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Alcoholism and Stress: Definition, Statistics and Dangers


Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 7/06/2022

Alcohol and stress can be correlated, especially for people who have a lot of stress in their lives. While someone can struggle with alcoholism and stress independently of one another, it’s common for stressed-out individuals to turn to alcohol as a type of self-medication. While alcohol can relieve the immediate symptoms of stress, using alcohol to treat stress increases the risk of developing an alcohol abuse disorder. 

Stress is something that many people have to deal with. Additionally, stress is not simple to treat. There aren’t many specific medications for stress and stress can occur at infrequent intervals. Therefore, it’s important to consult with a doctor or mental health professional before turning to alcohol as a solution for stress.

What is Stress?

Stress is the body’s response to adversity and challenges. When exposed to danger (or a deadline at work) the hypothalamus sends nerve and hormone signals to the adrenal glands. From there, the adrenal glands release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Once those hormones are active in the body, the stress response begins.

Adrenaline increases heart rate, changes breathing, raises blood pressure, and makes muscles tenser. Cortisol, on the other hand, reduces bodily functions that aren’t required during dangerous situations. For example, it limits the immune system, digestion, and even the reproductive system. It’s for these reasons that symptoms of stress include increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate, anxiety, fatigue, and loss of appetite.

Stress can also be defined as a feeling. When the body and mind are faced with danger the mind looks for possible solutions, which leads to anxiety. Feelings of stress can also be frustration, anger, or even nervousness. However, there are also correlations between stress and mental health disorders like depression.

Furthermore, prolonged periods of stress can harm the body. The human body is not supposed to be in a constant state of stress, so it can damage organs and even the brain. Increased amounts of stress hormones in the body can also cause weight gain, headaches, digestive issues, heart problems, insomnia, and even mental issues like impaired memory.

It’s also important to note that stress can be one of the reasons and factors for alcoholism. When someone consumes alcohol they’re more likely to consume more alcohol when stressed. Feeling stressed can also cause someone to use alcohol as a coping mechanism. 

What are the Causes of Stress?

Stress is caused by many factors. Primarily, it’s the body’s natural response to danger, adversity, or challenges. In the past, stress was caused by dangerous situations but in the modern world, the most common cause of stress is work. Jobs can have deadlines and other factors that lead to stress and anxiety.

Some other aspects of life that lead to stress are listed below.

  • Being under pressure 
  • Facing changes in life (new child or career)
  • Anxiety 
  • Not being busy 
  • Discrimination or abuse 
  • Periods of uncertainty 
  • Deadlines at work or school 
  • Situations not brought under control 
  • Financial obligations 
  • Losing a spouse (death or divorce)
  • Injuries
  • Chronic illness or disabilities 
  • Emotional distress (anger, grief, guilt)
  • Moving into a new home or apartment
  • Having a child 

Stress can also be a personal problem. Therefore, unique situations can lead to stress based on your current situation. For example, having twins instead of one child can lead to stress.

How Does Alcoholism Affect People Who Are Stressed?

Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that can increase depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues like stress. When someone treats stress with alcohol it provides temporary relief from the symptoms of stress. Alcohol can relieve symptoms of stress because of its euphoric effects. However, alcohol can increase stress over the long term, especially when someone develops alcoholism.

While alcohol can temporarily relieve symptoms of stress it’s not a good long-term solution. Alcohol is not a good long-term solution because it depletes chemicals in the brain related to happiness and euphoria. These changes in brain chemistry can also lead to a loss of balance in the brain. An unbalanced brain increases the risk of alcohol dependency and other mental health disorders.

Alcohol can also affect people who are stressed by creating an alcohol dependency. When someone uses alcohol to treat stress, the risk of forming an addiction increases. Therefore, using alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress is dangerous.

What Are the Best Alcoholic Drinks for Stress?

The best alcoholic drinks for stress include ingredients other than alcohol that relieve stress in the body. For example, red wine contains a plant-based compound resveratrol. Resveratrol is a compound that limits the stress response within the brain. Therefore, it can reduce stress, anxiety, and even depression.

While alcohol should never be a primary treatment for stress, some types of alcohol are better than others. Additionally when using alcohol to cope with stress make sure cocktails have ingredients that can reduce stress and don’t drink too much alcohol. Try to avoid having more than one or two standard drinks per day. One standard drink is the equivalent of about 12 ounces of beer.

Below are the best alcoholic drinks for stress.

  • Red wine 
  • Blueberry martinis 
  • Brandy (orange)
  • Cocktails made with green tea
  • Avocado margaritas 
  • Scotch

While some alcoholic beverages can help with stress in the short term, we recommend against drinking alcohol to cope with stress.

What are the Statistics on Alcoholism and Stress?

Based on data from several studies, there’s a correlation between alcohol and stress. People who are exposed to stressful situations are more likely to drink alcohol. In fact, people who deal with a lot of stress are more likely to participate in dangerous drinking activities like binge drinking.

One study followed the drinking habits of more than 26,000 adults (over the age of 18). The study found that heavy drinking increased by more than 20% in men for each stressor and more than 12% in females for each stressor. Another conclusion of the study was that alcohol does not correlate to alcohol usage. Instead, it correlates to how much alcohol someone drinks. So, someone who consumed one beer per day would be more likely to consume 3 beers when dealing with stress.

Other alcoholism facts and statistics suggest that there’s a difference between men and women when it comes to stress and alcohol. For example, men are 1.5 times more likely to engage in binge drinking than women. Additionally, alcoholism is 2.5 times more prevalent in young men who face between 4 and 6 stressors. Ultimately, age and gender play a role in how stress affects alcohol usage.

