Per Wickstrom explores alcohol addiction and points out some alternatives to using alcohol to reduce stress
Did you ever watch the television show “MASH”? I used to watch it all the time, mostly because I enjoyed the Hawkeye character. I liked how he would have a martini at the end of his shift. It made him seem really cool—a slick guy caught up in the craziness of war.
It had been several years since I’d seen “MASH” when I came across an episode while flipping through channels. I decided to watch it for old times’ sake. The show was still funny, still poignant, but when it came time for Hawkeye’s martini, it struck me in a way it never had in my youth. This time, it seemed kind of sad.
You see, I know more about booze than I did as a kid, and I even know a bit more about war. As I watched Hawkeye shake up another martini, I no longer saw it as a cool and quirky character trait. I saw it as just another guy struggling with terrible stress, trying to keep it together with a drink.
I know that very few of us will ever deal with the stress of being a battle surgeon, but all of us deal with stress in some form or another. Oftentimes, that stress comes from our work. And all too often, we decide to go with the Hawkeye solution when it comes to de-stressing.
A Learned Behavior
Attempting to stave off stress through drinking is by no means a new concept. It goes back hundreds of years and spans many cultures. Each generation grows up watching their parents, peers, Hawkeye, and other figures from entertainment use alcohol as a means to cope with daily stress, later adopting this practice in their own lives.
Television, movies, and music play an undeniable role in teaching us that alcohol is an effective way to relax and find relief. There’s a reason why Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” (not to mention half of his catalog) is so popular. It aggrandizes the idea that alcohol is useful in forgetting your worries. At the same time, however, the song has a subtext lurking within it: Maybe the problems are still there, and perhaps avoidance only leads to an endless slew of further stresses.
Alcohol Just Blocks Stress
It doesn’t matter how many drinks you have. When you wake up in the morning, your problems and stresses will still be there—and now, they’ll be magnified by a hangover.
Drinking is commonly used to avoid thoughts or feelings that a person doesn’t want to deal with, and while it can block them out for a short period, it doesn’t actually diminish the stress. A recent study conducted by the University of Chicago found that those who were given two shots after a stressful situation were three times more anxious than sober individuals. Even after an hour and a half, the people who consumed alcohol were still more stressed.
When drinking in order to relieve stress becomes habitual, it only allows stress factors to run rampant. And the building anxiety and steady alcohol intake can lead to a variety of more serious risks, such as depression, violence, suicide, heart disease, cancer, liver problems, and an array of other issues.
Once someone becomes addicted to using alcohol as a temporary fix, it can be incredibly difficult—and even dangerous—to break out of the habit due to potentially dramatic withdrawal symptoms.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Addiction
It’s widely believed that a person only has a problem with alcohol when he drinks massive quantities on a daily basis, but this isn’t always true. For many people, alcohol dependency develops without their realizing it. There are a few questions one can ask to determine whether drinking has become a problem.
Tolerance: Are larger quantities of alcohol needed in order to achieve the effects once experienced through smaller doses? The more a person drinks, the more he develops a tolerance, making it necessary for him to drink more and more. This begins the cycle of dependence.
Withdrawal Symptoms: Do you experience negative symptoms when alcohol is not consumed, or when it’s consumed in smaller amounts? These uncomfortable symptoms are the signs of alcohol withdrawal, and they often keep a person from being able to stop drinking. Common symptoms include shaky hands, agitation, sweating, nausea, headache, and insomnia. In extreme cases, more severe symptoms can include seizures, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and hallucinations.
Neglecting Obligations: Does drinking ever result in neglecting your obligations or other tasks? It can be the sign of a serious problem if drinking causes a person to repeatedly miss obligations to his work or family. When a person recognizes he’s in this situation, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible.
There can be a variety of other things to consider when determining whether or not a person has a problem with alcohol. A good rule of thumb, however, is that if you think you have an alcohol problem, you probably do.
Find Healthy Alternatives to Relieving Stress
There are countless methods that are highly effective in the reduction of stress.
Exercise is perhaps one of the most tried and tested. A brisk walk through the neighborhood not only clears the mind, but it also provides additional physical benefits.
When it comes right down to it, everyone is different, and each of us has different ways we can enjoyably reduce our stress. Try making a list of healthy alternatives to alcohol, such as painting, reading, or playing an instrument. It’s also an excellent idea to find stress relief that incorporates the body and mind, as stress exists in both places. Many people find relaxation in taking a hot bath or meditating.
In itself, there’s nothing wrong with experiencing stress. It’s something we all deal with, especially Hawkeye, who has lives to save and women to seduce. Stress only becomes a problem when it isn’t dealt with in a way that realistically reduces it. Research and experience have proven that alcohol doesn’t work, and that it, in fact, makes matters worse.
So try your hand at another form of relaxation. Hawkeye recommends golf.
Per Wickstrom is the CEO and founder of Best Drug Rehabilitation. BDR firmly believes that a holistic approach to treatment is the best route to recovery. Per has overcome great personal obstacles and now seeks opportunities to help people beat their addictions and build better lives.
Photo: ddb and kdw/Flickr