The lie is everywhere. Every year, advertisers in the alcohol industry spend millions of dollars marketing beer, wine, and liquor as a magic elixir that will help you relax at the end of a long day. Happy people in commercials are seen celebrating, socializing, and romancing, all with the aid of a glamorized drink in their hand. Many people will even tell you that they use alcohol to calm their nerves and let loose, but does alcohol truly have this effect? Research tells us that alcohol can actually increase symptoms of anxiety and depression, and may play a larger role in deteriorating mental health than most drinkers are aware of. Here’s why.
The Relief is Temporary
Many people who drink will tell you that having a drink immediately eases tension and calms their nerves. This may be true for a brief period after your first drink, but in reality the calming and pleasant effects of alcohol only last about twenty minutes. After the initial mood-enhancing effect, we spend the next several drinks attempting to chase that temporary high. With each drink the happiness dwindles and the impairment increases. This is why too many drinks can cause you to become depressed and emotional, rather than happier with each sip, as we tend to believe.
The Relaxing Effects are Largely Psychological
The addictive nature of alcohol coupled with the cultural association between alcohol and relaxation can have monumental effects on our perception of reality. Every day we receive messages that alcohol will make us feel more confident, sexy, and sociable. Many people will tell you that as soon as they get a drink in their hand at a party, they feel more relaxed and ready to enjoy themselves. The truth is that it isn’t the liquid in the cup that is creating this mood-enhancing effect, but the belief that alcohol will make everything a little better. If we are honest with ourselves, we can dismantle this belief and begin to look at the true nature of alcohol. For example, many wine drinkers feel immediate relaxation when they sit down with a glass of wine in the evening. This is most likely due to the associations they have with wine rather than the drink itself. By replacing this ritual with a cup of tea or a piece of chocolate, you may find that the act of doing something pleasant and habitual in place of drinking has similar effects, but without the negative consequences.
Building a Tolerance Makes Relief Non-Existent
As you continue to drink more over time, your body and mind will eventually develop a tolerance for alcohol that changes the way it affects your mood. While the first drink used to help you relax and provide a temporary giddiness, now you find yourself three or four drinks in without any uplifting experience, and feeling more depressed by the minute. If there is any relief to be had once you have built up a tolerance to alcohol, it will only come from satisfying the craving of a growing addiction. At this point, many people begin to confuse the satisfaction of using a substance which they have grown addicted to, with genuine relaxation and stress relief.
Alcohol Actually Induces Anxiety
Many drinkers will tell you that they drink to manage their anxiety, and many of those same drinkers never had severe anxiety before they began drinking. While anxiety disorder can occur on its own, there are also a startling number of people who have induced mental illness with heavy alcohol use. For those that have generalized anxiety disorder without the use of alcohol, heavy drinking can add to symptoms and exacerbate the issue. As already mentioned, the relaxing effects of alcohol are very temporary. For people with anxiety, this may mean enjoying some relief for twenty minutes, only to find that their anxiety increases over the next several hours. Hangover anxiety, which is anxiety that occurs the day after drinking, can be so severe that it can lead to obsessive and intrusive thoughts, and even panic attacks. Additionally, embarrassment from having been rude or obnoxious under the influence of alcohol, can worsen social anxiety by making you feel like you can’t control yourself.
Addiction is the Ultimate Form of Stress
No matter what you think alcohol can do for you, no temporary high is worth the lifelong consequences of addiction. Becoming addicted to alcohol can mean the loss of relationships, financial strife, health problems, and the increased likelihood of a variety of traumatic events. There is no way to pinpoint when you will become addicted, and the threshold is different for everyone. Whether you are an occasional binge drinker or a daily drinker who never gets drunk, you can still become addicted and run the risk of creating devastating consequences for you and your loved ones. Once you are battling addiction, the last thing you are going to feel is relaxed.
If you believe you or someone you love has developed an addiction to alcohol, now is the time to seek help. At Burning Tree, you will find knowledgeable and compassionate professionals that structure treatment to fit individual needs, including the identification of co-occurring disorders. Through accountability and commitment to the 12 steps, each client will develop the tools to create a sober lifestyle and find lasting recovery. We specialize in the treatment of chronic relapsers, and believe with the right support you can experience true and permanent healing. For more information, call us now at 512-285-5900.