Is stress making you drink too much alcohol?

alcohol stress and addictionStress is hard to define, but we all know when we’re feeling it. It can be a combination of factors – worry, exhaustion, depression, frustration, anger, any number of things. Anything which drains our energy or our resources quicker than they can be replaced.

One definition of stress is “a state where we believe that a situation exceeds our abilities to cope with it”. And this belief is an important point, it is a perception of ourselves, a prediction that we can’t deal with something.

Do you reach for a drink as soon as you feel stressed?

Of course, for many alcoholics, this is the point from which drinking begins –

“I can’t handle this, unless I have a drink”, or
“This is too much for me, I’m cracking up, I need a drink to calm down”

But this is still just a prediction, a belief that you can’t cope, which is causing you to drink. What would happen if you said to yourself, “I feel really stressed and confused, but I can cope, I can handle it”. What might that make you feel about your craving for a drink? Maybe you wouldn’t want one quite so much? (ok, it might not stop the craving completely, but it might weaken it, right?)

It sounds too simple, but many alcoholics underestimate their ability to handle their emotions, and thus as soon as they feel something uncomfortable or painful, they push the ‘escape’ button (or the “f**k it” button, as I’ve heard it described).

So how can you deal with stress?

There are many angles to tackle this from – can you avoid some of those stressful events in the first place? Are you repeatedly putting yourself in situations which drain your energy?

This can be as simple as asking for help when things are getting too much – you’ve got debts to pay, your boss reprimands you at work because of a mistake, your partner is not considering your feelings again, and you need to pick up the kids from school. You can start by realising that you need someone else to pick up your kids today, a close friend maybe. Just to give yourself a break from one more source of stress for a moment. It won’t fix the whole problem, but you’ve got to start somewhere and make some solutions.

Next you can look at what you’re saying to yourself about your ability to cope with these sources of stress – are you predicting the worst? Are you saying negative things about yourself because of the situation, about your strength to deal with it?

“I haven’t got the confidence to say what I need to say”, or
“I just can’t think of a way to sort this out, so I might as well give in to it”

Don’t just accept those comments, challenge them. What could you say to yourself instead? At the end of the day, whether stress makes you drink more alcohol or not is down to you.