Does Drinking Reduce Stress?

Published 09/25 2013 06:15PM

Updated 09/25 2013 06:27PM

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Many people admit to drinking alcohol to de-stress, but drinking could actually have the opposite effect.

Your mood starts improving, you loosen up and become a bit more outgoing -- sound familiar after you've had a drink or even a few?

Doctors are saying that while alcohol may temporarily relieve your stress, in the long run, it actually makes it worse.

"If they're drinking to really just de-stress and that becomes their coping mechanism, in the long run, that's probably not a very good idea," says Ann Rost, a clinical psychologist.

Rost gets it -- who hasn't had a few drinks to blow off some steam?

"So you're stressed out, you have a glass of wine, it decreases your stress."

But she says turning to alcohol when you're stressed has the potential of becoming a problem very quickly.

"The problem is that it then increases the likelihood that the next time you're stressed, you're also going to turn to alcohol. It's a risky choice."

In psychology, they call this a negative reinforcement cycle.

"In the long run, you just begin to avoid your problems and thus avoiding your life."

On the other hand, doctors say alcohol does decrease stress -- for the moment.

"Physically what happens there is, just like an anti-anxiety medicine, it activates the same receptors in the brain as alcohol does, so it actually does decrease anxiety," says Dr. Jamie Thomas, a physician at Cox.

He says alcohol has some savory short term effects.

"There's a receptor in your brain...called a GABA receptor, and when you drink alcohol, it activates that receptor and gives you kind of a mellow or less anxious feeling."

Yet over time, all the harmful effects of alcohol may put you in a situation where you become even more stressed than you originally were.

"You have a higher heart rate, you might be more agitated, your blood pressure might be high as well."

And that's just to name a few. Rost says instead, try something other than avoidance tactics, which is what she says alcohol is.

"If people can find more adoptive ways of coping -- social support, spiritual connections, meeting problems head on, just more productive coping."

Mercy Women’s Heart Center is holding "Stress Less Classes" for women. It's a series of 3 classes that can help women learn to change their attitudes about everyday stress and learn new coping skills to reduce the effects of stressful events.

Thursdays, October 10, 17, 24
5:30-6:45 p.m.
Classes meet in the Mercy Women’s Heart Center, on the first floor of Hammons Heart Institute
Cost: $39
For more info, call 820-3666 or email

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