What is the relationship between stress and alcohol?

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Background

When the body experiences stress, it responds by secreting hormones into the blood in an attempt to cope with the stressor. This stress response affects the way the body functions and alters body temperature, appetite, and mood. This is one reason some people turn to alcohol after a stressful event. In many cases, people will turn to alcohol when a stressful situation feels out of their control. For example, many war veterans treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have alcohol-use disorders. Many studies have also shown that stressful situations can lead to relapse among recovering alcoholics. People who do not have the resources—such as a social support network—to cope with stress are more likely to drink in response to a stressful situation. They use alcohol to help buffer the effects of stress.

Alcohol is not a healthy way of dealing with stress. Drinking to deal with stress can interfere with work, relationships, and finances, and lead to more problems, such as alcoholism and health complications. Symptoms of stress include headaches, stomach aches, feeling tired or overwhelmed, and having difficulty sleeping.

Controlling Stress

There are numerous strategies to reduce or control stress. Some of these are learning to say no and to set boundaries, which means not taking on more than one can handle; taking on one thing at a time—if the workload seems unbearable, an individual should pick one urgent task to focus on; meditating, which often takes only ten to twenty minutes each day; eating healthy and exercising, including at least thirty minutes of physical activity on most days of the week; limiting the intake of caffeine and alcohol, both of which interfere with sleep; learning to breathe properly (breathing techniques are a useful tool in combating stress); and sharing one’s feelings. This latter strategy is important; a friend or family member’s love, support, and guidance can help those suffering from stress through a particular situation. Professionals are trained to assess levels of stress and recommend coping and relaxation strategies. In addition, a supplement with vitamin B complex and magnesium may help to offset the effects of chronic stress.

Bibliography

Barnes, Gordon, Robert Murray, and David Patton. The Addiction-Prone Personality. New York: Springer, 2007. Print.

Bradford, D. E., B. L. Shapiro, and J. J. Curtin. “How Bad Could It Be? Alcohol Dampens Stress Responses to Threat of Uncertain Intensity.” Psychological Science 24.12 (2013): 2541–49. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.

“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction.” DualDiagnosis.org. DualDiagnosis.org, 2015. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.

Slone, Laurie B., and Matthew J. Friedman. “Recognizing Other Mental Health Issues.” After the War Zone. Boston: Da Capo, 2008. Print.

Stewart, Sherry H., and Patricia Conrod, eds. Anxiety and Substance Use Disorders. New York: Springer, 2008. Print.