The evils of drink and smoking

Excessive alcohol increases stress

A drink after work can help you to unwind and can provide you with the opportunity to talk to colleagues about your problems. But like any other drug, alcohol can be misused and is addictive.

Moderate drinking offers a short-term solution to stressful situations but overindulgence only serves to mask real problems, often setting up a vicious cycle which can be hard to break. How much is drink ruling your life? Consider the following questions and answer them honestly.

• Do you sometimes need a drink to face certain problems or situations?
• Has your work suffered because of your drinking?
• Have there been occasions when you felt unable to stop drinking?
• Do you hide how much you drink from family and friends?

What happens when you drink

If you answered yes to any one of the questions, you need to control your drinking before it starts controlling you. Most people make the mistake of thinking that alcohol is a stimulant because it helps them to relax and they become funny and talkative under its influence. But the reverse is in fact true – alcohol is a potent depressant.

Drinking when you are stressed can dull your body’s ability to cope. It simulates your gastric juices which increases the mayhem already going on in your over-worked stomach. Alcohol also disrupts your mental performance and prevents your from working effectively.

How alcohol increases the stress in your life

The beneficial effects of alcohol are only ever short lived, which is fine if the stress is a temporary condition, too. However, long-term stress accompanied by long bouts of drinking will, in the end, only exacerbate your problems and this can have disastrous consequences on many areas of your life.

It is easy to believe that drinking will ease the pressure at work and help you to solve your problems. In most instances quite the opposite is true and your ability to carry out your job may be adversely affected by alcohol.

Drinking may cause you to make costly errors at work or, even worse, cause accidents. It may also affect your timekeeping – if you start drinking heavily, you may suddenly realise that you are constantly late for appointments; you may even end up missing them completely because you are permanently nursing a hangover.

In the course of my work as a counsellor, I have found that alcohol plays a large part in many family arguments and marriage breakdowns. It is also the cause of a great deal of family violence. Drinking to excess will very often result in you neglecting yourself, your partner, and even your children.

Drink can also aggravate money problems. Alcohol is not cheap and you may spend more on it than you or your family can afford. This lack of money will trigger more arguments and increase your stress.

Social life
When drink becomes the main activity in your social life, it can also affect your relationships. Friends will become tired of your constant drinking and may even lose sympathy for your problems. In the long run you may even lose them and their support and miss out on other positive activities.

Alcohol can have a detrimental effect on many organs of the body, not just the liver. It also depletes your stores of essential nutrients like vitamin A which is needed to maintain healthy skin, teeth and bones and is vital for healthy vision. Heavy drinkers increase the risk of a wide range of diseases compared to light or non-drinkers.

How to cut down on drink

• First identify the reasons behind your drinking behaviour. Do you drink to relax or to forget your worries? Or is is because you feel angry or because you are bored? Facing up to your feelings and writing down the things that are bothering you will help you to begin to take action in solving your problems.
• Make a contract with yourself or a friend to cut down by a certain amount and specify the time scale in which you will do it.
• Think of a reward you could give yourself when you achieve your goal – a weekend break or a new golf club, perhaps.
• Keep a drinking diary. Fill in each day with the times you drink heavily, in which places, and in whose company. Then work out how you can best avoid these situations. Go to the cinema instead of the wine bar, or meet a friend who is teetotal.
• Plan how much you are going to drink before you go out and stick to it. You have to be strong, though, as your resolve will probably start weakening as soon as you have downed that first sip.
• Do not just sit down and drink when you go out. Start playing games such as darts, dominoes or pool.
• Always dilute your drink if you can. Top up spirits with plenty of mixer, take small sips and drink as slowly as possible.
• Finally, make a list of the ways in which you will cut down your drinking – that shows true commitment.

If you cannot stop drinking

If you feel unable to cut down on your drinking by yourself and that you are physically dependant on alcohol, then you need specialist help. Make an appointment to see your doctor, a self-help group like Alcoholics Anonymous or a counsellor who specialises in alcohol addiction.

Smoking can seriously damage your health

Another activity many of us turn to when we are stressed is smoking. It gives us something to do with out hands and those long deep draws on a cigarette seem to have a steadying effect on our shaky nerves.

Here again, the short-term benefits are far out-weighed by the detrimental effects long-term. Smoking, like alcohol, depletes the body’s store of vital nutrients and it can indisputably seriously damage your health. Like dodging traffic for a hobby or playing Russian roulette, smoking kills.

If you cannot quit smoking by yourself

Wanting to give up smoking and actually succeeding are two different stories. To quit after several years of addiction requires a lot of willpower and determination. If you cannot give up on your own, alternative therapies like acupuncture and hypnosis can help. Alternatively, ask your family doctor for advice or look in your local library or health clinic for any stop smoking courses that may be running in your area – for example, many hospitals organise such courses.

In the next and final section, we take a look at the dos and don’ts for managing stress.

The dos and don’ts of stress management >>

Text Copyright © Alix Needham
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