Alcohol Consumption as Stress Management

stress-managementA lot of people consume alcohol as a way to manage stress. How often this is effective as a coping strategy probably decreases as the amount you drink increases. But although alcohol doesn’t really work as a long-term way of handling stressful situations, it does provide relief in the short term. And this is where the problem starts.

Our tendency to consider short-term effects in preference to longer term ones is visible in many areas of our lives. But why can we not more easily use the negative consequences of alcohol in helping us decide how much to drink?

People use the word “stress” quite a lot, but what does it really mean? Do we all use the word to mean the same thing? Everyone perceives different things to be stressful, but a few aspects of our experience are probably universal.

The first aspect is that a feeling of stress arises when we believe situations in our lives require more of us than we are able to give in terms of emotional or mental energy. We become depleted, and our decision-making abilities seem to lessen along with this.

Another aspect of stress is that we encounter events which trigger the ‘fight or flight’ reaction inherited from our ancestors. When we sense threat, or the possibility of emotional pain ahead, or any outcome that might make us anxious at some level, adrenaline is produced to prime our bodies to take action and our blood pressure goes up.

Of course not many stressful situations require physical responses these days, we have to deal with most events through more subtle behaviours than running away or fighting. And yet consumption of alcohol does seem to allow us to effectively ‘run away’ doesn’t it? Maybe this explains it’s popularity.

How is it then that some people seem better at stress management than others? Is it just their resilience? More likely it depends on our beliefs about ourselves, our estimation of our ability to handle the events in our lives, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we can effectively deal with events, there may be less urge to run away from them, and hence perhaps less urge to drink. If you are drinking less, then undoubtedly your capacity to respond to stress is improved.

19 Comments

  1. Pat Corrigan 6 January, 2012 at 12:14 am - Reply

    this is new to me, so here goes , ya AA takes a bit of decipline to continue attending they say the meeting we need is the one we dont want togo to. I am 12 years in and out of AA 2 treatment centers and loads of councilors all a waste of time. Now ok thats me,but one day a year ago i saw the first step as never before. I could see for the first time in all those years that no matter what i did as regards various theraptys the first part of the first step for me was never going to change.I had take on board that i was powerless over alcohol and that was that.So why did alcohol have such a hold on me, well now that i have had a good look at where i was a year ago i think the world had a greater hold on me. I now find that if i try to look at things as they really are instead of my misimformed illusion of my surroundings. Others were not competing with me more success was not going to make me a better person the world was not all about me.So much of what i had achived was in time going to mean less and less to me,it served a purpose so far but did not warrent all the worry of fear of ioss. I found that i had become my achivements and did not know myself outside that. So ya now i try to take the spotlight off myself and try to grow outwards, i do find being in constant though of others takes me out of my dangerious mind.

    • Brian 13 June, 2012 at 3:36 am - Reply

      I like what you said, Pat. Makes sense …the outward focus combined with realizing that we and what we do are not what we should be focusing on. Heck, that sounds awfully biblical to me! It always seems that God is right in the end …some of us are just slow learners.

  2. Cary 10 November, 2011 at 4:54 am - Reply

    I am 46 and have been drinking since a teenager, heavier through the years. Recently ended up in the hospital w/alcohol pancreatist (most painful experience of my life – really wanted to die) I had pains like it before but managed to get thru them – so I know I have had pancreatist for a while. I have been told if I continue to drink I have a very good chance of not making it through another attack. My counts were over 7000 (norm is 1000) that carries a 30% death rate. I am on day 12 of not drinking. I have been to two AA meetings – and trying to get out of this house. I have a husband but we really live sep. lives (no kids). I was adopted and have tons of issues about that and I have absolutely no self esteem. I have been told how beautiful I am and funny and wonderful but I never saw it. I guess maybe as long as I was drinking it made it possible to believe it or that that was the only reason it was true. Sober I am nobody. I am trying to find myself and need alot of help. If anyone wants to be my friend I would welcome it. I really have no friends (real friends) and live on a mtn. very secluded. No one to talk to and too much time to think. Thanks for listening to me.

    • anne 14 July, 2012 at 6:21 am - Reply

      hi, just read an earlier post. you ok ? xx i’m in same situation. i know it was an old post, so i don’t know if you’re still on this. Haven’t typed this correctly..lol least of worries.. you keep hoping.. for what you want/need ? i just keep doing that.. but staying positive ? is it an alcohol duped positive or a REAL positive ?? just realised, i’ve been kidding myself all was going to be ok. it’s not ! self-employed and gonna lose everything. used wine to “overcome” stress. twat !! hope you’re fine x 1st time, i’ve posted a reply. really hope you’re well, lots of love, annie x

    • Anonymous 16 March, 2018 at 11:29 pm - Reply

      I’ve just read your post. It’s been 7 years since you posted. I hope those years have been kind to you and that you’ve found some peace and a life that is happier.

