How Does Work Stress Link To Alcohol Abuse?

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Do you have a glass of wine to wind down after a long day at work? Have you started drinking more since the company added extra hours to your workweek but not extra pay? It can seem as though enjoying a drink or two will calm your nerves after a rough day, but excessive alcohol use often causes major problems that result in additional stress, creating a vicious circle. Before you head down a dangerous path, it’s important to understand just how work stress can lead to alcohol abuse and alcoholism. In fact, work stress in post-pandemic time is tuning out to be another serious issue.

Stress, regardless of the cause, has a direct physical and emotional impact. Your body responds to stressful situations with a fight-or-flight reaction. Your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension increase as stress hormones, including cortisol, flood your body.  This stress response served an importantand often live-savingpurpose for our early ancestors by allowing them to literally flee or fight to save their life when needed.  And it still does so today in truly dangerous situations.  But for many today, the stress response in itself becomes a chronic state that is detrimental both physically and psychologically.

At work, people experience stress in a number of ways.  For some, the majority of work-related stress is due to interpersonal conflict. For instance, perhaps you don’t get along with your supervisor or one of your co-workers. Or perhaps your tension stems from ongoing frustration. For example, you may be frustrated that you’re being forced to work more hours than you did a few years ago or that your excellent performance goes unrecognized. In addition, having a smartphone often creates the expectation that you’re available to clients or co-workers even when you’re not officially on the clock. These work-related stressors can become chronic, leaving you in a near-constant state of tension and worry.

People cope with and strive to alleviate stress in many different ways, including self-medicating with alcohol and other substances. Of course, not everyone who feels stressed will abuse alcohol. Those who choose to drink in response to stress find that, initially, at least, alcohol helps them feel relaxed.  Unfortunately, though, alcohol consumption actually stimulates the release of additional stress-related hormones. In fact, chronic exposure to alcohol boosts adrenaline levels. In addition, one study found that while alcohol initially appears to decrease the hormonal response to stress, it actually prolongs feelings of tension.

Excessive consumption of alcohol itself also creates additional stress. For example, alcohol abuse impacts relationships with children, partners, parents, and friends. It often affects on-the-job performance as well, potentially leading to tardiness and frequent absences.  In addition, nearly 15% of employees report they’ve had to re-do a colleague’s work because of his or her drinking. People who abuse alcohol are also over 3.5 times as likely to be involved in workplace accidents. These situations not only strain relationships with co-workers and supervisors, but they can also lead to job loss and serious career damage. These consequences create more stress that often leads to further and more frequent alcohol abuse.

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