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Understanding the Relationship Between Alcohol and Stress

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After a long and stressful day, what do you do to relax? Around 55% of Americans report feeling stressed each day, with many seeking coping mechanisms that either help stress management or inhibit it. So, what happens when you throw alcohol into the mix with stress?

It can seem harmless enough to reach for a drink after a stressful day, but it is a toxic mix. Many people turn to alcohol to help manage their stress levels. However, while it may seem that alcohol gives a temporary fix, it actually compounds the impact of stress on the body and leads to further stressful consequences.

Read on to learn more about the links between alcohol and stress.

What Is Stress?

Stress comes in many forms, but essentially, it is how you react when you feel under pressure. Stress can occur for different reasons, but it is usually triggered due to feeling under pressure or threatened.

Your body is designed to experience stress and react by releasing cortisol, which can be life-saving and is part of your innate survival instinct. The release of cortisol helps you stay alert and responsive to any threats.

However, now you live in a world with different and more frequent stressors. Many people are bombarded with stress daily, leading to chronic levels of stress that begin to put a strain on their minds, bodies, and spirits.

Types of Stress

Some people notice when they are stressed, while others are in a constant state of flight or fight, so their stressed state becomes their norm. This state can lead to many mental health disorders. Some common types of stress include:

  • Physical stress
  • Psychological stress
  • Psychosocial stress
  • Psycho-spiritual stress

Physical stress is anything that impacts your body, such as dietary stress, substance abuse, environmental pollution, and fatigue. Psychological stress can be related to worry, feeling out of control, and other emotions such as grief.

Psychosocial stress is in relation to other people, so examples include relationship issues, lack of social support, bankruptcy, and isolation. Psycho-spiritual is having a crisis in your purpose, values, and meaning.

Stress can be due to work, catastrophic events, general life stress, childhood stress, and ethnic minority stress. Specific forms of stress are also considered normal, such as workplace stress, which can be dangerous if there is no support or education about healthy coping mechanisms.

The Link Between Stress and Alcohol

Many people have coping mechanisms that are considered counterproductive but appear to help in the short term. Others do not have an outlet for their stress, so they take it out on others, such as with emotional or physical outbursts or increased substance use, such as alcohol.

If alcohol and stress were people, they could be the two who encourage each other to keep going, pushing each other beyond healthy limits without caring about the other’s welfare, the ‘toxic’ friend.

Chemical Imbalances and Increased Alcohol Consumption

Substances like alcohol impact your brain’s chemistry, disrupting the delicate balance of processes and hormones. Alcohol increases levels of cortisol in your body, which causes the body to perceive and react to stress in a different way, called allostasis.

Plus, people often feel less anxious initially when they drink because alcohol begins to relax inhibitions. But over time, people develop a tolerance, meaning they have to drink more to get the same effect. Many studies have found this link between alcohol and stress, which can lead to increased alcohol consumption.

Physical and Emotional Issues

Over time, increased alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol use disorder and many chronic diseases, such as heart disease. Experiencing physical problems can exacerbate stress, leading to a cycle of anxiety drinking, essentially perpetuating alcohol use and stress levels.

Because alcohol impacts your inhibitions, suppressed and unprocessed emotions such as anger can come out in unhealthy ways, leading to increased stress levels as you have to deal with the consequences. Plus, over time, alcohol increases the risk of mood disorders because it impacts your brain chemistry and nervous system.

Poor Sleep Quality

Good quality sleep is essential to manage stress levels. Alcohol also impacts your sleep, reducing your chances of sleeping well. Studies have found sleep quality reduces by around 39.2% with high alcohol consumption, with people spending less time in deep sleep, known as the rapid eye movement (REM) stage.

Consequences of Anxiety Drinking

People may begin to drink to manage anxiety and stress. Or over time, alcohol consumption can lead to chronic stress and higher anxiety levels. However, what is evident is that there are many links between alcohol and stress, with risks including developing an alcohol use disorder.

An alcohol use disorder can disrupt work, relations, finances, mental health, and other critical areas of your life, leading to more stress. And when someone stops drinking, there can be a prolonged stress response due to alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal can trigger your body’s stress response, which makes it difficult for people with alcohol use disorder to stop drinking.

Recovery from Alcohol and Stress

If you notice you have frequently begun drinking in response to stress, it indicates it is time to find other coping mechanisms to replace alcohol. These include:

  • Resting
  • Self-care time
  • Exercise
  • Talking to someone
  • Spending time in nature
  • Breathwork
  • Taking regular breaks
  • Having hobbies

However, sometimes you need assistance, such as a rehab center. A rehab center can help you manage alcohol withdrawal and develop healthy coping behaviors to manage stress. It can help you with long-term recovery from alcohol misuse, so you can address the root causes of stress in your life.

San Diego Alcohol Rehabilitation

If you are struggling with alcohol addiction, it is important to know you are not alone. Alcohol use disorder can impact anyone, with certain groups being more at-risk, such as those experiencing chronic stress. There are a variety of alcohol treatment centers in San Diego, so how can you choose between them?

If you are looking for rehab centers in San Diego, you have come to the right place. Apex Recovery is one of the best San Diego rehab centers. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you recover from alcohol and stress.

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