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Alcohol: A Cure For Stress?

Alcohol: A Cure For Stress?

After my programme on radio one day, a listener called me to complain about how depressed he used to be after a stressful day at work. He said that his wife and children usually bear the brunt of his depressing disposition. I asked him what he does to control this stress induced depression and he said "I just drink until I am drunk". If you regularly turn to alcohol to help you cope with a hard day, it could be doing you far more harm than good. I will explain how.

Do you instinctively reach for a bottle of beer after a stressful day? While alcohol may seem to make you more relaxed, if you are regularly drinking more than your body can naturally take, you could end up exacerbating stress. The major adverse effects of alcohol is that it is a depressant, which means it slows down the brain and the central nervous system's processes just like other depressants. This invariably means that alcohol leads you to the very spot you are trying to get out of. After a long time, heavy drinking affects the neurotransmitters in the brain that are needed for good mental health.

So while alcohol may help deal with stress in the short term, in the long run it can contribute to feeling of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with. I assure you this is the point you don't wish to get to. People who drink heavily are more likely to suffer from mental health problems because of the effects of alcohol on the brain and nervous system. When we drink, we narrow our perception of a situation and don't always respond to all the signs around us. If you are prone to anxiety and notice something that could be interpreted as threatening in the environment, you will hone in on that and miss the other less threatening or neutral information. For example, you might focus on our partner talking to someone you are jealous of, rather than notice all the other people she has been chatting with all day.

Getting drunk is basically an avoidance strategy. That is trying to escape from the situation instead of facing it squarely. You are not properly confronting the issues that make you feel stressed in the first place. The best way to deal with stress is to choose a trusted friend or colleague and tell them what is worrying you. Then, together you can come up with some solutions. That is often all you need to start feeling better.

Health Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol affects the brain and there are varying mental health side effects that can result from excessive drinking. People often reach for a drink because they want to change the way they feel. Maybe they want to relax, celebrate or simply forget their day at work. More troubling is the fact that many people drink to try and mask anxiety or depression, or other mental health problems. While alcohol can have a very temporary positive impact on your mood, in the long term it can cause big problems for your brain.

Stress is linked to a range of issues from depression and memory loss to suicide.

  1. Alcohol Alters Your Brain Chemistry
    Our brains rely on a delicate balance of chemicals and processes. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt that balance, affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions - and sometimes our long-term mental health. This partly affects the "neurotransmitters" which are chemicals that help to transmit signals from one nerve (or neuron) in the brain to another. The relaxed feeling you can get when you have that first drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol has caused in your brain. For many of people, a drink can help them feel more confident and less anxious. That is because it is starting to depress the part of the brain associated with shyness. But, as you drink more, more of the brain starts to be affected. It does not matter what mood you are in to start with, when high levels of alcohol are involved, instead of pleasurable feelings increasing, it is possible that a negative emotional response will take over. These negative emotional response can manifest as anger, aggression, anxiety or depression. This is where you see some men beating their wives after being drunk. In this case, alcohol impacts their relationships negatively. We can categorically say that alcohol can actually increase anxiety and stress rather than reduce it. Unfortunately reaching for a drink wonít always have the effect you are after.
  2. Alcohol Depression = A Vicious Cycle
    If you drink heavily and regularly you are likely to develop some symptoms of depression. It is that good old brain chemistry at work again. Regular drinking lowers the levels of serotonin in your brain - a chemical that helps to regulate your mood. In Nigeria, people who experience anxiety or depression are twice as likely to be heavy drinkers. For most people, the anxiety or depression came as a result of stressful situations and they had to reach for alcohol to try and relieve it. While for others, drinking came first and it is definitely the root cause of their anxieties. Drinking heavily can affect your relationship with your partner, family and friends. It can impact on your performance at work too and these issues can also contribute to depression. If you use alcohol to try and improve your mood or mask your depression, you may be starting a vicious cycle.

A lot of people are trapped in the alcohol vicious cycle and find it had breaking free. Next week I will explain to you how to set yourself free and live healthy and stress free. Alcohol has destroyed a lot of families. I remember when I was much younger, our neighbor used to beat his wife and children for no reason whenever he came home drunk. There was no peace in the house and this led to more stress.

Warning Signs that Alcohol is Affecting Your Mood

How to Get A Restful Night Sleep After A Stressful Day

  1. Use exercise and relaxation to tackle stress instead of alcohol. Especially chilling with your loved ones and seeing them as solution not the cause of your problems.
  2. Learn breathing techniques when you feel anxious. Breathe in and out until you feel peace inside.
  3. Talk to someone about your worries. Donít try and mask them with alcohol.
  4. Always be aware of why you are drinking. Donít assume it will make a bad feeling go away, it is more likely to exaggerate it.
  5. Cuddling your loved one or spouse produces oxytocin which is known as Love hormone which helps to reduce stress.

Alcohol is linked to suicide, self-harm and psychosis. Alcohol can make people lose their inhibitions and behave impulsively, so it can lead to actions they might not otherwise have taken - including self-harm and suicide. Have you seen someone who is usually shy boldly making advances at a lady when he is drunk? Something he would never do on a good day. Alcohol is the main reason for self-harm.

Dangerous Effects of Alcohol

Anxiety and depression are more common in heavy drinkers - heavy drinking is more common in those with anxiety and depression. Extreme levels of drinking can occasionally cause "psychosis". It is a severe mental illness where hallucinations and delusions of perception develop. Psychotic symptoms can also occur when very heavy drinkers suddenly stop drinking and develop a condition known as "delirium tremens" - symptoms include body tremors and confusion.

Alcohol can damage your memory. Soon after drinking alcohol, your brain processes slow down and your memory can be impaired. After large quantities of alcohol, the brain can stop recording into the "memory store". That is why you can wake up the next day and cannot remember what you said or did and even where you were. This short-term memory failure or "black out" means that the brain cells are being damaged, and frequent heavy sessions can cause serious damage to the brain because of alcohol's effect on brain chemistry and processes. Drinking heavily over a long period of time can also have long-term effects on memory. Even on days when you don't drink any alcohol, recalling what you did yesterday, or even where you have been earlier that day, becomes difficult. Alcohol disrupts the balance of chemicals in your brain that affect your mood.

Staying in Control

Drinking responsibly will help keep your drinking in control. Here are three ways you can cut back:

  1. Try alternative ways to deal with stress. Instead of reaching for a beer or glass of wine after a hard day, go for a run, swim, or talk to a friend about what is worrying you.
  2. Keep track of what you are drinking if possible. Your liver cannot tell you if you are drinking too much and that is dangerous.
  3. Give alcohol-free days a trial. If you drink regularly, your body starts to build up a tolerance to alcohol. This is why many medical experts recommend taking regular days off from drinking to ensure you don't become addicted to alcohol. Test out having a break for yourself and see what positive results you notice.

Tips to Help You Relax

Whatever stress you are facing, there are more effective ways to cope with it than drinking too much alcohol. Exercise is a great way to de-stress: even a brisk walk can help clear your head of the day's worries. A hot bath or some gentle stretches will relieve tension from your body. If you do decide to have a drink, wait and have a small glass of juice with your meal. Taking juice will do you more good.

To contact Akpe Emmanuel for training on Stress Management please call 08038581566

About the Author

Akpe Emmanuel

Medical Consultant

Abuja State, Nigeria



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