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Does Alcohol Help to Reduce Stress? It’s Not That Simple

photography of person holding glass bottles during sunset

Jokes about quarantine and surviving it with the help of alcohol have become traditional on social networks.

According to scientific and medical journalist Markham Hyde in his column for Medium, alcohol sales in the United States increased by 55% after the onset of the coronavirus crisis.

According to Bloomberg, beer and wine sales increased by 32% and 47%, respectively.

In general, this was not a surprise to anyone, writes Markham Hyde.

“As they say, hard times need hard drinks. In addition, the idea that alcohol can help a person relax is quite common in the United States,” adds Hade.

However, he emphasizes that the relationship between alcohol and stress is not as simple as it is said in folk wisdom.

Traditional stereotypes about alcohol are partly true, says Rakhita Sinha, director of Yale University Medical Center for Stress.

“Alcohol is an anesthetic. It can soothe pain and in some cases dull the brain and body’s response to stressful events,” she explains.

A 2011 study published in the journal Alcoholism found that after a public speech, the level of the stress hormone (cortisol) in the blood rises.

But when the participants of the experiment took alcohol after the performance, their level decreased.

There is also evidence that alcohol may increase the effects of some neurochemicals in such a way that they begin to mimic the effects of anti-anxiety drugs.

Manoe Doss, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, adds, that alcohol contributes to the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

It is the most common inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, which inhibits brain function.

And this may partly explain why alcohol at the end of a hard and hectic day calms anxious thoughts.

So? A couple of glasses of wine at the end of a hard day – isn’t that bad?

four clear stemless glasses

It’s not that simple, says Michael Sayet, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.

According to a 2011 report, alcohol can also increase stress hormone levels, not just lower them.

Alcohol also speeds up the heartbeat and raises blood pressure, especially when the body begins to digest alcohol and toxins enter the bloodstream.

In addition, Sayette emphasizes that those who have frequently consumed alcohol for a long time to overcome stress may not respond to it in the same way as those who drink infrequently and consume small doses of alcohol.

“If you drink a few alcoholic drinks to calm down, you change the chemistry of your brain.

The state of the brain in a state of sobriety changes.

And in some cases, your brain may become more anxious,” explains the professor.

He also adds that the new stress contributes to the fact that the person continues to drink.

To sum up, the anxiety and alcohol will feed themselves.

So what about those who don’t drink much?

Actually, it is unknown.

According to Michael Sayette, most studies have been conducted either with toxic doses of alcohol, or close to toxic.

“If you believe that alcohol relaxes you, then even if you just wet your lips, you will already feel more relaxed,” says the psychiatrist.

In conclusion, the best option is to choose less toxic ways to overcome anxiety. For example, sports, communication with loved ones, meditation, and psychotherapy.