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Dangers of using alcohol for managing stress and anxiety

All of us deal with stress differently. While some prefer to go on vacation to get all of their stress out of their system, some would prefer spending weekend nights with their friends going to the local bar and having a few drinks. Because of this, many individuals claim drinking alcohol helps relieve their anxiety and stress levels.

However, many individuals make drinking a daily habit, which eventually leads to alcohol addiction. That is why there are various alcohol treatment facilities to help patients deal with their alcohol addiction. Such treatment facilities can help them get free from the grasp of alcoholism and help patients get back on their feet.

To the contrary, Dr. Kirtly Jones, VP of Education, the University of Utah, stated that drinking alcohol does help relieve stress but only on an occasional basis – at least in her own experience. Moreover, Dr. Jones also mentioned that women tend to drink alcoholic beverages as a stress reliever.

How Alcohol Can Affect Your Stress Levels

Medically, alcohol is considered a sedative, which is why most people feel less nervous when they drink. Moreover, there are different causes of stress which people attempt to drown by drinking alcohol.

However, too much alcohol can take a toll not only on our physical, mental, emotional, and psychological health, but also with our loved ones. Here are some alarming reasons how alcohol can increase your stress levels instead of the other way around:

Alcohol Can Actually Worsen Anxiety Levels

Alcohol can wreak havoc in your serotonin levels in your brain, which in turn can intensify your anxiety and stress levels after the alcohol has worked its way out of your system.

When you drink alcohol, it also increases your blood alcohol content level, which is why you experience that happy feeling as if you’re on a “high”.

On the contrary, a low blood alcohol content level can contribute to your feeling of anxiety and even depression. This is why many individuals experience being more anxious and stressed when they don’t have their regular dose of alcohol.

Too Much Drinking Alcohol Can Lead To Alcohol Dependence

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America revealed that about 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorder. People with such kind of disorder depend on alcohol to give them a boost to socially interact with others.

While alcohol can help relieve their social anxiety, around 20 percent of these people end up being dependent on alcohol use. These people with alcohol dependence have a hard time stopping their alcohol consumption and even drank at least five alcoholic drinks per day.

In effect, many individuals won’t last a day without having a swig of whiskey or vodka, which they believe the only way to make them calm.

Alcohol Can Make It Hard For You To Recover From Trauma

According to a study, too much alcohol consumption can hinder a person’s ability to recover from traumatic events such as car accidents, hijackings or domestic violence. In particular, heavy drinkers who have been that way for years are more susceptible to anxiety disorders, according to the study’s senior author Andrew Holmes, PhD.

Moreover, alcohol addiction can also affect your mood. Because alcohol can affect your serotonin levels, it can consequently cause mood swings that can lead to stress and the inability to recover from significant trauma.

Alcohol Problems Can Cause Health Problems, Too

Alcohol-induced stress can cause low blood sugar levels. This can cause confusion, dizziness and more intense feelings of nervousness, to name a few.

Moreover, alcohol-induced stress can also cause dehydration, lethargy, fatigue, and nausea. While these symptoms won’t primarily cause anxiety, such illnesses can still likely trigger anxiety and stress.

Alcohol Can Lead To Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is the worst case of anxiety. Those who have this disorder are more susceptible to sudden panic attacks, which can ruin a person’s overall quality of life. Among common symptoms of panic disorder include lack of emotional control; sudden and irrational feelings of fear; and having flashbacks of traumatic events that happened to the person.

What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

Alcohol addiction is a serious health issue that should be addressed immediately by entering alcohol treatment facilities. Given the above-mentioned implications of alcoholism, not only can it affect the person’s overall health, but also his or her overall quality of life.

However, withdrawing from alcohol addiction may not be that easy. For one, the person will most likely experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). A person with AWS may experience both physical and emotional symptoms which can even be life-threatening.

Some common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome include feelings of anxiety, headache, heart palpitations, sweating and shivering, mood swings, insomnia, high blood pressure, nausea, and vomiting. However, some people may experience a severe type of AWS called delirium tremens.

DT can cause intense mood swings, and seizures, tactile, auditory, and visual hallucinations. If you have these symptoms, you should go to your nearest hospital immediately.

Treating Alcohol Addiction

There are many alcohol treatment facilities all over the world to help you get through alcohol addiction. While many treatment facilities offer a month-long program, it may not be sufficient to treat a person’s alcohol addiction, especially if they have been a heavy drinker for a long time.

That is why some alcohol treatment facilities offer long-term rehabilitation which can ensure beating alcohol dependency for good. These treatment facilities offer a detoxification program, counselling, life skills, and aftercare support which can help the patient recover faster and prevent relapses.

