Have you ever considered why you drink alcohol? Long days on duty or time away from loved ones can cause people to lean on alcohol. Some might also think alcohol can help them handle stress, anxiety, boredom or loneliness. Know that using alcohol in these ways may come with risks.
How do I know if I’m using alcohol to cope with feelings or my current situation?
Ask yourself if any of these situations sound familiar:
Do you often turn to alcohol to destress after a long day at work? Maybe you end up having more than you planned? Do you turn to your trusty beverage to lift your mood after a fight with a loved one or a tough moment? If you miss home, do you pass the time by drinking too much? These situations may seem harmless but drinking can be risky and is not the solution to cope.
Rather than helping, alcohol can make you feel worse. Here’s how:
- Initial relief is only temporary. Relaxation increases when your blood alcohol content (BAC) levels rise. When BAC levels fall (meaning as a person sobers up), depressive symptoms like shifts in mood and anxiety can rush in—making the reason you’re drinking in the first place possibly even harder to manage.
- Drinking to cope is a slippery slope in more ways than one. The more a person leans on alcohol to cope, the more likely they are to build a tolerance; meaning the more they drink the more they’ll need to feel the effects. Also, more alcohol can have a negative impact on your psychological health (think: black outs, memory loss, shift in judgement and decision making, and brain damage).
- Excessive alcohol use has negative impacts on physical health. Heavy drinkers may experience hangover symptoms including nausea and vomiting, plus a lowered immune system and disturbed sleep. These symptoms can make the feelings or situation you’re coping with feel worse.
Remember, low risk drinking is no more than 1 drink a day for women or 2 for men or 7 drinks a week for women or 14 for men.
There are healthier ways to manage your stress and support your psychological health without alcohol:
- Go for a run or workout. Get six-pack abs instead of a six pack of beer. Staying physically active can boost your psychological health and help you ease your mind.
- Practice mindfulness or try meditation. Checking in with your body and mind can be useful to cope with stress. Meditation and breathing exercises can help your mind feel stronger and more resilient.
- Write it down. Writing down your thoughts is a great way to understand them better and get them out of your mind. Start a journal or just write it down and throw it away.
- Talk it out. Seeking help is a sign of strength. Lean on a trusted friend, loved one or mentor. You could also speak to your chaplain, Military OneSource or Military and Family Life Counseling for confidential, non-medical counseling to address the reasons for why you may be using alcohol to cope.
If you’re concerned about your alcohol use, find your Service branch’s policy on how to self-refer or self-identify before an incident happens.