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Stress is a body’s response to anything that desires attention or action. This is the body’s normal reaction when changes occur, resulting in emotional, physical, and intellectual responses. When a person experiences changes or challenges in their life, the body produces mental and physical responses, which is termed stress.
Stress can be positive and encouraging, keeping people alert and motivated and helping them avoid danger. On the other hand, stress can be a problem when stressors continue without any relief or periods of relaxation. This can be a short-term problem or a long-term problem, depending on changes in a person’s life. Regularly using various stress management techniques can help an individual avoid most emotional, physical, and behavioral symptoms of stress.
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A person might find drinking alcohol a usable, easy, and effective coping skill. However, it does not reduce or address the source of stress. While it can make a person feel good at that moment, using alcohol to cope with stress is a counterproductive effort. Evidence shows that drinking more than 14 units a week can increase your stress over time. Drinking alcohol may help immediately, but the risks to your physical and mental health are significant.
Common Causes of Stress
Stress is a normal part of life in today’s fast-paced world. Common causes of stress in most people are given below:
Lack of Control Over Work:
Some people feel overwhelmed at work; they lose confidence and may become irritable, angry, or withdrawn. A lack of control and autonomy in the workplace can cause stress, anxiety, feeling of hopelessness, and fear. A person might struggle with a lack of control if they experience a lack of motivation, difficulty sleeping, frustration, feelings of meaninglessness, irritability, unexplained headaches or pains, and increased fear. This can lead to a lack of stimulation and on-the-job boredom. Research has found that low job control can cause stress which can be frequent, prolonged, or severe and can make a person alcoholic.
Work-Related Exposure to the Public
Public interactions at work can also cause stress which can easily manifest itself through communication. When someone is stressed, they may become angry more easily. Daily work activities can also lead to work-related tension, like catering to guests, greeting customers, and dealing with client dissatisfaction. Drinking alcohol greatly impacts social behaviors like increasing aggression and self-disclosure. Research has proven that work-related exposure to the public at the workplace and increased use of alcohol are interconnected, which can help provide valuable targets for future research to prevent stress-related alcohol consumption.
It has been hypothesized that stress in general and work-related stress, in particular, affects people’s alcohol drinking habits. Excessive alcohol intake or substance use disorders reduce efficiency at work, thus possibly leading to or increasing work-related stress. People may use alcohol to relieve stress at work, which is why overworking has been linked to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. This is also a primary reason for being an alcoholic in the workplace. Multiple studies have shown that middle-class people consume more alcohol than other groups within the workplace, such as bankers, and higher job strain is linked with increased alcohol-related disorders.
Some studies have shown that heavy alcohol consumption is related to wages and earnings. The empirical results show that drinking reduces approximately 20% of income. Sometimes a person is not treated well at the workplace regarding promotions, pay, and benefits, which are considered workplace stressors that can lead to increased consumption of alcohol.
Middle-class workers consume more alcohol to cope with job-related stress or to overcome negative emotions in the work environment. Overconsumption of alcohol can lead to compromised health, unhealthy drinking habits, decreased safety and declined performance. These include:
- Excessive workloads
- Rigid work schedule
- Unclear performance expectations
- Alcohol is physically or socially available in the workplace
- Repetitive or boring work
- Conflict with supervisors or coworkers
- Consistently long hours
- Few opportunities for growth or advancement
- Involuntary overtime
- Unclear performance expectations
Can Stress Lead to Drinking?
Both men and women who reported a higher stress level tend to drink more. People associate their drinking habits with celebrating or socializing, while others start using alcohol and drinks to cope with other responsibilities like problems at home or starting a new job. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines stress as “anything that challenges the body to function in its usual fashion.” Illness, Injury, feelings of anxiety, fear, excitement, sadness, or exposure to extreme temperature can cause increased stress to the body. Stress can be caused by regular stressors as well as traumatic events. Alcohol consumption can reduce the magnitude of an individual’s response to stress. However, using alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress can make people feel anxious and deal with long-term consequences.
Alcohol consumption among young people or college students is becoming a critical public health priority. In addition, alcohol also significantly affects students’ academic performance and social behavior. College students face different types of pressure, leading to developing a substance use disorder. Usually, they would drink on college campuses to overcome their negative emotions. This is why Penn State University briefed its freshmen students to record their drinking activity and their stressors in a journal.
Although alcoholic beverages are freely available in the market to help people release stress, it must be noted that drinking alcohol hurts both behavioral and physical conditions. Increasing alcohol intake, particularly during stressful times, can have many physical consequences. Individuals should not be depending on drinking to help them sleep better. Also, drinking alcohol can interfere with a person’s sleep, making stress harder to deal with.
Can Drink Alcohol Increase Stress?
People use alcohol to get released stress and its triggers. However, a person would feel more anxious after the alcohol wears off, which can cause more short- and long-term stress.
There are many negative consequences of Alcohol abuse, some of which are:
- A strain on relationships
- Loss of appeal in passions or hobbies
- Poor school or work performance
- Low motivation
- Financial troubles
Misuse of alcohol can affect thoughts and feelings, which can in fact worsen the existing mental health issues and intensify the stressful triggers. Apart from interpersonal relationships and altering behaviors, alcohol changes how individuals respond to stress. The colloquial term “hangxiety” is widely used to describe feelings of anxiety, shame, and guilt during a hangover.  These feelings come into existence by mixing alcohol with medications, feeling depressed, feeling embarrassed about the previous night, and over-analyzing moments during drinking. Drinking increases the stress level in a person, and blood sugar levels fall after the alcohol wears off from the body, leading to anxiety symptoms.
