It is possible to reduce stress by consuming less alcohol. Despite the polarized rhetoric, chemicals are inert substances with no moral agenda of their own—its man’s relationship with them that may or may not be good. Of particular interest owing to its ubiquity is alcohol, the sometimes demonized elixir that has been used in social, religious, ritual, and therapeutic settings since the first natural yeast turned fruit sugars into wine.
By now, even the most liquor-soaked populations acknowledge the serious problems that accompany alcohol abuse. On the other hand, reams of scientific research have found that moderate drinking has a host of life-boosting benefits. As a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, one of the most immediate effects of alcohol is stress reduction.
How Does it Work?
In a nutshell, alcohol slows things down: heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, reaction times, metabolism. The stress response mechanisms of the body, including the notorious fight-or-flight response, are muted. In some ways alcohol acts like a natural anti-anxiety medication—that’s where “mother’s little helper” got its name, and in fact alcohol was once a major component of physician-approved tonics. Alcohol also lowers social inhibitions, which itself can be an effective palliative for a stressful life.
Because so many people drink alcohol and it is such a part of worldwide cultures, the scientific analysis of alcohol’s relationship to man is robust. Moderate drinking has been shown to lower the risk of coronary artery disease, reduce the incidence of heart attack and stroke, minimize the onset of dementia, lower blood pressure, and prolong life-span. Of course we also know that alcohol can be addictive and over-consumption leads to serious health problems, so if you do drink, monitoring your consumption is crucial.
What is Moderation?
Most people would probably say moderate drinking is drinking that doesn’t have a measurable effect on a person’s career or family. While that may be true for adjudicating problem drinking patterns, science gets more specific. The effects of drinking alcohol are influenced by weight and sex. For women, moderation is generally defined as no more than one drink per day, and for men, no more than 2 drinks per day. A drink is one 5-ounce glass of wine, one 12-ounce beer, or one 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof liquor. This is important to note because servings sizes can easily vary.
Because it lowers response time, inhibitions, and decision making, one should never drive after drinking. Many medications are contradicted with alcohol, so be sure to check your pill bottle if you are taking any prescriptions. If you are pregnant, you should abstain from drinking entirely. Lastly, if you have a family history of alcoholism, it may be best to steer clear of this method of stress reduction entirely.
Be Merry, Be Safe
Moderate drinking can truly reduce the stresses of daily life. Have a glass of wine with dinner, or a beer after work, but know when to stop! All of the health benefits of drinking cease with overindulgence.