This isn’t healthy.
Journaling allows you to get those thoughts and feelings out in a healthy way. It offers the ability to look at what’s happening in a new perspective.
Crying gets a bad rap, but it’s actually very cathartic and has many benefits. Sometimes taking the time to cry can be enough to help you with the stress you’re feeling.
Crying can actually have a self-soothing effect, but research also believes crying can reduce stress because of the hormones and chemicals in your tears.
When you cry because of stress, your tears contain stress hormones and other chemicals. The research suggests that it’s possible that crying could reduce the level of stress hormones in the body and, in turn, reduce stress.
Take Time for You
Sometimes you just need some time for yourself. It’s hard to take that time with all of the demands life places on our time.
Schedule time in your planner for self-care and refuse to reschedule that time for anything short of an emergency. Taking the time to invest back in yourself is essential.
During your time, do something you enjoy. Play a game, take a hike, take a bath, get your nails done; it doesn’t need to be anything extravagant; it just needs to be something that helps you relax and breathe and prepare mentally to face the world again.
Seek Professional Help
Sometimes, stress becomes too big and difficult to handle. Seeking professional help will not only give you someone to talk to but help address other issues as well.
In addition, stress can be more than stress. Seeking help puts a professional in your life who can help determine if there are more than everyday life stressors weighing on you.
When Alcohol and Stress Become a Problem
If you’ve been using alcohol to cope with stress, it can become a problem. In this instance, while you do need to learn healthy coping techniques, you also need to address the resulting addiction.
Finding treatment and asking for help is your first step. Look for a treatment center that will not only help treat your addiction but also any mental health concerns.
Kicking back with a drink sounds like a great way to relieve stress; however, it can ultimately bring about more problems and stress in your life. Finding healthy ways to cope with stress is essential.
Do you need treatment for alcohol and stress? Here at Wellness Retreat Recovery, we offer a peaceful, serene, and healing environment that will allow you to focus on your recovery from addiction in comfort.