Of course, let’s start by saying that booze SEEMS like the best way to relax: Who wouldn’t welcome a cool frosty one at a weekend picnic, or a Friday night cocktail (shaken, not stirred please) to take the edge off your week. I’ll be honest—sometimes, knee-deep into a margarita, I’ll often start to think I’m a far more palatable person when I’ve had even half a drink. I feel my eyes soften, my joints loosen, and my entire musculoskeletal system go slack—in a good way.
And yet, while the occasional drink isn’t going to harm the average person—it’s the habitual and stress-induced drinking patterns that can become a problem if they’re not addressed. A story in the BBC News (“Two-Thirds Turn to Drink To Relax in the Evening”) raises the question of whether it’s a reliably effective stress-reduction plan. We think not.
Poll statistics cited from ICM of 2,000 adults aged 30-45 found that:
- A third of those surveyed thinking about throwing one back before they even get home
- Stress (along with bad days at work) were the most common reasons to drink.
- A third of men surveyed who drank at home, and nearly half of women, said they drank above the daily limit – three to four units of alcohol for men and two to three for women.
- Most – 68% – made sure they had alcohol at home, and 71% said they bought alcohol as part of the weekly grocery shop.
- A third sit down in front of the TV after dinner for their first drink, while a quarter had alcohol with their evening meal.
Why Drinking Isn’t Your Friend
Drinkaware, a UK-based organization devoted to helping change people’s awareness and habits around drinking, explains that while drinking may relax you at first, it depresses the central nervous system, which can end up making your stress problems worse:
It can seem like alcohol makes you feel more relaxed in the short term. However, if you regularly exceed the government’s daily unit guidelines of 3-4 units for men (equivalent to a pint and a half of 4% beer) and 2-3 for women (equivalent to a 175ml glass of 13% wine), you could actually end up exacerbating your stress. Alcohol is a depressant, which means that it slows down the brain and the central nervous system’s processes.
Eva Cyhlarova from The Mental Health Foundation says: “Over time, heavy drinking interferes with the very neurotransmitters in the brain that are needed for good mental health. So while alcohol may help deal with stress in the short term, in the long run it can contribute to feeling of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with.
(source: Drinkaware “Alcohol: A Cure for Stress?”)
It also kills your sleep. While a glass of wine may seem to ease you into dreamland, it can’t keep you there. (Read more about what alcohol affects your sleep.)
Shift Your Habit
Drinkaware offers these tips for becoming more aware and in control of your drinking habits:
- Identify your triggers. Having a drink as soon as you get in the door could easily turn into two or three before you sit down to dinner. Try and identify when it is in your daily routine that your mind turns to having a drink: is it the moment you leave the office, or is it when you walk past your local shop on the way home? Identifying when your alcohol crunch time is, is a good first step to deciding what alternative things you can do to relief any stress you’re feeling.
- Have some food with that. If you do decide to have a drink, why not wait and have a small glass of something with your meal?