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Coping with Stress

Understanding Risk Factors For Alcohol Abuse In Coping With Stress

Research shows that some people may increase their drinking in response to stress. That is why, now more than ever, it is important to take stock of our drinking habits and learn how to make healthy, safe and smart decisions in relation to alcohol.

If you, a friend or loved one have been using alcohol to help deal with stressful events, you may need help. To find out if your drinking has become a problem, attend one of the free, anonymous screenings held at thousands of sites across the country on National Alcohol Screening Day, April 10, 2003. This one day education and screening event is designed to raise awareness on how alcohol affects health; help individuals evaluate their alcohol use; and provide referrals to local treatment and support resources for those who need further evaluation.

There are several risk factors for abuse of alcohol in reaction to stress:

  • Using alcohol to "deal" with stress.
  • Experiencing the stressful event or feeling as severe, chronic, intense or unavoidable.
  • Lacking social support or other resources for coping with a stressful event or feeling.
  • Having a family history of drinking in response to stress.
  • Believing that alcohol will help to reduce stress.
  • Having unhealthy or other problematic drinking behavior preceding the stressful event or feeling.
  • Feeling helpless or having no control over the stressful event or feeling.
  • Trying to avoid or numb feelings in reaction to the stressful event.

In times of crisis many people may turn to alcohol to calm their nerves. "Although some people may drink as a means of coping with certain stressful life events such as anxiety about the war, marital problems or financial problems, drinking can actually produce physiological stress," says Sharon Pigeon, Program Manager of National Alcohol Screening Day.

The theme of this year's screening day is Alcohol and Health: Where Do You Draw the Line? "It is important to for all Americans to figure out where, personally, to draw the line when consuming alcohol -- where do you draw the line as you get older, if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, if you have a family history of alcohol abuse, if you develop a medical condition or if you take certain medications," says Pigeon.

As part of the program, attendees will complete a brief written screening assessing their alcohol use and have the opportunity to talk privately with a health professional to discuss what to do next. The program is free and confidential.

Get the facts:

  • Heavy drinking raises the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, certain cancers, car crashes, unintentional injuries, violence, suicides, birth defects and overall mortality.
  • More than 150 medications, including over the counter and herbal medicines, interact harmfully with alcohol. These interactions may result in increased risk of illness, injury and even death.
  • Alcohol can alter blood sugar levels and exacerbate problems in diabetics; impair reproductive functions; and interfere with calcium metabolism and bone structure, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
  • It is not known if there is a "safe" level of alcohol that can be consumed by pregnant women without risking damage to their unborn children. Therefore, the only responsible advice to pregnant women, and to those who wish to become pregnant, is to avoid alcohol use entirely.

National Alcohol Screening Day, held in April as part of National Alcohol Awareness Month, is a program of the nonprofit Screening for Mental Health in collaboration with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). To find a local screening site call 1-800-405-9200 or visit NASD's Web page at www.NationalAlcoholScreeningDay.org.

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