Is Alcohol your chief stress management tool?

Here’s a question or two:

Do you feel as though you are drinking more than you would like?

Are you finding that the habit of drinking is becoming your primary stress management tool?

If so, and perhaps even if you are finding you are regularly consuming above the recommended weekly and daily units, then it is worth doing something about the amount you are drinking.  And there are quite a few things you can do to both reduce your desire for drink and the quantity and strength of alcohol you consume when you do decide to indulge.  Because that’s the key phrase here – indulge.  Is alcohol consumption a part of your regular routine or a nice indulgence every so often.  If the former, then read on…

The truth about stress and alcohol

Why do we drink alcohol?  Is it to be sociable, to provide confidence, get a party underway, or to relax, block out time or because we have nothing better to do?

There are many reasons, but one the most common that I hear when running workshops and speaking at conferences is to help with relaxation and to take the edge off stress.

Let’s look at the facts then:

Does alcohol help to relax us?

The short answer is it can.  The effects of alcohol can be both physiological (i.e. the chemicals can reduce inhibitions and induce a relaxed feeling), and psychological (i.e. because we have learned that alcohol and relaxation/ chilling out go together, our mind flicks the relaxation switch too).

But the reality is that this is a short-term answer.  Yes it can take the edge of the rough day you’ve just had and encourage the blocking out of the stress or the release of certain emotions linked to the stress response, but it comes at a cost.

Alcohol, being a depressant, can lead to relaxation, but it also depresses the centres responsible for managing your inhibitions and behaviour which can lead to the more negative aspects - violence, aggression, paranoia, eating a kebab followed by a pizza and then cheese n chips.  Sleep quality may also be affected.

So, whilst it may help you nod off to sleep, it can often be responsible for waking you through the night to then be prey to your troubles (which always seem worse and darker at 3am for some reason don’t they?).  Even if you do manage to stay asleep, often the quality of your sleep is poor and leads to feeling tired and un-rested the next day.

That’s just after one day.  No wonder after days, weeks, months and even years of regular (even at what we might perceive as moderate levels) alcohol consumption, we start to resemble a character from Shaun of the Dead.

Add to that the longer term damage that the alcohol itself does to our liver and brain (to highlight just two key parts of our body) and we start to see a decline in our psychological (anxiety, depression, paranoia,) and physical (cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease) wellbeing.

So, regular drinking isn’t too hot for us.

Oh, and add in the fact that we are now drinking higher percentage alcohols (the availability of wines at 9%abv has given way to 11% and stronger and beer, once 3-3.5% is now up to 4.5-5.2%), in bigger containers at cheaper prices and no wonder it has become our first choice stress management tactic.

Phew!  well, if this is ringing a few bells for you, check out my top 10 tips for managing down alcohol intake and raising up our health, in Thursday's blog.

Bye for now

Keep an eye out for the next blog.

Dave Algeo
Motivational Speaker on resilience and men's mental health. 

Feeling maxed out?  No headspace, time or energy? Here's a short video with three tips to help you.