Dealing With Anxiety and Stress

It is important to realize that drinking alcohol is not really a recommended solution for anxiety. Rather, it can cause the anxiety and other health problems if taken in large doses.

On the contrary, drinking alcohol moderately may not be as bad as mentioned in the previous paragraphs. Nevertheless, one should be careful not to make consumption a daily habit, or risk suffering from its life-deterring consequences. While alcohol does have its own benefits, the risks mostly outweigh the perks.

Changing your lifestyle can also help in dealing with stress and anxiety that usually lead to alcohol addiction. Some simple steps you can do to relieve stress and anxiety and reduce your dependence to alcohol include:

  1. Sleep the right amount of sleep depending on your age. For most adults, 7 hours of sleep can be sufficient for a better overall health.

  1. Limit consumption of caffeine and alcohol, which can both contribute to a spike in anxiety levels that cause stress.

  1. Make it a habit to eat healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, lean meat and poultry, depending on your usual diet.

  1. Incorporate physical exercises and relaxation techniques in your daily schedule.

  1. Explore new things such as a new hobby, travel in different places, listen to good and relaxing music – there are different ways to relieve your stress.
With that being said, it is better to consult a mental health specialist if you have symptoms of depression or other mental health issues. They will provide you a variety of treatment options to reduce your anxiety and deal with your stress levels.

[We would like to thank Patrick Bailey for this contribution]

Post-partum Depression (courtesy of Maryville University)

Having a baby is typically described as a time of joy:
  • A time to celebrate a new little life that has been brought into this world.
  • A time to be thankful for the family unit that has now been increased by one or more.
However, for some women, this life-altering event brings about feelings that aren't quite as joyful, and begins a condition known as postpartum depression (PPD).

Postpartum Depression Defined

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines PPD as a mood disorder that sometimes appears in women after giving birth. Additionally, they say that this disorder typically comes feelings of "extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion," sometimes to the point where everyday activities are difficult to complete.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), as many as one in seven women suffer from PPD, a condition that can present itself anywhere from a few days up to several months post-delivery. It has no boundaries, either, because it can affect any new mother without regard to her background, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or whether it is her first time or fifth time giving birth.

It's important to note that feelings of sadness and anxiety directly after childbirth can occur without rising to the level of PPD. These are typically referred to as "postpartum blues." So, what's the difference?

Postpartum Depression Versus Postpartum Blues

One of the main differences is that the postpartum blues condition typically appears within 2-3 days of childbirth and disappears within a week or two, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG). This is different than PPD, which generally sets in anywhere from one to three weeks post-birth but can take up to one full year before it presents itself.

Also, PPD often requires some type of intervention to begin to resolve, while postpartum blues generally disappears on its own. Additionally, the feelings associated with postpartum blues—sadness, anxiety, and being upset with the baby or a loved one—are usually much less intense than the feelings associated with PPD. With the latter, the new mother's emotions are typically fairly intense, possibly even reaching the point where they become totally debilitating.

Causes of Postpartum Depression

The ACOG says that there is no specific cause of PPD, but rather "a combination of factors." Some are physical and others are more emotional or mental in nature.
For example, the new mother's changes in hormones could act as a trigger for this mood disorder. Research has found that the reduction in oestrogen and progesterone that occur after delivery not only contribute to depression, but they are also linked to other cognitive changes as well. These include memory formation and difficulties related to learning.

Another factor that can increase depression risk is a history of depression, unsure feelings about the pregnancy, longer hospital stays, and general feelings of fatigue after giving birth, according to the ACOG.

The mother's life situation matters too, such as how much support she feels she has at home, whether she's had an illness or loss in her family that she's dealing with, or any other major life changes that have recently occurred. All of these situations can impact her emotional state post-delivery.

Postpartum Depression Symptoms

How does a new mother know if her postpartum blues is likely to go away on its own or if it's at the level of being classified as PPD?

The APA says that while "warning signs are different for everyone," some of the more common PPD symptoms include:
  • Extreme changes in eating behaviours, whether it's much more or less than usual
  • Feelings of anxiety almost all of the time, and sometimes experiencing full-blown panic attacks
  • Being excessively irritable or angry
  • Having fears associated with not being able to properly care for the child
  • Trouble getting and/or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
  • A sudden loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • A lack of interest in caring for the child or spending time with family and friends
  • Having "scary thoughts" that include hurting yourself or your child

Postpartum Depression Treatment Options

If you or someone you love is struggling with PPD, what can be done? Fortunately, there are many options.

