Life is full of stressful events, as you will regularly face situations that make you feel angry, sad, fear, excitement or frustration. Other events can cause stress to the body, such as illness, exposure to extreme temperatures and injuries. Emotional factors can lead to stress as well, including fear and depression.
When you are feeling frustrated or angry about something or someone, the first thing you may think is getting a glass of wine or going to the bar to get some shots of strong alcohol. However, this approach does not really assist your body to deal with the stress effectively, as it interferes with the physiological balance that is naturally there. Research seems to confirm this as well, as it compounds the effects of stress.
Types of stress
There are four major stress categories, as researchers have identified. They are general life stressors, childhood stress, catastrophic circumstances, and ethnic minority stress.
General life stressors are the most common, and will include circumstances such as divorce, moving from one place to another, getting married, or starting a new job. Deaths in the family or experiencing problems at work and home can also be categorized here. The more you drink alcohol, the greater levels of general stress you get, as well as causing legal issues and problems in your relationships.
Childhood stress involves experiencing maltreatment during your childhood years, such as sexual, emotional and physical abuse. This has long-lasting effects, and can only be dealt with decisively through therapy. In addition, the occurrences of maltreatment during childhood increases the risk of having an alcohol use disorder, especially for people who grew up in alcoholic homes.
Catastrophic events can lead to stress as well, and in fact happens more frequently than you may realize. Research concludes that the consumption of alcohol usually increases within twelve months after experiencing a major disaster, whether natural or man-made. However, alcohol consumption also tends to fade after a year, according to some studies, while others have not found any increase in alcoholism.
Ethnic minority stress on the other hand, can range from mild to serious levels, while the triggers may be physical or emotional. For instance, when you are overlooked as you try to apply for opportunities because you are a minority, or being bullied on the internet because of your race. However, this is not an easy factor to determine because of other factors that determine alcohol consumption.
Attempts by the body to cope with stress
When the body goes through a stressful period, the metabolic processes are quickly shifted into high gear, and the body begins relying on the HPA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal) axis to change all the hormonal messengers in the body. Specific organs are targeted and the body stats preparing for a flight-or-fight response.
There is a significant hormone in the body, cortisol – this increases the levels of glucose, while it also increases supplies of nutrients to the target organs through increasing protein and fat metabolism. The healthy response should be a spike in the cortisol levels, followed by a rapid decrease when the threat is over.
The effects of alcohol on your body’s stress response
The HPA systems in your body work together very closely to keep the very delicate psychological equilibrium. However, when you add alcohol to the mix, this can pose a higher risk of harmful effects.
This is because alcohol makes the body release greater levels of cortisol, which changes the chemistry of the brain and resetting the ‘normal’ state of the body. The balance of hormones shifts, and this will affect the way your body handles and perceives stress.
Alcohol will also stop the body from returning to its normal balance of hormones, making the body to set a new spot of function, a state called allostasis. This increases the wear and tear of your body, increasing your risk of serious infections and conditions, which include alcoholism.
The link between cortisol and alcohol
Research proves that alcohol seriously interferes with the pleasure system of the brain, which is a factor in the reinforcement effect on the brain. This effect is similar to that of other drugs, as the drinker will be forced to drink higher amounts of alcohol to get the initial pleasurable feeling they experienced.
Habit learning in consumption of alcohol is also promoted by increasing cortisol levels, and that will increase the chances of you becoming a habitual drinker, and even increases the chances of relapse when you try to recover.
Scientific research has also uncovered the links between the development of disorders in metabolism and rising levels of cortisol, as well as the chemical’s links to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
An interesting finding is that men are almost three times as likely to have an alcohol abuse disorder, while stressed men are 1.5 times more likely to drink compared to women. However, the general observation is that men and women who are stressed are more likely to drink.
Alcoholism recovery process and stress
Even after you stop drinking, stress can still have some effects, due to the disruption of the nervous and HPA systems of the body. This results in many former alcoholics drinking again and relapsing so that they relieve uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
This has led to scientific research developing medication that returns the stress response of the body back to normal, which will assist in prevention of relapses. The ongoing research efforts will assist in identification of people who have the highest risks of relapsing, even when they are still in the early recovery stages, and give them better alternatives in coping with stress.
Even though the consumption of alcohol might give you some temporary relief, this is only something that is short term. As the stressful event or circumstance continues for the long term, the increasing consumption of alcohol can result in psychological and health problems, while also increasing your chances of getting alcohol use disorders, necessitating a detox from alcohol.