Alcohol consumption is not an uncommon thing, and for many people, it’s their drug of choice.
According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 86.4 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime.
To stress that point even further, around 56% of the survey’s participants reported that they drank alcohol in the past month.
Some people use alcohol as a way for them to relax – it’s their way of dealing with stress.
It is not uncommon to see people go to a bar or just have a drink with friends after a long day at work.
It’s a way to kick back and relax, to forget your problems for a short while.
Sure, some people drink too much or become addicted, but that’s on them, right? Drinking helps you relax, and that’s that.
As it turns out, however, alcohol does not necessarily help you with stress.
On its surface, it does seem to calm your nerves, but there is a lot more to drinking than that.
Can alcohol reduce anxiety and stress?
According to one study, nearly 60% of adults who drink alcohol do so in order to cope with stress.
This habit is not random.
Alcohol is classified as a depressant drug, meaning that it inhibits function in the central nervous system (CNS).
The symptoms of such drugs include drowsiness, fatigue, poor coordination and yes, relaxation as well.
In fact, depressants are commonly used to combat anxiety and sleeping disorders.
That being said, depressants are to be taken only in small doses, with negative long-term effects being a very real possibility in the case of drug abuse.
In other words, alcohol can actually reduce stress and combat anxiety, but only when taken in small doses.
That isn’t to say that its the only option, or even the best available.
Alcohol increases dopamine
Alcohol is not like most other depressants.
Drinking alcohol will increase the release of dopamine inside your brain.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is triggered by, among other things, receiving a reward, and it can influence the way that we behave.
Dopamine, for the most part, makes us feel good, excited and happy, making us want to experience more of that sensation.
For example, a gambler who got lucky once will likely continue to gamble regardless of further loses until his dopamine levels go back to normal.
Despite being a depressant, alcohol can make you feel more energetic.
It triggers the brain’s reward system – and that’s precisely the problem
Dopamine is tied to alcoholism
The feeling of decreasing levels of dopamine is not a pleasant one and many people try to keep their dopamine levels high as a result.
It’s no wonder that dopamine is a major cause of drug addiction,
In a similar way, drinking alcohol makes the brain believe that it is a rewarding activity.
This, in turn, will make you keep drinking, chasing that dopamine high.
The numbers demonstrate this fact as well.
More than 40 percent of the total of current alcohol users have reported binge drinking in the past month, many of which were alcoholics.
In other words, taking a single shot of your preferred alcoholic beverage is likely to make you want to take another one.
You might be able to resist that temptation, sure, but excessive drinking is not the only risk of alcohol as a stress reliever.
Alcohol can make your anxiety worse
Increasing the dopamine production is not the only way that alcohol affects the brain.
As it turns out, even in small doses, alcohol can actually make your anxiety worse.
The immediate effects are positive, but are the mental repercussions of drinking?
I am not talking about the long-term effects, but rather what happens immediately after your drinking high comes to an end.
After all, after every “high” there must always come a low, and in the case of drinking, there is no exception.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that acts as a mood stabilizer.
It can reduce anxiety and regulate depression, making it a vital part of any functioning human being.
Drinking alcohol can actually increase serotonin levels, making it easier for you to ignore your own mood or stress.
It becomes easier for you to laugh, act happy and forget your problems.
But what happens once the alcohol gets out of your system? As it turns out, nothing good.
Alcohol is a noted cause of serotonin depletion, meaning that, once its influence is gone, all of those problems that you were trying to drink away will come back with a vengeance.
Instead of helping your relieve stress, alcohol merely takes whatever stress you are feeling today and passes it on to tomorrow, making it worse in the process.
Social anxiety can cause excessive drinking
Many people drink in order to cope with stress and deal with their problems, but its not as though all of them are addicts or anything like that.
In fact, many people who spend their time drinking do so with their friends.
Alcohol can improve your mood and make you more energetic (Despite being a depressive drug) for a short while, making it a great way to loosen up and enjoy yourself more whenever you are with friends.
But what happens when you don’t really enjoy the company of others? What happens when you are downright terrified of it?
Social anxiety is a very common disorder, affecting around 7% of the population at any given moment.
People who suffer from social anxiety experience a great deal of stress whenever they have to spend time with other people.
As such, many of them turn to alcohol in order to relieve their stress.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 20 percent of people with social anxiety disorder also suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence.
Anxiety and alcohol abuse are closely related.
If you already suffer from anxiety, you should do your best to avoid alcohol whenever possible – you are at a very real risk of becoming an alcoholic.
Drinking alcohol can cause long-term anxiety
Aside from its immediate effects, alcohol does not relieve anxiety for an extensive period of time.
In fact, it can make it worse.
The thing is, even if you don’t suffer from an anxiety disorder or have any problems dealing with stress, drinking alcohol can cause these problems regardless.
Drinking alcohol is known to deplete the body of B vitamins, which are known to combat stress and anxiety.
They affect mood regulation, manufacture neurotransmitters such as serotonin, and control blood sugar levels, all of which are important for stress management.
Excessive drinking over a long enough period of time can also increase cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone.
Cortisol, in turn, can affect sleep, mood and thinking among many other things.
To put it simply, alcohol alters the hormonal and chemical balance inside of the brain.
It changes the way that we perceive stress and the way that we react to it, making us less resilient to its effects.
Studies show that heavy drinking can rewire the brain, making it harder for us to handle traumatic and difficult events.
Drinking isn’t good for you
Look, there are not many people who would advocate drinking alcohol as a way to better your health.
Aside from the fact that drinking is not a good way to relieve stress, alcohol is bad for you in general.
You are probably aware of this fact, but here are Some of the long-term risks of drinking:
- Liver disease
- High blood pressure
- Nerve damage
- Irreversible, permanent brain damage
Even if there were some benefits to drinking alcohol as a way to calm down the drawbacks easily dwarf them.
So, even though using alcohol is an easy, short-term fix to anxious thoughts and stress, both your body and your mind are going to pay for that choice later on.
There are many ways for you to learn to manage anxiety and stress, most of which are much healthier, as well as more effective, than drinking.
Do yourself a favor and leave alcohol to parties, events and social gatherings.
How can you deal with stress and anxiety?
By now I have made a fairly good case as to why drinking will not help you deal with stress or anxiety.
This just begs the question – What will?
A lot of people try to find a quick “fix” for their problems, but such a “fix” doesn’t really exist.
Sure, you can distract yourself and maybe even forget about your problems for a while, but they will still be there.
There are certain things that you can do, such as meditation, that will help you relieve immediate stress, but to stop feeling constant anxiety you will need more than that.
You will need a method, a process.
I would highly recommend checking out The Panic Away Program.
In this program you will find a variety of methods, tips, tricks and lifestyle changes that you will be able to apply right away.
If you are serious about overcoming your anxiety then you should definitely give it a try.
Feel free to post any further questions in the comment section below or send me an email.
I will do my best to get back to you as soon as possible.