  3. Charles Somer 31 December, 2010 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    Hey Andrew,

    There are plenty of alternatives to AA out there. These include Rational Recovery, SMART Recovery, Secular Organization for Sobriety and the like. Unfortunately these groups are more active in the U.S and if you live elsewhere they are more difficult to access (though SOS and SMART Recovery have their online counterparts)

    Just google any of these and you will find out more. I got sober with AA about three years ago but have fallen out of ‘love’ with it for various reasons – it is not easy to stay there. it is said around 90% of people do not remain in AA beyond 6 months

    Anyway good luck.

    • Brian 13 June, 2012 at 3:32 am - Reply

      I started in with AA most of a month ago and have been there 3 times. They said they wanted you to go 90 times in your first 90 days (more than once a day is OK) …but even after only 3 meetings, it seemed awfully repetitive. It reminded me of rote memorization, or chant-like programming models that some religions use …sorta turned me off. I stopped going to AA. I’m giving Bright Eye and the ‘cognitive approach’ a chance (w/Tobin) starting this Friday.

  4. Sean 20 November, 2010 at 12:42 am - Reply

    I will second that Andrew go for it because it just may be the one thing that gives you that push to keep dry. Post a link on here to it when and if you do get it going and i am shore you will get traffic to it. Good luck m8. Oh and don’t get to heavy as in to all the research on booze to put on your forum because there really is no need because most of it never really gets read. Let the readers and posters do that for you. They like some thing to post about like that facts and so on. Try to push people to share there experience of alcohol. Family life , Work life, There health, so on and so on you no the drill. In fact if you think back to the first time you looked up alcohol on the internet and WHY and what information you was looking for on it then well your half way there to your own web site or forum. If you want any key words just copy and paste Tobin’s lol only kidding Tobin….But take a look at them and if you all ready have got a understanding of how they benefit you when setting up a serious site then you will be on the right road. As i said before i wish you the best and good luck in keeping dry

  5. ian 1 November, 2010 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    maybe stress thats an easy one or more likely neurosis which is the crap we pick up on our travels.
    I personally cannot get myself down from the days events without drinking but I have destroyed every relationship I have ever had in the drink bubble.
    I need to find that place in myself where I can just live without drinking so much that I alienate everyone around me. How can I do that?

  6. George 25 October, 2010 at 8:06 am - Reply

    I used to believe that depression played a huge part of the problem with alcohol but now have to reconsider. Is it stress, does stress present the core problem and therefore drive the drink or does it mix with depression, do I suffer from both. Not knowing the answer is a bitch in itself. When, where, how do I find the answer? Will I find the answer? Will drink ever cease to be such a huge part of my life?

    • Sean 20 November, 2010 at 2:01 am - Reply

      George this is only my opinion so it may be very wrong but how i see it and this is coming from a person as in my self that has had depression before alcohol and major after it. The depression i had before drink was on a hole different level it was clinical depression but not diagnosed mainly because i was ignorant to getting help and i am still ignorant to it to this day maybe that’s the al-fer male in me. Now if you wanted me to take you though that side of depression it will take me weeks to write about it because there is so much and the same can be said for Alcohol depression or induced depression. For me it was way worse. At the start as in when i first started drinking the depression took a back seat. I wont commit my self to say it went away all together i would much prefer to say it went into hibernation only to rise again as i started to go in to my addiction or habit as i some times call it. Well you have no control over that depression well not at least until you stop the cause Ie booze Alcohol. Its funny but i suffer bad with stress even for the most tiny of things and i no the reason why lucky me ah. Now i see stress as the opposite of depression but its not both are very much the same they just come out in two totally different ways. You all ways say the word i cant cope with this with stress. Now if you look at the real reason its i am right the rest are all wrong. Now i don’t want to blow my own trumpet here far from it but there is nothing i can not do apart from spell lol but no matter what job you put me on i will pick it up fast or slow but i will pick it up. I will get faster and faster at it until i am the fastest then when i become the fastest i want to be come the neatest at that job and so on but were the problem lays with me or at least did do and this is were the stress kicked in and started to escalate because there were people that could not do this even in the most simplest of ways. But wat i had forgot was that they are probably like me cant do it cant do it cant do it and then become the best at it……Here i will give you a short test if you have depression when you are reading this. How many times have you thought the words what is my sole perpace in this world for what was i put here to do. Ok now the second one is this and its my own test for stress for you. How many times have i used the word depression and did you start to become sick of reading that word Roooooor Rooooooor even i was sick of using it lol. Be good m8

  7. admin 9 October, 2010 at 3:28 am - Reply

    We already have a forum with 3500 members on this site Andrew, join up here if you want.

