One of the most common reasons for people developing substance abuse problems is using drugs and alcohol to cope with stress. Modern life is incredibly fast-paced and demanding, and drugs may seem like an easy escape, allowing pressure and stress to fade in just a few moments. Drinking alcohol is another common stress relief technique that is even easier and socially acceptable thanks to alcohol’s legal status. However, it is essential to recognize that using alcohol for stress relief is a slippery slope that can easily lead to addiction faster than most would expect.

Understanding Stress

Stress comes in various forms. Some stress is acute, such as a car accident, a fight with a loved one, or even a rough day at the office. Other types of stress build more gradually, such as frustrations in the workplace, a deteriorating personal relationship, or worsening health. Learning how to de-stress naturally is a crucial life skill that many people unfortunately overlook; instead, they turn to the apparently “easier” method of drinking away their stressful days.

Stress has various effects on the body. It can increase heart rate, raise anxiety levels, cause irritability, and have physical effects like decreased immune system performance and sexual dysfunction. Poor diet and bad habits like consistent social drinking can worsen these effects. While the individual drinking to cope with stress believes a quick drink is an “easy out” from difficult days, the reality is that he or she is creating a dangerous pattern that does nothing to address the underlying causes of his or her stress.

Why Using Alcohol To Cope With Stress Is Dangerous

When most people imagine an “alcoholic” they may picture a disheveled, unkempt person passed out in a pile of liquor bottles or beer cans, oblivious to the world outside. However, many people may not realize that the people they see at work and about town every day may be alcoholics, too. High-functioning alcoholism describes a situation in which a person is able to maintain a semblance of normalcy while also maintaining an alcohol habit.

The typical pattern for high-functioning alcoholism includes drinking after work or on the weekends, and usually to excess. High-functioning alcoholics may drink after stressful days at the office or simply to blow off steam. Some become accustomed to the partying scene during high school and college and find the trend difficult to break. Alcohol is also a common social lubricant in the United States, and young people looking for potential partners often do so at parties, social events, bars, and nightclubs.

A high-functioning alcoholic may not see his or her alcohol habit as a problem because he or she is able to maintain a normal life. The person may be exceptionally good at his or her job, too, but ultimately the high-functioning alcoholic lifestyle is untenable. Alcoholism is one of the most aggressive forms of addiction and it progresses very rapidly. The person who only drinks on the weekends will inevitably start drinking after work. Drinking after work may eventually lead to waking up late and suffering professional consequences, possibly even loss of a job. This type of stress often drives him or her deeper into alcoholism.

Tips For Health De-Stressing Without Drinking

Treating stress by drinking ultimately creates a destructive cycle of dependency. If a person uses alcohol to cope with stress, he or she will eventually come to depend on alcohol to manage any type of stress. His or her healthy stress relief skills will deteriorate, paving the way for full-blown addiction.

If you find yourself in need of some decompression time and feel tempted to drink, remember that although a drink or two may take the edge off and help you feel better for now, that feeling won’t last, and you haven’t done anything to address the cause of your stress and process it naturally.

Creating Versus Consuming

Learn the difference between “consuming fun” and “creating fun.” Consuming fun means low-effort activities that many find enjoyable, such as watching television shows, eating good foods, and consuming alcohol. These activities require minimal effort and activity, so the brain starts craving more and more. By comparison, creating fun means putting energy into something that results in the creation of something new, such as making art, making music, running, dancing, or playing video games.

While most people may dismiss video games as another type of “consuming fun,” modern games are incredibly challenging, include breathtaking amounts of production value and complex stories, and offer ways to engage socially with others, providing a sense of accomplishment even if it is in a digital space.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a tricky concept for some and second nature to others; mindfulness is simply being aware of yourself in the present moment. Learning how to calmly control your breathing, relax your muscles, and look inward to address your stress in a healthier way is a valuable skill to have.

Use Alcohol Responsibly

Ultimately, consuming alcohol is never healthy, but it is perfectly possible to enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage with friends or family in a responsible way. Avoid drinking when something specific stresses or upsets you; alcohol will skew your judgment and make it difficult to process the issue in a healthy way. If you notice that you are starting to instantly turn to alcohol to cope with stress, it might be time to consider substance abuse treatment before any high-functioning alcoholism escalates to more dangerous levels of abuse.

Alcohol should never be anyone’s first choice of stress relief. Instead of risking developing a dangerous cycle of alcohol abuse in response to stress, start thinking of new activities to enjoy, places to explore, and cultivate new relationships with people who are positive influences in your life.