“It’s been a stressful day. I want a drink!”
We’ve all heard other people say they need a few drinks to unwind, and most of us have said it ourselves. The idea of drinking away our stress is very well established in our culture and psyche. Most drinkers believe that alcohol is a great way to relax, ease your worries and melt away any stress.
It’s no wonder then, that one of the biggest fears people have about sobriety is how they’ll cope without alcohol. Personally, I spent years thinking alcohol was the solution to my stress, not the cause. I had no idea that with every glass, I was pouring more stress into my life.
When it comes to alcohol and its stress-busting properties, I think we’ve all been sold a whopper of a lie.
Alcohol makes you more stressed in the first place.
The problems start with the things that happen when you’re drunk. We’ve all done stupid things that have created extra stress for ourselves. And then, when you’re hungover, you feel awful – physically and mentally. That makes it harder to cope with the ups and downs of day-to-day life. The more reliant you become on alcohol, the more stressed you feel. You’re constantly wrestling with yourself about when you’ll let yourself drink again, what you’ll drink and how much. And to top it all off, you’ve got the stress of knowing you have a drinking problem and all the emotions that brings with it. It’s all stress, stress, stress.
Alcohol makes stress more likely to stick around.
Stress happens for a reason. It shouldn’t be a badge of honour – it’s often a sign that something is wrong or needs to change. It means you need to take action. But when you’re drinking, it’s very difficult to make change happen, or summon the energy to tackle problems head on. Heavy drinking is just a sure-fire way to stay stuck in a life you don’t like.
Alcohol never makes your stress go away – it just makes it easier to ignore.
Opening a bottle at wine o’clock will not help you cope or deal with stress. Stress happens for a variety of different reasons, and alcohol is just, well – ethanol. It’s the main ingredient in paint stripper. It can’t possibly make your boss nicer, or your children behave better, or your partner less annoying. In short, it can’t fix things. What it can do is distract us and numb us, for a very short time. That makes it easier to ignore whatever’s happening right in front of us, but as Virginia Wolf said, “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” Drinking doesn’t solve anything. When we sober up, the exact same problems will still be there (or they might have got worse).
If drinking really worked, you’d know about it!
If alcohol genuinely was a magical, stress-busting potion, you’d need less, not more of it over time. You certainly wouldn’t be reading something like this. You’d be too chilled out to care, or you would’ve already decided the hangovers were worth it. They’d be a small price to pay for feeling so fabulous every night … right?
Deep down, we all know drinking isn’t really everything it’s cracked up to be. At best, it can offer a bit of a numbing sensation and a distraction from our feelings. When we’re making jokes about ‘wine o’clock’ it’s easy to forget what we’re really doing when we drink: we’re trying to not feel anything. We’re trying to erase a little bit of our life. And that’s a pretty scary idea, isn’t it?
Now I’d love to hear from you…
What’s your experience in this area? What impact has your drinking / sobriety had on your stress levels?
Have a great week!