Our old friend Annie Grace did a guest webinar for us, on the topic of stress and drinking.
Stress and changing your drinking
If you believe that alcohol can relieve stress, it can undermine your commitment to changing your drinking.
Why as a society do we believe that alcohol relieves stress? There is actually no evidence to show it does. It is partly because through TV and our own families and at work we have observed people reaching for a drink at the end of a stressful day. Seeing that experience of alcohol “taking the edge off” confirms that belief, and so we begin to believe it.
But surely drink relieves stress in the short-term?
Experiments in mice showed that after 30 days of being force-fed alcohol, they were less able to deal with stress. The truth is, after drinking daily we are all less able to deal with stress!
If you think about it that makes sense. What exactly is being de-stressed with alcohol? The situation still exists. There is nothing that alcohol can do to deal with the stress of work, problems in a relationship etc. It just dulls/numbs your feelings. The problems still exist.
Over time, the more you drink, the more you need to get that perceived effect of numbing stress… And it is not helping you actually relieve stress either. In fact, by drinking to relieve stress you have unintentionally induced a craving for a substance that you feel you need, but that does not actually do the job.
Drinking means you don’t deal with the true source of the issue
“Heavy drinking and staying up late was the reason I lost my spark. I had not even prepared properly for the presentation I was giving. Because I was not prepared I was more nervous. I came to rely on alcohol to calm my nerves rather than dealing with the fact I was not prepared. It was a wake up call.”
We need to give ourselves a chance to rise to the challenges of life. Don’t numb your feelings.
“Do I get stressed? Yes! But the stress is not multiplied by not being able to deal with the issue at hand.”
Deal with one stressful issue without alcohol that you would have normally numbed. It will give you the confidence to carry on.
What is most difficult is dealing with the craving
You need to learn to handle these moments. You need to deal with the moment when you are stressed, and all you can think of is a drink. People sometimes call this surfing the urge, or riding the discomfort as we often say in Club Soda. We assume that feeling the discomfort is going to keep getting worse, but the reality is that it won’t. It is just discomfort. It won’t kill you. Once you ride the first craving it does subside. And those cravings reduce over time.
Remember what alcohol is doing to you in the longer term
Alcohol feels like stress relief, but it is actually playing with your neurotransmitters to induce a fake feeling. It is in fact like putting a bandaid on a festering wound.
Alcohol artificially stimulates your pleasure centres (dopamine is the hormone here). Your pleasure centres naturally react to nice things in your life like sex, eating a nice meal and so on. When you turn to alcohol, it artificially stimulates your brain. But your brain and body are designed to keep a balance. So this artificial stimulation freaks out the brain and produces chemicals such as diamorphine, a natural pain killer, to turn down the pleasure centres – which is why you drink more and more. You keep needing to drink more, and you come less sensitive to natural forms of stimulation, as diamorphine turns it all down. This effect can last 10 days – so imagine what happens if you are always drinking …
When I felt I was not enjoying myself without alcohol it was a lie, it was because my brain had lost the ability to enjoy real pleasures from natural and real things.
At the end of the webinar, Annie also answers Club Soda members questions about worry, surfing the urge, and whether she misses alcohol at all.
Annie is the author of the best-selling book This Naked Mind. She also does a video coaching course and an audio programme.