Life in modern civilization can be very stressful. So much in contemporary society can cause individuals to feel excitement, anxiety, fear, anger, and sadness. Being exposed to extreme temperatures, illness, or injury can lead to physical stress. Fear, depression, or grief can lead to psychological stress.
The body has an extensive and complicated process of dealing with dangerous or harmful situations caused by stress. The body attempts to maintain homeostasis or a physiological balance.
Whenever the body undergoes stress, specific behavioral and physiological changes are mobilized through the endocrine and nervous systems. These changes aim to maintain homeostasis and to cope with stress.
“Rooted in a belief that we can’t handle how we are feeling, believing our anxiety is dangerous just might be the most damaging approach we can take to coping with it.” –Alicia H. Clark, PsyD.
Unfortunately, many individuals deal with stressful situations by turning to alcohol instead of getting psychological help from the likes of BetterHelp. However, alcohol can have a stressful effect on the physiological balance of the body.
Research studies have shown that alcohol has adverse physiological and psychological effects on the body. Research studies have also shown that alcohol may increase the symptoms of stress.
Alcohol may provide temporary relief such as relaxation and a positive feeling. However, heavy consumption of alcohol may cause psychological and medical problems.
How Alcohol Affects Stress
An individual’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system maintains the physiological balance of their body. However, the presence of alcohol places the body at an increased risk of harm.
More massive amounts of cortisol are released due to the presence of alcohol. This alters the chemistry of the brain. It resets what the body treats as the average physiological balance. The body’s hormonal balance is shifted by alcohol. It modifies how the body sees stress and how the body reacts to stress.
The body is prevented by alcohol from going back to its original hormonal balance. The body then experiences allostasis wherein a new level of physiological functioning is set in the body.
The creation of a new hormonal balance in the body causes the body to deteriorate. It also makes serious diseases such as alcoholism more likely to occur.
“Alcoholism is a complex disease, which has been misunderstood and stigmatized.” –Cynthia Mascott, LMHC
Studies indicate that cortisol interacts with the pleasure or reward system of the brain. This contributes to the reinforcing effects of alcohol. This, in turn, forces drinkers to drink more to obtain the same result.
Cortisol promotes habit-based learning. This increases the risk of an individual turning into a habitual drinker. It also increases the risk of recovering alcoholic relapsing.
Researchers have found a connection between cortisol and the onset of metabolic disorders. They also found a link between cortisol and the emergence of psychiatric disorders like depression.
How Stress Affects Recovery From Alcoholism
Studies have shown that very stressed people would drink more alcohol. And the effect of stress on the individual can continue even after that individual gives up drinking. A correlation has been found between alcohol withdrawal symptoms and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system, which handles the body’s stress response.
Many recovering alcoholics would start drinking again to ease the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Researchers are, therefore, attempting to come up with medications that will bring back balance to the stress-response system of the body to ease the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. This will help prevent recovering alcoholics from relapsing.
“The term “alcoholic” places the problem within the person, not within the nature of the drug.” –Sara Nash, PhD, LMHC
Research into the connection between alcohol and stress can assist medical professionals and healthcare providers. They can use the research findings to identify which of their patients are at greatest risk of relapsing during early alcohol recovery. The research can also assist patients to handle the way stress motivates them to drink.