Many people use alcohol to reduce stress. Whether people grab drinks after hard days at the office or they go to a party after college exams end, they seek alcohol for its quick, short-lasting relief from all kinds of stress.
Unfortunately, this relief from alcohol abuse never lasts long, and it often causes more stress over time. In fact, using alcohol to manage stress is one of the surest ways to develop a major drinking problem.
How Alcohol Affects Stress
Stress is a complicated physiological and psychological phenomenon. Many activities can be troubling, but, when a problem creates more anxiety or pressure than someone can manage, then the resulting stress is destructive for the body and the mind. The following causes commonly lead to stress:
- Unrealistic expectations of accomplishment by parents, employers or clients
- Unclear communication of expectations
- Dysfunctional relationships
- Financial hardships
- Physical discomfort or disability
- Disobedient or problematic children
- Sexual dysfunction
- Poor self-esteem or body image
Stress manifests itself in many ways. It can cause headaches, sore backs, insomnia, ulcers and fatigue, so many people who experience serious stress will do anything to feel relief. Unfortunately, most of the quickest sources of stress relief are the most destructive.
For instance, alcohol releases the “feel-good” chemical dopamine into the bloodstream, which creates a feeling of pleasure. The brain recognizes this relief in a way that is far more powerful than conscious thought, so a seriously stressed-out person may become alcohol dependent the first time he drinks for emotional or physiological relief.
Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Abuse
Over time the body develops a tolerance to alcohol, which means someone needs larger and more frequent amounts of alcohol to feel the same effects. In other words, over time a beer or two will no longer relieve stress, so someone may need four or five drinks after a few shots of liquor. This kind of escalation is progressive, so drinking habits only get worse. Ultimately, stressed individuals may drink entire bottles of whiskey, but they will still struggle with anxiety and worry.
Sadly, long-term alcohol abuse not only stops relieving stress, but it also increases stress. Alcoholism causes divorce, loss of employment, physical deterioration and a host of other problems that spike stress levels.