(Photo Credit: Tim RT)
Last week’s post addressed how to determine whether you or someone you know might has a problematic relationship with alcohol. This week, we want to discuss alcohol use within the larger context of coping.
Coping is anything we do to manage stress. There are positive coping mechanisms and negative coping mechanisms. Positive coping lands us in a better place to address the problem at hand. Negative coping strategies, on the other hand, are those that don’t address our stressor in any way.
How does alcohol fit into this? What’s tricky about alcohol is that, like most things, it has both positive and negative effects.
What are the negative effects?
• Excessive alcohol intake is an established risk factor for several cancers.
• Alcohol is addictive. A recent study of addictive substances showed that alcohol is less addictive than nicotine, crystal meth, and crack, but more addictive than heroin, intranasal amphetamine, cocaine, and caffeine.
• Alcohol disrupts sleep. It can help you fall asleep, but alcohol increases the incidence of sleep disruptions.
• Alcohol promotes bad eating. Everyone who’s ever gotten at least a buzz from a glass or two of wine or a mixed drink has felt the often irresistible urge to snack.
• Alcohol is a depressant. This means that even though we often turn to alcohol for a boost, it actually depresses our body and our mood.
What are the positive effects?
• Numerous studies show that moderate drinking can have positive effects on heart health.
• A drink before a meal can improve digestion.
• The social and psychological benefits of alcohol can’t be ignored: it can be a soothing end to a stressful day and the occasional drink with friends can be a nice way to socialize.
So where does this leave us? The bottom line is that it is important to ask yourself which function alcohol is serving for you. Are you drinking moderately and engaging in activities that are rejuvenating for you? Or is alcohol helping you avoid your stressors? Alcohol can be a really nice addition to our lives or it can have pretty devastating consequences. It is worth considering whether we are using it for positive or negative coping.