The data also shows that people recovering from an alcohol abuse disorder are more likely to experience severe bouts of stress. These severe bouts of stress can increase the risk of relapse. For this reason, recovering alcoholics need to avoid stressful situations in their lives.

What are the Dangers of Alcoholism in People Who Are Stressed?

Alcoholism is dangerous for people who are stressed because using alcohol to cope with stress increases the risk of alcohol dependency. Alcohol dependency is linked to increased rates of heart problems, liver problems, and damage to the brain. When someone becomes addicted to alcohol it can also take months or years for themselves or their family to notice the addiction.

Alcoholism is also dangerous for people who are stressed because stress has been shown to increase how much alcohol someone drinks. If an alcoholic typically consumes four beers each day, a stressor can cause them to consume six beers each day. The extra two beers per day can cause more harm to the brain and body.

Furthermore, alcohol causes changes to chemicals in the brain related to serotonin and dopamine. After years of alcohol abuse, the brain struggles to maintain balance without alcohol in the bloodstream, which can lead to mental health disorders. Ultimately, alcohol abuse can increase stress and the risk of stress occurring.

What Are the Treatments for Stress and Alcoholism?

The treatments for stress and alcoholism consist of therapy, medically-assisted detoxification, counseling, and medications. Depending on an individual’s situation, more than one treatment method can be applied. In fact, it’s common for people to experience counseling, therapy, and detox during an inpatient rehab program.

When being treated without stress as a factor, alcoholism is treated with therapy, counseling, detox, and support groups. If alcohol is not a contributing factor to stress, stress is treated with a combination of therapy and medication. For stress, eliminating stressors can also provide temporary or long-term relief.

When stress is a co-occurring disorder of alcoholism, however, the treatment process is different. To treat stress and alcohol, therapy is necessary. Behavioral therapies can use strategies like Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to give people the tools to manage their stressors, which can reduce alcohol dependency.

That said, serious cases of alcoholism and alcohol withdrawal require detox and medication before therapy and counseling can begin. Alcohol addiction is serious and withdrawal can be life-threatening if not treated properly.

What Are Some Healthy Alternatives to Drinking to Deal with Stress?

Many people turn to alcohol to cope with stress but there are healthy alternatives. In fact, most healthy alternatives to drinking can improve other aspects of a person’s life like diet, fitness, and relationships. It’s also important to note that healthy alternatives to drinking can provide long-lasting relief from stress. This is better than alcohol because alcohol only provides short-term relief.

Learning to understand how stress works and what triggers it can help you manage stress. Handling situations that cause stress without becoming emotionally or physically impacted can help you reduce stress in the long run.

Below are the healthy alternatives to drinking to deal with stress.

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night 
  • Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day; it can even be a brisk walk 
  • Using yoga or other methods of relaxation like meditation or massage therapy 
  • Listening to music and enjoying hobbies 
  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Finding ways to laugh every day 
  • Managing daily tasks more efficiently 
  • Therapy or counseling 
  • Writing down your thoughts and feelings; keeping a journal 

These are only a few of the healthy ways to deal with stress.

What is the Relationship Between Alcoholism and Stress?

The relationship between alcohol and stress varies depending on a person’s situation. However, evidence from many studies suggests that stress increased the risk of alcohol dependency. Stress can also increase the number of alcoholic drinks that someone consumes. When someone is stressed they’re also more likely to participate in binge drinking.

Another relationship between alcohol and stress is based on addiction. Someone who is stressed is more likely to become addicted to alcohol when alcohol is used as a treatment for stress. Self-medicating with alcohol creates an alcohol dependency that gets worse over long periods. 

It’s also important to note that there’s a relationship between stress and alcohol during alcoholism recovery. People who are recovering from alcoholism are more likely to release when stress is a factor.

Do People Who Suffer From Stress Drink Excessively?

People who suffer from stress have an increased risk of drinking excessively. While not everyone who suffers from stress drinks excessively, stress increases the risk of developing alcohol abuse disorder. Stress increases the risk of abusing alcohol because alcohol can temporarily reduce the negative effects of stress. 

Does Alcoholism Cause Stress?

Yes, alcoholism can cause stress. Alcoholism causes stress because alcohol addiction causes imbalances in the brain. These imbalances can lead to anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health problems. Alcoholism can also impact someone’s work performance and social life. When these areas are affected by alcohol, stress can become worse or become more common.

Does Alcoholism Relieve Stress?

In the short term, yes, alcoholism can relieve stress. Alcohol relieves stress because it makes people feel happy and slows down thinking. While alcoholism can relieve stress in the short term, it increases stress and other mental health disorders in the long term. Therefore, alcoholism is not a good coping mechanism for stress.

Does Alcoholism Make Stress Worse?

Alcoholism does not always make stress worse. That said, alcoholism can lead to situations that make stress worse, like losing a job or loved one. In these cases, alcohol addiction makes stress worse and can even be the cause of stress.

Can You Drink Alcohol on Stress Medication?

No, you can not drink alcohol on stress medication. Medication that’s used to treat stress (like Xanax) has negative interactions with alcohol. The negative interaction increases the risk of side effects and can make alcohol’s intoxicating effects more dangerous. 

Additionally, stress medication varies based on the type of stress someone has. So, it’s important to consult with a doctor before mixing alcohol with stress medication. If possible, we recommend against mixing alcohol and stress medication.

Is Stress an indication of Alcoholism?

No, stress is not an indication of alcoholism. People can be stressed for many reasons, so stress is not always an indication of alcoholism. However, stress can increase the risk of someone becoming an alcoholic because alcohol can temporarily relieve the symptoms of stress. 

For this reason, many functioning alcoholics abuse alcohol to deal with the stress in their lives. Depending on what alcoholism is for someone, stress may or may not be the primary indicator. More often than not there are other indicators of alcoholism.