The first involves understanding that there is nothing you did that brought about this level of depression. Or, as the APA states, you must realize that "postpartum depression is not your fault—it is a real, but treatable, psychological disorder." In other words, don't belittle yourself if you believe you have PPD because it isn't a condition that appears due to something you did wrong or didn't do pre or post-pregnancy. It just happens sometimes.

Therapy can also help. The NIMH says that two types of counselling or talk therapy that often provide positive results are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT).

CBT helps by increasing your awareness of your negative thoughts and behaviours, and then helps you work on changing them.

IPT is more relationship focused. It gives you a greater understanding of issues that may exist with those around you so you can find effective ways to resolve them.

Another option is medication.
According to Medicine Net, antidepressants can often help relieve the sometimes intense levels of depression that appear after giving birth, offering positive effects for two-thirds of the women who are prescribed them. Some of the most common antidepressants include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), Paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), bupropion (Wellbutrin), venlafaxine (Effexor), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), but there are also several others.

It typically takes anywhere from one to six weeks for these medications to build up in the body enough to provide an improvement in mood, so Medicine Net recommends giving it at least that amount of time before stopping or changing to a new medication regimen. Also, if the prescription is an MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor), it should not be taken with other medications or foods that contain a high level of the compound tyramine, which is often found in wine, aged cheese, and cured meat, as this can impact its effectiveness.

DIY Postpartum Relief

In addition to therapy and medication, there are some things you can do at home to help provide relief from postpartum depression. Healthline outlines a number of them, many of which are relatively simple to incorporate into your life.

Increase your omega-3 intake
Research published in the journal Depression Research and Treatment explains that both pregnancy and breastfeeding contribute to lower levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the new mother's brain, a factor that has been correlated to increased feelings of depression. Eating more omega-3 fatty acids can help restore healthy DHA levels, which can then help alleviate the depression as a result.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that adequate intakes of omega-3s for pregnant women is 1.4 grams daily and 1.3 grams for women who are lactating. Foods high in in these particular fatty acids include flaxseed (both seeds and oil), chia seeds, and English walnuts. Salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, and rainbow trout are good sources of omega-3s too.

Practice self-care
Healthline says it's also important to practice various forms of self-care if you are struggling with PPD. This may include taking long walks, napping when you can, and taking some time every so often just for you.
The main objective is to find things that you enjoy doing and making it a priority to add them into your schedule on a regular basis. This may involve asking family and friends to care for your little one so you can have some much-needed time alone. Though this may seem relatively minor, you may notice that you feel better relatively quickly.

Stay away from alcohol
It also helps to abstain from drinking if you have PPD because there is a high likelihood that the two combined can potentially make the depression worse. In fact, one study published in International Scholarly Research Notices found that 63.8 percent of the alcohol-independent participants suffered from depression, which means that, more often than not, the two will go hand in hand.
If this is difficult for you, it may help to find a dual-diagnosis treatment centre can treat PPD and alcohol addiction at once, giving you a greater chance of overcoming both.

Talk to people you trust
Talking helps as well, and not just to a therapist but also to your close family and friends. Share your thoughts and concerns with those you trust. Open up to them and let them help you through your birth-related depression.

Alternatively, you could join a PPD support group to talk to as well. This connects you with women who have also struggled with the same issue. Or, if you're a spouse or family member of someone experiencing PPD, there are support groups for you, too.

PostpartumDepression.org says that benefits of this particular option include building a stronger social network, receiving emotional validation for how you feel, not being judged for your emotions, and developing a more thorough understanding of what postpartum depression is and how it affects you.
If you can't find a group near you, you can always join one online. For example, the What to Expect website hosts a postpartum depression forum that has more than 5,000 members. You can either start your own discussion or chime in on someone else's. Either way, it can help to connect with others who know what it's like to live with PPD.

PPD is very real, but it is also very treatable. The key is to find the remedies that provide the most relief and make your recovery a priority. Both you and your baby deserve that, and so much more.

If your loved one has an anger problem, you probably feel like you're walking on eggshells all the time. But always remember that you are not to blame for their anger. There is never an excuse for physically, verbally or emotionally abusive behaviour.

You have a right to be treated with respect and to live without fear of an angry outburst, a violent rage or passive aggressive behaviour such as silent treatment, sulking and bottling.

While you can't control another person's anger, you can control how you respond to it:

  • Remove yourself from the situation if your loved one does not calm down.
  • Wait for a time when you are both calm to talk to your loved one about the anger problem. Don't bring it up when either one of you is already angry.
  • Set clear boundaries about what you will and will not tolerate.
  • Put your safety first. Trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe or threatened in any way, get away from your loved one and go somewhere safe.
  • Consider counselling or therapy for yourself if you are having a hard time standing up for yourself.
  • As a last resort you may have to raise a Court protection order.