As a therapist specializing in substance use disorders, I’ve noticed that stress drinking appears to be more and more acceptable within our society. Considering the expansive amount of products purely dedicated to catchy “pro-drinking” sayings, from home décor to clothing and accessories, society seems to not only accept but expect people to drink! Some may playfully argue that they have “mixed drinks about feelings,” but the truth is that drinking is not an adequate or sustainable solution to cope with our feelings.
What Is Stress Drinking?
When someone begins to feel angry, anxious, or depressed, they may feel tempted to reach for a cold one to ease their nerves. At the same time, when a person feels ecstatic over good news and wants to reward themselves to celebrate, they also expect to “Cheers” with a beverage in hand. The use of alcohol in response to something big is not a healthy way to cope or spread joy.
Similarly, the saying “No talkie before coffee” has gained attention. It seems merely pithy at first, but it actually promotes excessive caffeine intake, which to many people’s surprise, is also an addiction that can fuel anxiety as well. If a person is truly in need of caffeine each morning, a further assessment might be needed to determine whether that individual has an underlying addiction in need of being addressed. Even worse, if one’s life mantra is, “Coffee keeps me going until it’s time for wine,” I truly hope that person finds other ways to wake up in the morning and calm down in the evening besides depending on stimulants and depressants to manage their moods.
How Has the Pandemic Impacted Alcohol Consumption?
A study published in September 2020 found that adult alcohol consumption rose by 14 percent during the COVID-19 crisis. As the pandemic lags on, it’s no wonder why many people feel the desire to reach for the bottle. Not only is isolation leading to more feelings of depression and anxiety, but people are spending more time on their electronic devices—or as some may call them, electronic vices—and are being bombarded with more drinking encouragement than ever before! Even more surprisingly, patterns of stress drinking have slowly progressed from one to one too many. For example, heavy drinking among women increased by 41 percent during the COVID-19 outbreak.
As a treatment provider, I have personally heard a multitude of stories of relapse that stemmed from feelings of isolation and anxiety because of the pandemic. However, those stories, though sometimes heart-wrenching, also offered a silver lining: many people who were stress drinking too much during the quarantine days are now seeking treatment.
Why Are More People Stress Drinking?
As we know, the pandemic led many people to have to work from home. It was this change that led to many clients finally seeking the help they needed. Oftentimes, it was their family members in the household who began noticing patterns of behaviors that were unhealthy. The pandemic allowed these family members the opportunity to pay closer attention to their loved ones’ drinking patterns, which otherwise might have gone unnoticed. Many times, it was the family members who initially recognized and ultimately encouraged my clients to seek the help they needed. For some, if it weren’t for their loved ones being able to witness and observe their patterns, their alcoholism could have easily intensified. I continue to give kudos to all those family members who spoke up and motivated their loved ones to seek treatment!
What’s most important to remember is that alcoholism is a progressive disease. For those who start noticing that their tolerance has increased, or that their “favorite drink is the next one,” or that other areas of their lives are beginning to become disrupted by their need or desire to drink, it might be time to consult a therapist.
How Can I Combat Stress Drinking?
To those who get to the point where they feel the need to either “blackout or back out,” or “go big or go home,” please do everyone a favor and back out! Go home! There is no need to “drink, drank, drunk” your life problems away. I promise you it will only lead to more destruction in the end. Your life is too important and there is so much more that is meant for you than to waste your precious temple of a body by filling it with poison. Yes, alcohol = ethanol = poison!
For those whose negative emotions are influencing their drinking patterns, I have some recommendations:
- Turn inwards and find passions that speak specifically to you. For some, that might be exercising or yoga, and for others, that might be art, music, or poetry.
- Be more mindful of your food consumption. Nutrition plays such an integral role in mood regulation and the body’s ability to cope with internal and external triggers.
- Make sure to additionally monitor your physical well-being by scheduling your annual physical exam.
- Unplug from your electronics! Try to get some extra Vitamin D instead by taking a stroll in the sun.
- Find a book or an interest to develop your mind. Keep learning.
Let’s not wait until the “check liver” light comes on! Stimulate your mind, your body, and your soul, and do those things daily . . . and if you find that you still need help, seek advice from a professional. Help is available for stress drinking to those who seek it.