stress and alcohol - what are the risks?

Handling Stress Without Alcohol

We all face times in our lives that are beyond stressful. Meeting a tough deadline on the job, planning a wedding or family vacations, hosting the in-laws for a long Thanksgiving weekend – take your pick.

It’s just as true for those still in college. Studying for a big exam or trying to catch up on a heavy workload can cause additional anxiety for students. Unfortunately, many of us in or out of school lack the mental and emotional tools to respond to such stress in healthy ways.

Social messages encourage us to reach for chemical substances when facing stressful circumstances.

During exam time, college students often resort to unhealthy, ineffective coping mechanisms. Some tank up on coffee or chemical-filled energy drinks, failing to eat well and staying awake through the night. Some rely on prescription medications such as Adderall and Ritalin to keep them alert as they frantically cram for finals.

Too many increase their alcohol consumption, drinking to anesthetize themselves temporarily against the realities at hand.

Living in reckless denial during finals won’t make exams disappear (or make studying easier). Midterms and finals are a permanent fixture of the school year, and the density of workloads will continue to ebb and flow. The trick: learning to budget time effectively and handle stress in a healthy and productive way.

Excessive college drinking has personal consequences. Poor class attendance, hangovers, injuries, trouble with authorities, damaged property, and even deaths can result. Research indicates two main reasons why college students drink so heavily: to fit in socially, or for emotional escape or temporary relief from academic stress. Peer pressure is a major factor in college alcohol use.

In truth, mishandling stress in any way can threaten the health of college students.

Living with stress puts our entire well-being at risk. Our emotional equilibrium is shaken, our physical health suffers, and our ability to enjoy life is severely compromised. Fortunately, effective stress management is fairly easy to achieve. For those who succeed, the effect during midterms and finals is remarkable.

We must recognize that stress management techniques must be tailored to the individual – what works for one student may not work as well for another. Just as the entire journey of recovery revolves around individuality and self-discovery, learning to effectively manage stress will be a unique, highly personal experience. Still, the basic steps involved are much the same across the board.

The first step in healthy stress management is identifying the cause of the stress you’re experiencing. Is it an exam for which you feel underprepared? Is it an overwhelming workload in one class (or several)? Keeping a daily log of things in your life that consistently create anxiety can help you put your finger on the problem.

Once you’ve identified primary sources of tension, tackling them effectively becomes easier.

Next, look carefully (and honestly) at your current coping mechanisms. Is avoiding sleep and cramming two days before an exam helping you achieve your academic goals? Or is it making the problem worse? Are other unhealthy coping mechanisms contributing to the problem? Procrastination may play a big role, for example. You may be spending too much time on social media, time that would be better spent reading or taking notes.

When handling predictable stressors such as tests and assignments, you have the power to change your reaction. Accept the situation and adapt by altering your coping methods and avoiding unnecessary stressors if possible.

It’s essential to maintain balance through self-care and a healthy lifestyle. Be sure you’re getting enough sleep. Pay attention to the foods you’re eating – foods high in fat and sugar contribute to stress. Exercise regularly.

Self-medicating with alcohol may yield temporary relief from academic stress, but it will just compound problems in the long run. Alcohol as a stress reliever may lead to dependence and serious substance use disorders. Dealing with stressful problems in a direct, clear-headed way is a far more effective approach.

If you or a loved one is misusing alcohol, we can help. Call 888 787-7673 to discuss how we can help you overcome challenges with alcohol and other substances. You may also request additional information by clicking here.

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