Research has found that the use of alcohol increases the levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that the body naturally produces in stressful events. A person’s body naturally generates more cortisol when they are affected by stressors like anxiety and fear. Short-term cortisol can increase blood pressure, and long-term cortisol may permanently impact some body functions such as digestion, bone growth, and wound repair.
Experts have also found that cortisol plays a vital role in regulating the body’s immune and emotional systems when people abuse alcohol. People may suffer from organ and central nervous system damage when the presence of cortisol becomes chronic throughout the body.
Factors That Affect the Correlation Between Stress & Alcoholism
There is a positive correlation between stress and alcohol consumption. Personality is a critical factor in this correlation of how easily a person can get stressed and how long it takes them to overcome it. It has been proven that optimistic individuals and those who are positive in their life can handle stress better. These people are naturally disinclined to develop related disorders such as alcoholism.
Conclusively, the ability to handle stress is the most vital sign to interpret if a person wants to use alcohol or not. Other factors that can impact the likelihood are:
- Involvement in a natural disaster or another sort of catastrophic event
- Individuals with a history of AUD
- Childhood trauma or mistreatment
- Being a victim of assault (females)
- Drinking alcohol at an early age
- Job loss (primarily in males)
How does Alcohol Affect the Body?
Like all drugs, alcohol can damage people’s bodies, especially when they drink heavily daily. Alcohol is a short-term stress reliever, and when a person drinks alcohol, they may feel an inability to think clearly and lack coordination. Alcohol can lead to long-term damage, leading to severe health conditions such as:
- Heart: irregular heartbeat, cardiomyopathy, hypertension, stroke.
- Liver: cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver, fibrosis (scarring)
- Pancreas: pancreatitis (inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels)
- Brain: brain shrinkage, psychosis, hallucinations, and nutritional deficiencies, leading to long-term conditions such as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
Over time, long-term excessive alcohol use can increase the chance of developing certain types of cancer. It also weakens your immune system and makes the body less able to fight disease and infection.
How to Deal with Stress without Drinking
By not drinking alcohol too much, people can reduce these short-term and long-term health risks. There are many effective ways to reduce stress without alcohol. Some of them are given below.
Take a walk or exercise.
Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Different forms of exercise can increase the production of endorphins in the body. Endorphins are neurotransmitters in the brain that relieve pain and provide energy. It makes a person feel good and helps their body to improve their digestive, cardiovascular, and immune system.
Spend time with friends or family
Having a robust social circle and good friends can relieve stress. People feel better after interacting with their loved ones, so they should try playing a game, getting outside for some extra laughter, watching a movie, and indulging in family fun to get relief from stress. This helps in the overall well-being of a person and can help healthily improve their mood.
Deliberately focusing your attention inwards is called meditation, which is a fast way to reduce stress. This process produces deep relaxation and eliminates the stream of jumbled thoughts. During meditation, a person should breathe deeply, notice their body, set a time limit, and notice when their mind has strayed from stress. Individuals should try blocking their thoughts for ten minutes to recharge if they have no time to meditate.
Another way to cope with stress is taking time for yourself and doing fun activities. Entertainment can produce desired states such as relaxation. Watching movies, listening to a podcast, or reading a new book can boost your mind and provide a much-needed distraction from everyday worries of life.
Journaling can be an excellent tool to relieve stress and mental health conditions. In fact, writing down deep thoughts and feelings and talking to someone trustworthy can improve physical and psychological well-being.
Journaling can help people control their emotions and find new ways to relieve stress healthily. People should consider a new stress reliever if their first instinct is to grab a drink after a long day at work, and they should note how they feel before and after.
If you want to help someone in your family who is an alcohol addict, it would be better to consult a personal health care provider.
Can alcohol make stress worse?
Alcohol disrupts the delicate balance of chemicals and can increases stress even when a person is not drinking. Long-term alcohol use can change processes in the brain and affect a person’s feelings, thoughts, and long-term mental health. According to the NIAA, the body of an alcohol addict releases higher amounts of adrenocorticotropic hormone and cortisol, and an increase of these hormones can affect the body. Alcohol shifts the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, making it challenging for individuals to cope with stress, even when they’re not drinking.
Can alcohol reduce stress?
Alcohol consumption can minimize a person’s response to stress and anxiety symptoms. Drinking may lead to relaxation and positive feelings in the short term. It sends a message to the brain and strengthens the belief that alcohol releases stress. This is why people feel that their stress has decreased when they drink. As the brain gets habitual with alcohol, it begins to depend on alcohol more to function correctly and make a person feel relaxed.
Simultaneously, alcohol itself can activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, which is a significant part of the body’s stress response system.
1 Marsh, B., Carlyle, M., Carter, E., Hughes, P., McGahey, S., Lawn, W., … & Morgan, C. J. (2019). Shyness, alcohol use disorders and ‘hangxiety’: A naturalistic study of social drinkers. Personality and Individual Differences, 139, 13-18.
2 Keyes, K. M., Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Grant, B. F., & Hasin, D. S. (2012). Stress and alcohol: epidemiologic evidence. Alcohol research: current reviews.