Misuse of Alcohol to Manage Stress

Under stressful circumstances many people turn to alcohol to help manage stress.  Alcoholic drinks are often consumed to “take off the edge” or “relax” after a long, hard day of work.  While this may seem to help in the moment, in reality it pushes the emotions one is experiencing below consciousness or awareness.  It is difficult to resolve emotion that has been repressed and can build up if the pattern of repression is habitual.  Repeated alcohol consumption to manage stress can lead to addiction, which can have severe consequences affecting every area of one’s life.

Those who are experiencing personal trauma and/or secondary trauma through their work, family relationships or socially may be especially vulnerable to misuse of alcohol in order to mask painful emotions.  The moments when an individual most feels like they need a drink are often the worst time for a drink.

It is a good practice to be mindful when you feel the urge to have a drink.  Good questions to ask yourself are “why do I feel the need to drink right now?” and “what activity could I engage in that would be better for my health?”  Examples of healthy alternatives can include exercise, mindfulness meditation, breathwork, taking a relaxing bath, journaling, or seeking support.

The ability to meet yourself where you are, regardless of how difficult it may seem in the moment, is a skill worth mastering.  If you don’t like where you are, it is a good indication that you need to do something different, nurture yourself and/or perhaps seek some support or assistance to work through the emotions brought on by stress.  This can be done by talking with a trusted friend, co-worker, life coach, support group or therapist.  More involved help may be necessary if you suspect an alcohol addiction.

I was facilitating a Compassion Stress Management course for professional caregivers last year and had a participant walk out in the middle of the class.  A few days later I received an email from this individual that something I said had inspired her to leave and find an Alcoholics Anonymous group that was meeting in that city (she was from out of town) immediately.  This was an excellent example of self-awareness, courage and doing what she found necessary to cultivate a healthier, addiction free lifestyle.

A link to the article “Workplace Stress as a Trigger for Addiction” has been included http://stepstorecovery.com/workplace-stress-addiction/  for those who are interested in reading about the link between stressful work environment and the use of drugs and alcohol to cope.  Additionally, it provides alternatives available to promote a healthy lifestyle.

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