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How stress may be driving you to drink

Sarah Treleaven
July 11, 2012

According to new research reported by the BBC, we no longer rely on alcohol simply to enhance our charm at cocktail parties or make family events more bearable; a huge number of people are also using alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress, consuming a drink — or several — in the evenings to unwind from yet another very long day. A U.K. poll of 2,000 people aged 30-45 found that two-thirds of participants drank to relax, and that one-third frequently grabbed a drink or two before they even made it home. Many of the women surveyed acknowledged that they regularly drink above the recommended daily limit, a paltry 175 mL glass of wine.

Alcohol watchdogs warn that alcohol is a false friend when it comes to de-stressing. While it might calm your nerves temporarily, it can also drain your already taxed system by dehydrating the body and interrupting much-needed sleep.

We get a lot of mixed messages about the health benefits or detriments of alcohol. On one hand, moderation is supposed to be heart healthy and can allegedly help ward off diabetes. On the other, even moderation has been linked to an increased risk of cancer (particularly breast cancer), liver disease and other unpleasant effects. But no matter how many warnings we get, a number of us are still seduced by the pure joy of a glass of Prosecco with friends on a hot summer day, or that delicious, slightly warmed sip of red wine while you're looking out the window at the falling snow. While we don't all rely on alcohol to calm our nerves, it can be incredibly relaxing.

When we have cocktail time in our house — and that's as often as we can — there's something wonderful about a scotch and soda, a handful of pistachios or a few pieces of cheese, that draws a line over the end of the workday and helps ease me into dinner. But I've also started to realize the impact that even one glass too many has on my system: I feel fuzzy-headed and lethargic, and I usually toss and turn until I bolt awake at 4 a.m., unable to get back to sleep for hours.

As the great Nora Ephron once wrote, "The reason you're waking up in the middle of the night is the second glass of wine." One of the most important things to learn in adulthood is how to manage stress properly. But another is how to enjoy everything in moderation.

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