  8. Mandy Lilygreen 16 June, 2010 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    I agree with you rebecca, most of the time people choose the easiet route, obviously not the best route. Over the last 10 years i have tried everything, mediatation, deep breathing, sitting in the bath with candles and peace of mind, exercise, swimming, cooking, walking in the park, walking at the beach, going to a theme park, having my hair cut. Everything, some things work yes, but only briefly. I also believe some people are stuck in their RUT. No relaxation program or exercise routine will really cure the problem. (maybe in light problems) Most problems have grown so deep that getting to the roots can be impossible. A little light weed can be easily extracted, but a deep growing one left over time requires a lot more effort.
    .

    • jena milant 24 September, 2010 at 4:44 am - Reply

      I look at my level of stress which in my opinion is low. I am living an extremely creative life which is panning out magicly but I continue to use alcohol as a crutch. I think there might be some correlation between alcohol use and expanding time. Instead of just getting the job done…. let’s have a little drink before writing this proposal… oh one more drinkie before bringing these thoughts together. it’s like a form of delaying the process because you’re not sure if you’re right. So the booze is going to make the decision for you? i think I’d be much more efficient and quicker without the wine.
      It’s never helped. It’s an illusion. I certainly can’t give it credit so why do I use it?

    • Sean 2 October, 2010 at 1:24 am - Reply

      A good percentage of alcoholics or drug takers or mental health problem people lie to the gp or there psychiatrist or psycholinguists so they never really get to the bottom of there own problem. You have to remember that you found alcohol it did not find you. For many if alcohol was never here in the first place they would still find some sort of drug to crash out on…Some people say they have no reason for becoming addicted to alcohol and i think for some that may be true. Its addictive after all. Its no different from going to your gp in the old days and saying i cant cope he then gives you vallium and you go away only to get addicted to it. No that’s wrong because they had a problem in the first place. Oh well for some they have no problem apart from booze. But it snow balls and that 1 alcohol problem will become 10 problems.

  9. Leon Murray 23 May, 2010 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    one of the best things to incorporate with Stress Management is meditation and deep breating exercises..;,

    • Sean 20 November, 2010 at 1:08 am - Reply

      Again i will second what you have said there Lean. Let me just post that again for you Lean……..one of the best things to incorporate with Stress Management is meditation and deep breating exercises..;, Its sad in a way because a hole load of people just cast that aside when it real does work very well and proved to and it has no side affects lol Only good ones. I use it my self. Not all the time but i use it when i think it has to be used. I am also a great believer in alternative ways of coping with various different problems. Some call it the placebo affect some thing thing i think they should have kept to there selves but all the same it works in some cases. I am not to shore if i am honest about if it would benefit a alcoholic while there drinking. A bit maybe for panic and anxiety in fact a lot but what i mean is when you first get dry you can be a bit Hyper you no the jail door has just opened after 10 OR 20 years. In fact there is a very funny thing and just now and again when i see some one on here that has posted and you can tell by the way there post reads that they are full bang on with stress or anxiety much like my self at the moment lol Well i try to reverse the way there feeling with out them knowing it just like say you was reading a good book a softly spoken book the way it reads you no. Take the bloke that spoke in the war of the worlds he has the same affect on me. I don’t do it a lot as you can tell by my erratic posts but then manic depression does have several heads. Be good m8

  10. Rebecca 17 March, 2010 at 4:23 am - Reply

    Sometimes I think we resist the urge to drink to be at our best when stress arises and sometimes I think we just give up. Often, it’s a combination of both and we end up not knowing what to do and chose the easiest route. I think the real problem occurs when we want to keep running and not stop and fight. When you only chose to escape and drink, you’ll be disappointed because it won’t work. I find myself running at times, but I always have to stop and fight our I wouldn’t make it. I think it’s a balance of both that really helps us to succeed, we pick our battles. Sometimes you can get away with running for awhile, but you have to turn around and face reality too. It’s at that time when you better be ready to fight. After you realize that you can actually win a fight, or at least remain calm and defend yourself…it’s like you’ve conquered the world. Just repeat the same strategy. Sometimes all you have to do is be calm and confident in a few facts. That’s just my humble opinion, but I liked the article because I deal with stress every day.

  11. Maria 7 March, 2010 at 11:05 am - Reply

    I think that it depends on nervous system of a person. There are stronger people who are able to handle difficult situation rather easy and the ones who are sensitive to everything that happens around them.

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