An occasional drink of alcohol is no reason for concern. However, like electricity and water, certain things do not mix well. Alcohol and stress are two such things, as they can be a toxic combination. While alcoholic beverages may help us relax, assuming they will make our stress go away is faulty thinking. Alcohol is not actually a mood enhancer, but a mood depressant.
We have all had the experience of a stressful shift, whether because of calls we are responding to or difficult interactions with partners or supervisors. Sometimes we turn to alcohol as a way to decrease or manage these stressful situations. In the beginning, it may seem that drinking provides some temporary relief. What starts out as a fun and relaxing way to unwind can become a toxic cycle and source of stress. The slide into addiction is gradual, but we know that people prone to drinking under stress are more likely to develop a substance-use problem than those who do not tend to drink on high-stress days.
Ironically, while many use alcohol to deal with stress, drinking can actually increase stress levels. Problematic alcohol use can negatively impact work performance, familial and romantic relationships, and finances, intensifying the potential stress triggers that led to the decision to drink in the first place. Alcohol also puts stress on the body and mind. Alcohol increases levels of cortisol, a hormone in the body generated naturally during stressful events. As alcohol leaves the body, blood sugar levels fall and can create feelings of anxiety for some people. When we turn to alcohol to deal with stress, it decreases our perceived ability to tolerate discomfort, which can reinforce habitual alcohol use. It is easy to depend more and more on alcohol in order to forget about the stress and numb the emotional pain. As alcohol dependency progresses, however, the physical, social, mental and financial consequences can all become sources of long-term stress. Do you see the toxic cycle here?
When and where to seek help if alcohol has become a priority in your life, if you have found yourself drinking more than you have in the past, or if you find you turn to alcohol to cope with stress is up to you. There are many resources available. If you need assistance with overuse or addiction, or if you have questions about the resources available, you can call Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 and talk to me or one of our law enforcement psychologists. All of our psychologists are specifically trained to assist those in law enforcement with issues unique to the profession. They are aware of the cultural differences that make law enforcement very distinct. If you are sworn, Peace Officer’s Fellowship (POF) is also available. You can contact one of the members listed on this page and they will be more than happy to assist a fellow deputy.