How to Deal with Stress Without Alcohol

There is a strong link between stress and alcohol addiction. What are some healthy ways to deal with stress without turning to alcohol?

Table of Contents

What is Stress?

Stress is the body’s normal reaction to certain events that lead to physical and emotional responses. The World Health Organization defines stress as “any type of challenge that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain.” Generally, when someone experiences a stressful situation or event, the body’s fight or flight response is triggered.1
When this happens, a series of processes occur within the brain, muscles, and nervous system to prepare you to protect yourself from a perceived danger. When exposed to stress, you may breathe faster, sweat, tremble, and your heart may start to race. You may also notice your muscles clench and your eyes widen. All of these bodily reactions help prepare you to flee from danger if necessary.

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Acute vs. Chronic Stress

There is more than one type of stress. Acute stress is short-term stress due to a specific event, such as slamming on your breaks to avoid an accident or when you have a fight with your significant other. Acute stress generally resolves quickly. Chronic stress, on the other hand, evolves out of long-term exposure to stress triggers and its symptoms persist for longer. Both acute and chronic stress can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).2
stress and alcohol

Stress Symptoms and Signs

Frequent stress exposure or chronic stress can have harmful effects on your health. Stress affects both the body and mind and can manifest as physical aches and pains, illness, mental health symptoms, and behavioral challenges.

As previously mentioned, the impact of stress and stress triggers are not the same in all cases and do not present the same way in each person who struggles with either acute or chronic stress. However, there are several examples of common signs of stress:3

Physical Symptoms of Stress

Some of the most common physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Chest pains
  • Headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Changes in sex drive
  • New or worsening mental health symptoms, such as anxiety and depression

Behavioral Symptoms of Stress

Some behavioral signs can include:

  • Mood swings and angry outbursts
  • Isolation and withdrawal from loved ones and friends
  • Diet changes (overeating or undereating)
  • Substance use and abuse

COVID-19's Impact on Stress

The COVID-19 pandemic likely brought many changes into most households, and some of those changes led to varying levels of stress. Stress levels among Americans were higher during the pandemic than in previous years, and for valid reasons. The pandemic brought about many changes to people’s lifestyles, including unemployment, changes to working hours, financial losses, transitioning to a work-from-home environment, and quarantines.

As the pandemic shifts to endemic, stressors still remain, such as ongoing concerns about illness, fears of returning to the office, and worries about how to catch up on bills that may have fallen behind. The same surveys that indicated an increase in stress due to the pandemic also suggest an increase in self-medication to manage stressors. Some people have increased their use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco products. Coping tools such as binge drinking, new or worsening alcohol abuse (pandemic drinking), and new or worsening drug abuse have all evolved out of pandemic stress.4

Stress Causes and Side Effects

Everyone has different causes or risks for stress. For most people, work-related issues are one of the top stressors on their list. In addition to work stressors, other examples of stressors may include:

  • Moving
  • Changing jobs or schools
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Getting married or divorced
  • Having a baby
  • Chronic illness
  • Mental health problems
  • Trauma exposure

People who live with chronic stress may try to manage their symptoms with unhealthy or potentially harmful behaviors. Frequent exposure to stress increases your risk of other addictions and behavioral disorders, including gambling, eating disorders, smoking, drug use, and problem drinking.

How Easily Can You Get Addicted to Alcohol?

How quickly someone develops an alcohol addiction depends on several factors unique to the person. Alcohol use disorders do not occur overnight. Alcoholism is the end result of several stages of increasing alcohol use and abuse. The process of becoming addicted to alcohol varies from person to person with no set timeline.

Excessive Alcohol Consumption for Men and Women

One contributing factor to alcohol addiction is excessive alcohol use. In most cases, heavy drinking and binge drinking increase one’s risk for alcohol addiction. For women, binge drinking is usually defined as drinking four or more standard alcoholic drinks in one sitting (2-3 hours), and heavy drinking as eight or more drinks per week.

For men, it means five or more drinks in one setting or fifteen or more drinks per week. A standard drink is defined as approximately twelve ounces of beer, eight ounces of malt liquor, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 oz of distilled spirits.5

How to Deal with Stress Without Alcohol

Drinking and stress frequently occur together, but using alcohol to manage stressors can lead to many harmful and life-long challenges. One can use several strategies to manage stress in safer, healthier ways without using alcohol, such as:

  • Pre-Commitment: Pre-commitment is a tool used to control impulsive behaviors, including drinking. When someone pre-commits to not drinking, they avoid exposure to potential risks or stressors that may lead to drinking.
  • Social Support: Social support structures are another key way to manage stress. Spending time with others with similar interests can take your mind off your potential risks, allowing you to focus on activities that bring you joy. When your mind is not fixated on stress, you are less likely to use harmful coping tools.
  • Routine Change: If your daily routine leads to daily stress, it may help to change your routine. Although you may only be able to eliminate some of your daily stressors (especially if your job is one of them), you can change how you interact with other risks before and after your work day.
Stress And Alcohol

Treatment for Stress and Alcohol Addiction at Profound Recovery

If you deal with stress and have an alcohol addiction, you have a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis condition. When someone has a dual diagnosis, their illness’s symptoms and root causes are highly intertwined. It is essential to address both conditions as part of a single treatment program to reduce the chances of future symptom relapse.

A dual-diagnosis treatment program for alcohol addiction and stress often begins with detox to allow the body time to rid itself of any remaining alcohol. Once withdrawal symptoms subside, starting treatment at an inpatient rehab program is possible.

Our therapy providers at Profound Recovery will work with you to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that focuses on your needs, not your diagnosis.

Utilize Our Resources and Help Available

We offer a variety of behavioral therapies and alternative treatment models to help each of our patients heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We understand the critical importance of individualized treatment for dual-diagnosis conditions.

In addition to therapy, some treatment plans may involve mental health and addiction treatment medications. With the intensity and severity of stress-related symptoms reduced, you can better focus on healing. If you are ready to take your first steps towards recovery and reduced stress, contact us at Profound Recovery today.

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