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OP-ED: Stress and alcohol can lead to more trouble

Kim Bartel

Global pandemics are stressful. Unemployment is stressful. Uncertainty about the future is stressful. On and on it goes. There seems to be no shortage of stressors these days. Finding ways to respond to the stress of lockdowns, social distancing, loss of income, and countless other stressors can be a rather daunting task. The effects of stress can leave a lasting impression. How you respond to that stress can impact the rest of your life.

Every day our lives are filled various levels of stress that causes our body to adjust its normal metabolic process that leads to psychological, as well physical changes. Our reaction to these changes is dependent upon our coping skills we have or have not developed. Individuals who have not developed coping skills are at a higher risk of reacting to stress in a negative way.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that individuals who feel overwhelmed by stress tend to turn to substances such as alcohol to find relief. However, these feelings not only return, but worsen once the alcohol wears off.

According to the RAND Analysis Corporation alcohol consumption among adults over 30 has increased by 14 percent since the pandemic began. The greatest increase in alcohol consumption has been among women which has increased by 41 percent during the pandemic.

Studies have shown that when alcohol is used to decrease anxiety and stress, psychological dependency soon become a physical addiction, and the original stress and anxiety only increases exponentially. There develops the feeling of depending on alcohol to self-medicate to reduce stress. You may feel as if alcohol will provide relief from stress, but it will only add to your stress through the many complications created by alcohol use.

Do not rely on alcohol as a coping solution. Here are some suggestions to help deal with stress and avoid the desire for alcohol:

  • Distraction – the goal is to shift your attention away from negative thoughts or uncomfortable feelings. Instead of concentrating on the stressor, talk with someone about it, talk a walk, or read a book.
  • Avoid Negative Thinking – when stressed, it is tempting to give in to self-defeating thoughts. Be aware and intentionally think about what it will be like once the stress is gone. It may be difficult at first, but as with all things, it takes practice.
  • Relaxation – anxiety, anger, frustration, and stress are the biggest triggers for tension. Tension most often leads to act impulsively. Learn relaxation techniques to cope with your emotions.

Concerning the stress of life, the nineteenth century philosopher William James once said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” Understanding why you react to stress and working to overcome negative thoughts will go a long way to responding to stress in a positive manner.

 

Kim Bartel is with Alcohol & Drug Abuse Council Region 5 Prevention Resource Center