Biting the Hands that Feed Each Other: Stress and Alcohol

Stressed businesswoman

Your boss wants the project on their desk first thing tomorrow morning. Your rent is due and you’re short, again. You forgot about your anniversary. It’s Monday.

When you finally get home, you have a drink or two to wind down, which isn’t necessarily a problem, not yet. According to Gateway Aurora Executive Director Jim Scarpace, stress-related drinking becomes a problem when someone starts relying on alcohol as a way to self-medicate, when alcohol becomes the only form of stress-relief.

To be clear, stress and anxiety are different from stress and anxiety disorders. We all experience stress and anxiety to a degree. Stress is sometimes even healthy. It tells our body and our brain to react to a threat. It can kick-start our body to fight off an infection or help us perform better under pressure. However, unmanaged and acute or long-term stress can damage our bodies and our minds.

Although alcohol in small doses acts like a stimulant, or a pick-me-up, alcohol is a depressant, meaning it lowers activity of the central nervous system; simply put, it relaxes us. If someone turns to the bottle time and time again under stress, however, they will likely develop an association between the two, a habit, and then a tolerance to its stress-alleviating properties. It will take more alcohol to feel the same level of relief, increasing vulnerability to addiction.

Despite alcohol’s ability to diminish stress, studies have shown it dually extends the negative experience of stressors and decreases alcohol’s positive effects. So the negative emotion associated with that project – still due tomorrow – may be even worse when you present it to your boss the next day.

People in recovery may need to overcome more hurdles to cope with stressors without the help of alcohol. Studies have also indicated people in recovery experience increased rates of relapse in the face of life stressors.

However, finding support and healthy coping mechanisms can reduce alcohol misuse, relapse rates, and stress levels.

Alternative ways to relieve stress:
– Exercise or go for a walk
– Laugh – at a video, TV show, or meme (here’s one to get you started)
– Listen to music
– Journal or craft
– Take a nap
– Spend time with pets or people you love

“If you’re struggling to stop using alcohol and not getting any relief from your coping mechanisms, then you really need to get support through medically assisted treatment or counseling or both,” Scarpace advises, “and that’s where treatment comes in.”

How do you deal with stress? Share your healthy stress relievers with us this month @RecoverGateway on Facebook and Twitter.

Get Control Before Stress Takes its Toll

stressBefore recovery, you may have wanted to drink or use drugs when you felt stressed out. For many, substance abuse is a common response to chronic stress however it is not a helpful remedy—it actually aggravates stress. With April being National Stress Awareness Month, let’s take a closer look at how stress can affect your body, mood and behavior and healthy ways to relieve stress.

Most people need a certain amount of stress. In the right amount, it can give you an edge. Keep you sharp and alert. On the other hand, living in a constant state of stress isn’t a good idea. Constant stress produces high levels of cortisol, a hormone released from the adrenal gland in times of stress, which has been shown to impair cognitive functioning and weaken the immune system.

Without a doubt, stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings as well as your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can give you a jump on managing them.

stress symptoms

The ideal, then, is to have just enough stress to remain focused; but to also have an outlet that can regulate stress and keep it from overtaking your life. Following are five healthy ways to help you defuse stress.

Take short meditation and mindfulness breaks

One of the best ways to deflect stress is through meditation. While there are many different meditation techniques, here is a simple one that only takes two minutes: Meditate by concentrating only on a single word during the most stressful time of the day—the morning, which, not coincidentally, happens to be the same time of day that has the highest incidence of heart attacks.

Doctors agree that meditation practices such as this are a great way to combat daily stress, but also say learning any type of technique that relaxes the body and mind will reduce worry—which in the end, is the goal: learning to cope with stress by learning to manage the mind.

For instance, mindfulness exercises also are effective in soothing stress. Try this: Sit upright, focus on your breath and pay attention to a physical sensation, such as filling your lungs with air. When your mind wanders, notice the disruption and then return your attention to that simple sensation. Continue the exercise for 5 to 10 minutes and repeat a few times a day to help manage stress.

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