Life can be full of stress. Situations arise in everyday life that cause sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, and excitement. Many people who experience stressful situations turn to alcohol to cope with that stress. The problem with that is alcohol itself can cause stress on the body's physiological balance.
Drinking alcohol may seem to provide some relief in the short term, but as stressful events continue long-term consumption can lead to medical, psychological, employment, and licensure problems.
Alcohol's Effects on Stress
The body's hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis system works hard to maintain a delicate physiological balance, but when alcohol is added to the mixture, it puts the body at even greater risk for harm. Alcohol causes higher amounts of coritsol to be released altering the brain's chemistry and resetting what the body considers "normal." Alcohol shifts the hormonal balance and changes the way the body perceives stress and changes how it responds to stress.
Studies have found that cortisol interacts with the brain's reward or pleasure systems, which can contribute to alcohol's reinforcing effects—forcing people to consume greater amounts to achieve the same effect over time.
Alcohol prevents the body from returning to its initial hormonal balance point, forcing it to set a new point of physiological functioning. This is called allostasis.
Studies have found these factors of how stress relates to alcohol use:
- Men and women who report high levels of stress drink more
- Stressed men are 1.5 times more likely to binge drink than women
- Men are 2.5 times more likely to have alcohol use disorders