Link Between Stress and Alcohol Use

In life, people experience stress every day. Situations may emerge that evoke feelings of sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, and excitement, all of which contribute to increased stress levels. Due to this, people may develop negative coping mechanisms, such as relying on alcohol. 

Although drinking may relieve stress in the short term, there can be many serious long-term consequences. Research has revealed that there is a link between the two, as alcohol takes both a psychological and physiological toll on the body that may actually compound the effects of stress.

Alcohol’s effects on stress

Research has found that the human body has a complex process of adapting to harmful or dangerous situations created by stress to keep a physiological balance, known as homeostasis. The primary stress hormone, cortisol, plays an important role in the body’s response to stress. A healthy body’s response includes a quick spike in cortisol levels, followed by a rapid decrease back to normal levels when the perceived threat, or stress, is over.  

When people drink alcohol, this balance in the body is disrupted. Since alcohol causes higher amounts of cortisol to be released, this alters the brain’s chemistry and what the body considers “normal.” Alcohol shifts the body’s hormonal balance and changes the way the body perceives, and responds to, stress. Studies have found that cortisol also interacts with the brain’s reward/pleasure systems. Increased levels of cortisol result in needing more of the substance to achieve the desired pleasure effect (ex. calming the nerves or creating a sense of stress relief). This can then lead to alcohol abuse or addiction. 

Even though many people use alcohol to numb the stress-evoking emotions they are feeling, drinking can actually have the opposite effect. Experts have found that drinking can lead to ruminating on negative thoughts and feelings, heightening one’s emotional state, and resulting in higher levels of stress. When people increase their alcohol intake to cope with stress, this can exacerbate other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

Healthier ways to cope with stress

Spend time with animals 

Studies have shown that spending time with animals is related to a reduction in stress levels and also has many additional, mental and physical, health benefits. 

Exercise consistently

Regular exercise not only has physical health benefits, but it can also help to reduce stress. Exercise releases endorphins, which combat pain and stress, and trigger feelings of well-being.  

Get proper sleep

Proper sleep each night is critical in reducing stress. Alcohol consumption impedes restorative sleep, interrupts circadian rhythm, and prevents REM sleep. This is another reason it’s important to avoid drinking, especially when stress is present.

Seek help

It’s important to reach out to friends and family when feeling overwhelmed and under a lot of stress. A conversation with loved ones can help immensely. Although, if these feelings of stress are present constantly, it may be time to speak with a medical professional. 

If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol addiction or having difficulty managing stress, it can be challenging to determine how to handle these situations. At Feinberg Consulting, our team of highly trained professionals is here to help you find the proper treatment. Contact us today to learn more at 877.538.5425.

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