Alcohol and Stress: A Vicious Circle?

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a campaign to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with alcohol addiction. It’s also Stress Awareness Month, a timely reminder of how stress relates to alcohol use. People from all walks of life drink to cope with stress and while drinking can result in feelings of relaxation in the short term, ongoing reliance on alcohol to manage stress often leads to physical and psychological problems.  

A Paradoxical Effect

Using alcohol to relieve stress and anxiety can have a paradoxical effect. Habitual alcohol use alters the balance of chemicals in the brain that regulate mood, and can contribute to and worsen symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. It becomes a vicious circle;  the person drinks in response to stress, feels worse later on, and turns to alcohol again to avoid dealing with painful feelings instead of learning healthy coping skills.

Drinking to self-medicate can also have serious health consequences. Heavy drinking is linked to higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction. Other medical conditions associated with excessive drinking include heart and liver disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and cancer. Long-term alcohol use can also cause neurological problems such as cognitive deficits and dementia.