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  Category: Articles » Health & Fitness » Depression » Article

Stress - The Link Between Stress And Alcohol

By Donald Saunders

How many times when you've found yourself under stress has one of your first reactions been to have a drink? For many people the answer if quite often and, although it's not heard quite so often these days, the phrase 'she drove me to drink' springs to mind.

Having the odd drink in times of stress to 'calm your nerves' probably won't do you any harm, but what happens when we turn this one on its head? Can drinking too much alcohol actually cause stress?

There's little doubt that a moderate alcohol intake can be beneficial effects and research suggests that small amounts might even improve mental function and increase performance in the area of problem solving. But, there are also numerous studies that show that large quantities of alcohol, especially when you drink alcohol over a long period of time, can actually create stress.

Alcohol, when consumed in large amounts, stimulates the hypothalamus, adrenal and pituitary glands and one result of this is an increased level of both cortisol and adrenaline within the body. Neither of these will cause stress directly, but both play a significant role in reinforcing the symptoms of stress.

For example, when you're under heavy stress it is more difficult to concentrate. Similarly, high alcohol intake will also produce the same exact effect. The obvious consequence of this is that the heavy drinker gets a double whammy whenever he's presented with a situation that calls for mental clarity.

Studies also suggest that chronic drinkers suffer symptoms which are similar to those seen in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). More interestingly, however, the same studies show that the children of these same drinkers have a higher incidence of actual ADHD.

It may also be true therefore that, while the stress of parenting may lead to drinking, adult drinking may in fact promote the circumstances that incite the parent to drink. This may well be a factor in producing symptom in children which later lead to adult stress.

One of the best ways to relieve stress is through exercise and people who lead an active life including sport or other physical activity are generally seen to have lower incidences of stress. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of excessive alcohol consumption is a decrease in the level of exercise so that heavy drinkers often lose this valuable release valve.

Similarly, high alcohol intake suppresses the appetite and replaces much needed calories normally obtained from a balanced and healthy diet with calories derived from drink. This, in turn, leads to a general decline in health lowering the drinker's defenses against stress.

No matter what the circumstances, excessive drinking inevitably results in a vicious cycle with stress initially causing the individual to turn to drink and drink then making it more difficult to deal with the factors which lead to stress in the first place.

The only way out of this cycle of course is to find another way to deal with stress in the first place and to get rid of the crutch which many people feel drink provides. This means first and foremost adopting a realistic attitude to the challenges of life and meeting and overcoming its hurdles, rather than being stressed by them. A good program of exercise and diet can also help, but a long-term solution will only result from an admission that the underlying problem in tackling stress effectively actually exists.
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