Stress And Drinking: An Unhealthy Relationship

Stress is a common phenomenon that affects most people at some point in their lives, but how they deal with it varies. Some people may rely on stress management techniques such as exercise, meditation or spending time with loved ones, while others may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. Alcohol consumption is often seen as a way to relax and unwind, but excessive drinking can actually worsen stress and lead to a number of health problems.

The Science Behind Stress and Drinking

Alcohol affects the body in a number of ways, including altering brain chemistry and impacting the body’s stress response. When we feel stressed or anxious, the body releases the hormone cortisol, which triggers the “fight or flight” response. This response is designed to help us survive in dangerous situations, but it can also cause physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating and rapid breathing.

When we consume alcohol, it interferes with the body’s ability to manage cortisol levels. Alcohol can initially reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, as it increases the production of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which has a calming effect. However, as the body metabolizes alcohol, cortisol levels can rise, triggering increased feelings of stress and anxiety.

This cycle can lead to a dangerous pattern of drinking to relieve stress, which then worsens stress when the body is in a sober state. Over time, this can lead to alcohol dependence, as the body becomes accustomed to relying on alcohol to manage stress levels.

The Risks of Drinking to Manage Stress

Drinking alcohol as a way to manage stress can have serious consequences on both physical and mental health. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a range of health problems, including liver disease, heart disease, and an increased risk of certain cancers. Long-term, heavy drinking can also lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.

Alcohol misuse can also have a negative impact on personal relationships, work performance and finances. Drinking to cope with stress can quickly become a habit that is difficult to break, leading to a range of issues that can affect every aspect of life.

Alternatives to Drinking for Stress Management

While it may be tempting to turn to alcohol as a quick fix for stress, there are healthier ways to manage stress that do not involve alcohol or any other harmful substances. Some effective stress management techniques include:

  • Exercise: Physical activity has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, boost mood and improve overall health.
  • Meditation: Mindfulness techniques such as meditation and yoga can help to calm the mind and reduce stress levels.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This type of therapy can help people learn skills to manage stressful situations and cope with difficult emotions.
  • Healthy hobbies: Engaging in activities that bring joy such as reading, painting, or gardening can help to reduce stress while also providing a sense of accomplishment and relaxation.
  • Talking to someone: Sharing your feelings with a trusted friend or family member can help to alleviate stress and promote a sense of connection.


Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism can have serious health risks. While it may provide temporary relief, drinking to manage stress can ultimately worsen anxiety and other mental health problems, as well as lead to physical health issues and addiction. Instead, there are a wide range of healthy and effective methods for managing stress, which can help to promote overall wellbeing and resilience.


FAQs About Stress And Drinking

1. Can drinking alcohol really help reduce stress?

While it may seem like a temporary solution, drinking alcohol to reduce stress can actually do more harm than good in the long run. Alcohol consumption can worsen stress in the long term, increase anxiety and depression, and even lead to addiction. Instead of reaching for a drink, it’s better to develop healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise, meditation, or talk therapy.

2. How can stress impact drinking habits?

Stress can be a major factor in the development and continuation of alcohol addiction. People may turn to drinking as a way to cope with stress and negative emotions. This can create a dangerous cycle of drinking to escape stress, but then feeling more stressed as a result of the addiction. It’s important to recognize when stress is affecting your drinking habits and seek professional help if needed.

3. Are there any positive ways to manage stress and prevent excessive drinking?

Yes! There are many healthy ways to manage stress that don’t involve drinking. Some examples include exercise, relaxation techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, engaging hobbies or creative outlets, and social support from friends and family. Developing a positive self-care routine can help you manage stress better, prevent alcohol addiction, and improve your overall well-being.


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3. Surkan, P. J., Cook, R. L., & Charness, M. E. (2014). Drinking patterns, stressors, and depressive symptoms among women heavy drinkers. Addictive Behaviors, 39(12), 1825-1831.