Many people who drink alcohol do so as a form of stress relief. There is no denying that alcohol can sometimes contribute to a sense of pleasure, lift moods, and feel relaxing. However, alcohol's effects on mood can sometimes be unpredictable, so they end up worsening moods or increasing stress.
Furthermore, drinking excessively over the long-term can cause serious effects on your mental health that can end up making stress harder to deal with. Here are some specific reasons why you should not look to alcohol consumption as a cure for stress.
1) Alcohol narrows your focus on the world
Stressful feelings are created through a narrow focus on things in life. If you are feeling worried about one thing, it can help to draw your attention to other things, or view a situation from a broader perspective so it is less threatening.
Alcohol dulls your ability to perceive your total environment, focusing instead on smaller details. Sometimes, this can cause you to ignore what is making you feel stressful, but it can just as easily make you hone in on threatening information, ignoring the larger details. For example, if you are feeling stressed about a romantic relationship, drinking could easily make you notice your partner displaying interest in a potential rival and ignore the other people he or she interacted with in the evening.
2) Alcohol reduces your capacity to function
It may seem insultingly obvious, but often the best way to deal with stressful feelings is by tackling the thing making you feel stressed. If you are feeling consumed with worry over a deadline, a project, or a perceived lack of money, doing work to fix the problem is a very effective way at dealing with it.
Drinking to excess destroys your ability to work responsibly. It inhibits parts of your brain that handle rational decision-making, and disrupts motor skills in a way that can make it difficult to create any productive change in your life. A "wild night" of heavy drinking may temporarily take your mind off an impending deadline, but the next morning, the stress-inducing deadline will still be there, and you will be even less capable of meeting the challenge.
3) Relying on alcohol to reduce stress builds dependency
In the beginning, alcohol floods the brain with neurotransmitters, or chemical signals, that produce good feelings, confidence, and a perception of well-being. As the brain gets flooded with these signals, it responds over time by lessening the impact of these hormonal signals.
This condition, known as tolerance, means that alcohol ceases to have as powerful an impact on your mood as it once did. Your likely response will be to consume more alcohol, until you get the desired feelings. So even if alcohol is effective at reducing your stress levels, over time it will work less well. These higher levels will subject yourself to considerable more risk to your safety and your physical and mental health.
4) Drinking heavily contributes to depression and anxiety
To people already vulnerable to mental health issues, alcohol as a form of self-medicating can be very dangerous and ineffective. As mentioned above in point #3, heavy alcohol use over time makes it harder for the brain to receive pleasurable chemicals. This in turn negatively impacts the degree of pleasure you feel from doing normal activities. You may find any coping mechanisms or enjoyable activities become increasingly unable to overpower stressful feelings. This is because the brain becomes more impervious to feel-good hormones, making the negative emotions more likely to take over. This can in turn create a very troubling vicious cycle, in which a heavy drinker keeps drinking to try to resolve depressed or anxious feelings that the alcohol is only increasing.
5) Avoiding issues keeps you from solving them
Getting drunk and temporarily forgetting your problems isn't going to make them go away. It, like any other avoidance strategy will ultimately prove ineffective. At one point the buzz is going to go away, and you will be right back where you started, if not worse off.
There are alternative ways of relaxing that truly get at the root of your problem and help you live a better life, including exercise, an enjoyable activity, rest, meditation or prayer, and talking the situation over with a sympathetic friend. These methods of taking more proactive control of your life will, in the end, do far more to get stress under control.