Does Alcohol Relieve Stress?
A lot of people say they enjoy a drink for fun, or to relax, and even to reduce stress. It’s true that those are some of the effects of alcohol, at least for a short time, but it is also true that alcohol is a depressant and it has a direct effect on the central nervous system. Not to mention the fact that it is addictive.
In the short term it seems that having a few drinks can reduce your troubles, or at least take your mind off them for a while. It can feel like a boost to your confidence but as we know, it’s effects don’t last for long and as you continue to drink over a longer time, it is very likely that you will build up a tolerance and so need to drink more and more to get the same effect. At this point it can seem harder and harder to relax as when you are without the alcohol in your system, there is nothing to numb you and keep you calm. This is because alcohol affects the levels of serotonin and other chemicals in your body and so, as the alcohol wears off, your anxiety may actually heighten. This can start a continuous cycle where you drink, feel worse, drink more, feel even worse and so on. I’ve been there. It’s rubbish.
As well as affecting serotonin, alcohol causes the stress hormone cortisol to be released in higher amounts which affects the way the body perceives it’s normal base level. This alters how we cope with stress and changes our body’s responses to it. Cortisol also affects the brain’s reward system which reinforces the need for alcohol as we strive to achieve the same level we have previously reached. This is one of the reasons drinking becomes a learned behaviour, due to the feeling of reward and also why many people relapse, trying to regain the feeling that becomes less and less attainable. The effects of drinking don’t stop when we stop drinking, but rather, when we have allowed our brains to recover from the long term effects of alcohol use. For me, that took far longer than I expected. Prolonged and heavy use of alcohol can have both physical and mental side-effects such as memory loss and blackouts. These of course will do nothing to ease your anxiety as you struggle to remember what you have said and done.
There are other ways of relieving stress, many which can be fun, a great deal cheaper, better for you and have the benefit of not being addictive. Unfortunately alcohol is heavily relied on in our society for a source of fun and relaxation, and of course that reward at the end of the day. It’s fine when it’s done occasionally, but it’s too easy to slip into a habit, and once you are there it is harder to get out of it. I often think that by the time you start wondering or thinking about whether you have a problem, it is probably a little bit late and that problem has already formed.
Generally, if someone questions whether they drink too much, it’s often because they do. I’m not judging at all, once I was there, so I understand. I was in denial and didn’t believe that I really had a problem, because problems happen to other people, don’t they? Not people like me? Once those questions start, it’s often a case of trying to justify it to yourself rather than proving you don’t have a problem. But as I, and many others like me have shown, you can overcome an addiction and live well without alcohol. It takes time and effort, but there are so many advantages to living a sober life, I promise you that.
Always remember to be kind to yourselves.