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Work Stress and Alcohol Abuse: Is Your Job Driving You to Drink?

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The recession of 2008 left a lasting impression on America’s economy, with scores of people losing their jobs while those who remained worked double-time in an effort to secure their employment status. This level of “job anxiety” continues today with many people working two and three jobs just to make ends meet. Under these conditions, the temptation to “wind down” from the workday with a drink in hand may make perfect sense, but can end up causing real problems down the road.

People who work high stress jobs or multiple jobs can easily fall into a never-ending stress cycle that only leaves room for quick fixes and fast reprieves when it comes to relaxation and needed rest. For these reasons, it’s important to stay alert to developing alcohol abuse patterns as alcohol’s relaxing effects can quickly snowball into a real problem over time.

Job Stress & Its Effects

Job stress can take any number of forms, from the unreasonable and demanding employer to the pressures of the job itself, such as what emergency responders encounter on a daily basis. This level of ongoing exposure to stress creates prime conditions for anxiety-type symptoms to develop and persist.

In general, prolonged periods of stress trigger the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenalin, throughout the brain and body.

After a certain point, high levels of these chemicals in the body’s system over extended periods leaves the body in a constant state of hypervigilance, which can be taxing as far as a person’s physical and psychological health goes.

Regardless of the stressor or its source, the body naturally seeks out ways to reestablish some sense of homeostasis rather than continue on as is. These conditions set the stage for alcohol abuse patterns to take root in a person’s daily life.

The potential for Alcohol Abuse

As far as work stress goes, the potential for alcohol abuse runs considerably high when work becomes a constant source of stress in a person’s life. Over time, anxiety levels continue to rise in response to the high levels of cortisol in the body. At this point, using alcohol to “take the edge off” is a recipe for disaster considering how the brain and body quickly develop a tolerance for alcohol’s effects over time. In effect, rising tolerance levels become the driving force behind developing alcohol abuse behaviors.

Tolerance level increases take shape as the brain’s cells lose their sensitivity to alcohol’s effects. Herein lies the crux of the alcohol abuse cycle, as this loss in sensitivity prompts drinkers to consume larger quantities of alcohol in order to experience its desired effects. With work stress being a day-in, day-out experience in a person’s life, it’s easy to see how this cycle of alcohol abuse can spiral out of control over time.

Treatment Considerations

Using alcohol as a way to cope with work stress can soon start to spill over into other difficult life areas, such as drinking to cope with difficult emotions or needing to drink in order to make it to work. Regardless of the reason, alcohol abuse doesn’t exist in a vacuum but rather evolves and grows into addiction, causing any number of medical and mental problems along the way.

If you or someone you know struggles with work stress and suspect you’re developing an alcohol abuse problem, please don’t hesitate to call our toll-free helpline at 800-654-0987 to speak with one our phone counselors.