The impact of stress does not cease once an alcoholic stops drinking. [Stress and Alcoholism]
NB; This article is a bit technical, but as it covers the latest research (2013) and it provides important data about stress and alcoholism.
Newly sober alcoholics often relapse to drinking to alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal, such as alcohol craving, feelings of anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. Many of these symptoms of withdrawal can be traced to the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, the bodies system at the core of the stress response.
|As shown in figure 1, long-term, heavy drinking can actually alter the brain’s chemistry, re-setting what is “normal.” It causes the release of higher amounts of cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone. When this hormonal balance is shifted, it impacts the way the body perceives stress and how it responds to it. For example, a long-term heavy drinker may experience higher levels of anxiety when faced with a stressful situation than someone who never drank or who drank only moderately.|
In addition to being associated with negative or unpleasant feelings, cortisol also interacts with the brain’s reward or “pleasure” systems. Researchers believe this may contribute to alcohol’s reinforcing effects, motivating the drinker to consume higher levels of alcohol in an effort to achieve the same effects.
Cortisol also has a role in cognition [thinking], including learning and memory. In particular, it has been found to promote habit-based learning, which fosters the development of habitual drinking and increases the risk of relapse. Cortisol also has been linked to the development of psychiatric disorders (such as depression) and metabolic; biological changing process disorders.
These findings have significant implications for recovery by the alcoholic. The recovering alcoholics is advised by Alcoholics Anonymous to; 1/ Go to more meetings, 2/ Call your sponsor, 3/ Don’t pick up a drink, 4/ Read AA literature, 5/ Talk with other members, 6/ Appeal to your Higher Power. .
Researchers recommend treating PTSD and other illnesses and alcohol use disorders simultaneously rather than waiting until after patients have been abstinent from alcohol or drugs for a sustained period.
Medications also are currently being investigated for alcoholism that work to stabilize the body’s response to stress. Some scientists believe that restoring balance to the stress-response system may help alleviate the problems associated with withdrawal and, in turn, aid in recovery. More work is needed to determine the effectiveness of these medications.
Although the link between stress and alcoholism use has been recognized for some time, it has become particularly relevant in recent years as combat Veterans, many with PTSD, strive to return to civilian lifestyles. In doing so, some turn to alcohol as a way of coping.
Unfortunately, alcohol use itself exacts a psychological and physiological toll on the body and may actually compound the effects of stress. More research is needed to better understand how alcohol alters the brain and the various circuits involved with the HPA axis. Powerful genetic models and brain-imaging techniques, as well as an improved understanding of how to translate research using animals to the treatment of humans, should help researchers to further define the complex relationship between stress and alcohol.
The AA ‘six pack’ to combat stress and alcoholism in recovery;
- 1/ Go to more meetings,
- 2/ Call your sponsor,
- 3/ Don’t pick up a drink,
- 4/ Read AA literature,
- 5/ Talk with other members,
- 6/ Appeal to your Higher Power. .
You can read the full article from NIAAA by downloading this PDF file.