Stress, unfortunately, is a natural part of life. Everyone at one time or another has experienced instances in which things become so overwhelming that stress takes over. Of course there are some individuals who can handle stress without breaking a sweat, but there are also those who don’t know how to cope and as a result end up feeling defeated and overwhelmed.

When these feelings don’t subside, many look to alcohol to “soothe” their pain and help them cope.

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How Stress is Effecting Your Body

What many are unaware of is that even though stress is considered a feeling or emotion, it can ultimately lead to significant wear and tear on the body. A person who experiences significant stress on their body the body will begin to let off hormones that cause the body to go into a fight or flight response. While such bodily reactions are beneficial in certain stressful circumstances, prolonged periods of such reactions can lead to both a mental and physical breakdown.

Mild amounts of stress on the body can result in physical consequences that include an increased blood pressure or heart rate, dizziness, sleep complications as well as digestive problems. It can also lead to emotional changes such as irritability, anger, and agitation. In chronic cases, some might even depend on substances or alcohol to cope.

Stress and Drinking: Medical Studies

There are several studies that have been conducted in an effort to connect stress and alcohol abuse.  Stress has been regarded by many as a substance abuse risk factor to look out for. Experts and researches state that stress over a long period of time causes changes in the brain which can potentially heighten the potential for addiction. For example, prolonged periods of stress can begin to affect the part of the brain responsible for extensive thinking and impulse control.

Another study shows that stress levels can play a huge part in determining if a recovering addict will stay in alcohol treatment. The study tested recovering addicts (some who had completed treatment and some who hadn’t) to find certain stress hormones both before and after they were instructed to complete a stressful task. The study concluded that those recovering addicts who had left rehab prior to completing treatment had stress levels several times higher than recovering addicts who had completed the program.

Have You Been Drinking to Cope?

Now that you see how drinking and stress are so closely related you can see why it is best to minimize your alcohol intake. It can be very easy for someone suffering from a stressful situation to end up abusing or becoming addicted to substances such as alcohol. Even one drink per night can easily turn into an alcohol dependency that is very complicated to recover from. The best thing you can do for yourself is learn to manage stress without the use of any substances. Some ideas might include: exercising, decreasing your responsibilities, asking for help from others, and in serious instances seeking professional services from a therapist.

Recognizing the Signs of Alcohol Dependency or Alcoholism

When you’re dealing with stress on the ongoing basis and using alcohol or other substances to cope, it can be quite challenging to see when you’ve gone too far. It is fairly easy to go from a “casual drinker” to someone who is dependent upon alcohol to get through the day. Recognizing the signs in yourself and getting the help you need is the best approach to treating both your chronic stress and your substance abuse issue. Below are a few signs to keep an eye out for:

Physical Signs of Alcohol Addiction:

  • Body tremors that stop after you drink
  • Significant weight changes
  • Extremely red or watery eyes
  • Unexplainable sweating
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Pale looking skin
  • Stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting

Emotional Signs of Alcohol Addiction:

  • The inability to control the amount of alcohol consumed
  • Requiring more drinks to feel “at ease”
  • Creating excuses for drinking
  • Neglecting or distancing from daily activities
  • Depression or heightened emotions
  • Isolation
  • Personality changes
  • Trying to quit but can’t

Getting Help

If one or more of these signs sounds like what you or someone you know is going through it is important to get help right away. The longer you wait, the more challenging it will be to overcome your addiction. There are several avenues you can take for help that include: group therapy, individual therapy, rehab facilities, and 12 step programs. Depending on your personal preferences and the severity of your alcohol abuse each of these options can help you in their own way. Consult with a medial or mental health professional to sort through your options.

No one would assume that a common emotion like stress can lead to alcohol dependency, substance abuse, or adverse health complications. However, when chemicals and hormones within the human brain are impacted in such a way, anything is possible. If you or someone you know is currently suffering from chronic stress and uses alcohol to try and cope it’s important to get help right away. The road to recovery certainly won’t be an easy one, but it will be worthwhile in the end.

For more information on stress or alcohol abuse:

The Recovery Village, Alcohol Treatment, 2015. http://www.therecoveryvillage.com/alcohol-treatment/

Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA, Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction, 2009. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2732004/

National Institute on Drug Abuse, Treatment Dropout Linked with Elevated Stress Response, July, 11, 2011. http://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2011/07/treatment-dropout-linked-elevated-stress-response