Alcohol’s Effect on Long-Term Stress

Alcohol's Effect on Long-Term Stress

People often turn to alcohol to alleviate unwanted symptoms of stress and anxiety because initially it produces the desired effect of euphoria and relaxation. However, people who struggle with long-term stressors typically find that prolonged alcohol use makes things worse. As stress continues to frequently arise, people may regularly use alcohol to cope. Overtime, continual alcohol use and abuse can lead to numerous physical and psychological problems that can cause new sources of stress and anxiety. Most notably, individuals who use alcohol to cope with stress often develop alcohol dependence and an alcohol use disorder.

How Are Stress and Alcohol Related?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an affiliate of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the following statistics were found in a study conducted on a group of men and women in the general population in regards to stress and alcohol:

  • Both men and women who reported higher levels of stress than others tended to consume more alcohol
  • Men tended to cope with stress by consuming alcohol more than women did
  • The percentage of men who reported binge drinking in order to cope with a stressful event was one and a half times greater than that of women
  • The prevalence of alcohol use disorders and dependence among men was two and a half times greater than that of women

One of the most common correlations between alcohol use and stress is that of veteran soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Up to 22% of American war veterans returning from recent tours in Afghanistan and Iraq have been diagnosed with PTSD and all of them are at greater risk for alcohol abuse. Especially in cases of PTSD, the ability to control thoughts and ward off intrusive memories requires constant effort. When alcohol enters the system, the mind’s ability to control thoughts is decreased thus allowing stressful thoughts and emotionally disturbing memories to roam freely. Some of the other ways that coping with alcohol can make long-term stress worse can include the following:

  • Long-term use of alcohol to cope with stress increases the likelihood of a developing tolerance
  • Tolerance to alcohol requires a person to consume greater quantities of the substance in order to achieve the same effect, which leads to dependence and alcohol use disorders
  • Long-term heavy drinking increases the likelihood of developing a physical or psychological problem, which causes new forms of stress
  • Coping with alcohol often creates a vicious cycle of consuming alcohol to cope with stress, while the alcohol abuse increases stress in multiple areas of life
  • People who develop alcohol use disorders often find an increase in relational problems, emotional problems and medical problems, all of which increase stress levels

Seeking out immediate treatment for substance abuse and finding professional help in overcoming stress is essential to avoiding an alcohol use disorder.

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