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Is Alcohol the Right Way to Ease Stress?

Is Alcohol the Right Way to Ease Stress?

Is Alcohol the Right Way to Ease Stress?

Times have been stressful lately. Political and racial tensions, economic ups and downs, and a two-year long pandemic have changed our daily routines. For many of us, the anxiety, prolonged uncertainty, loss and isolation have turned a glass of wine to unwind after work or on the weekend into a daily habit. Alcohol sales and consumption have increased. Many people are turning to alcohol to soothe and numb their anxiety. In 2020, excessive drinking (such as binge drinking) increased by 21%.  

Yet, this may not be without potential harm. High alcohol intake boosts your risk for a host of physical and mental health problems, including liver disease, hypertension, stroke, suicidal ideation and alcohol dependence. National survey results published in the journal Hepatology suggest longer term issues as a result.  The scientists simulated the drinking trajectories and liver disease trends in all U.S. adults. They estimated that a one-year increase in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic will result in 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, 18,700 cases of liver failure, and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040. 

Knowing your limits 

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults limit their alcohol use to two drinks or fewer in a day for men and one drink or fewer a day for women. Many people think light-to-moderate drinking (no more than one drink a day) is safe. But research now shows that seven drinks in a week for women is certainly too much, and in fact, research now indicates that lower limits are more appropriate. For example, for breast cancer risk reduction, the limit is lower- at just three drinks per week, meaning that women who consume more than that are increasing their chance of developing breast cancer. 

Drinking excessively doesn’t always mean you have a problem or must quit entirely. Small steps can make cutting back seem less overwhelming—and move drinking into a healthier range for some. To reset your routine, consider the following: 

  • An earlier bedtime. Evenings can often be triggers, when people are tired, sitting on their couch, watching TV and trying to distract. Heading to bed early can remove the temptation to indulge and give your body a chance to reset. Use your refreshed mornings for healthier activities such as exercise or meditation. 
  • Replacing alcohol with other beverages. Sometimes people drink alcoholic beverages just because they are looking for a treat. Instead of a cocktail, try something non-alcoholic such as herbal tea, sparkling water with lemon and mint. 
  • Alcohol-free socializing. Connect with a supportive friend over a walk or exercise class, rather than drinks. 
  • Saving drinking for certain special days each week. 
  • Using therapy, counseling or motivational apps. Therapists and counselors work on mental health, coping skills and goals. Drink-tracking apps such as Cutback Coach allow you to monitor your alcohol use and offer positive reinforcement to change. 
  • Talk to your doctor about medications such as naltrexone which can make it easier to change ingrained alcohol habits. 

    There are other time-honored approaches one can take to help with stress reduction. Lynne Maloney, the owner of Breathe Body and Mind Studio in Springfield encourages bodywork and deep breathing as a part of an overall wellness strategy. 

    Regular exercise, yoga and meditation practices can release circulating endorphins, elevate mood, and improve sleep. 

    Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines physical poses, controlled breathing, and meditation or relaxation. And almost anyone can do it.  

    The potential health benefits of yoga include: 

    • Stress reduction. A number of studies have shown that yoga may help reduce stress and anxiety. Yoga can enhance your mood and overall sense of well-being. Yoga might also help you manage your symptoms of depression and anxiety that are due to difficult situations. 
    • Improved fitness. Practicing yoga may lead to improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength. 
    • Management of chronic conditions. Yoga can help reduce risk factors for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Yoga may also help manage low back pain, neck pain and menopause symptoms. Yoga might also help relieve symptoms of several chronic conditions, such as pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, arthritis and insomnia. 

    So, if you are one of those people who has slipped into a more consistent alcohol routine since the start of the pandemic, what new commitments will you make to yourself in 2022?  


    Evaluating stress and alcohol consumption are just two of the ways Dr. West takes a holistic approach to working with members of her concierge internal medicine practice. Give us a call at 571-999-9378 if you are a current member and would like help with these issues and more, or are interested in becoming a member.

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    Eileen West, MD
    Eileen West, MD about 11 hrs ago

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