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One way that some people respond to stress is to drink alcohol to help them relax and calm down. A hard day at work, ongoing issues with a spouse, financial difficulties, traffic delays, worries over the kids can all contribute to that feeling of pressure and tension. The feeling of being stressed can help you by keeping you alert, focused and motivated. Stress can also cause anger, moodiness, agitation, poor judgment, and anxiety as well as insomnia, weight gain or loss, nausea, diarrhea, and a lowered immune system. When stress is ongoing and one isn’t able to resolve the issues causing it, alcohol can come into play.

The myth is that a drink or two will calm your nerves. It might in the short-term help you to forget about the situation, put you to sleep or take away the feeling of being overwhelmed, however, research shows that in the long term it can lead to heavy drinking by increasing your desire for it, and in turn your risk for alcohol dependence. In fact, the pairing of alcohol use and long-term chronic stress can permanently impair the body’s ability to function in a balanced way. Research shows that it actually contributes to feelings of drepression and anxiety, making it even more difficult to deal with stess.

So, how can you tell if you’re becoming one of the approximately 18 million adult Americans who are considered alcoholics or have drinking problems? Take a look at some of the warning signs:

1. You look forward to a drink to relieve stress on a daily basis.

2. You crave a drink every day.

3. You have become physically dependent. This includes nausea, sweats, shakiness or headaches when you don’t drink.

4. You can’t stop drinking once you’ve started.

5. You have found yourself drinking more than you used to in order to relax.

If you have come to the conclusion that you are not handling stress in a healthy way and are instead drinking too much, there are a number of different approaches to help you cut down or abstain completely. Support groups like AA have proven to be successful. One-on-one therapy is also highly beneficial. Alcohol and drug awareness classes can be taken online from your home to learn concrete strategies to lower your stress level and cut down or abstain from drinking altogether.

Many people stop by going cold turkey. If this seems a bit harsh or extreme for you, then here are some tips to follow that can help you reduce your habit:

1. Start by reflecting on your lifestyle and begin keeping track of when you are drinking.

2. Choose a number of days you will have a drink. If you’ve been drinking everyday, try to skip a day here and there.

3. Get support from your family and friends. Be open with them and ask them not to offer you alcoholic beverages and to do their best to not drink around you.

4. Redirect the time you spent drinking towards a healthier activity. Find a sport you enjoy, start a new hobby, and get involved with volunteer work so you don’t find yourself with that extra time on your hands.

5. If it’s your work environment that is contributing to your stress level or your co-worker who encourage drinking, take a serious look at changing jobs to get away from these negative influences.

In the long run, alcohol isn’t a solution for stress. That feeling of being able to get away from the pain with a drink or two will eventually need 3, 4 or 5 drinks. With more alcohol consumption comes more health issues. Don’t go down this path. Instead work on the emotional issues that are causing the stress and your capacity to respond appropriately without alcohol will improve. The support and education you gain during this process will also benefit you by increasing your self-esteem and close relationships.