We are all dealing with a lot of stress, whether at work, at home, because of the pandemic, because of civil unrest or a million other possible causes. We all want to feel better, we want to relax. According to the Mayo Clinic, this means we are trying to engage in “a process that decreases the effects of stress on your mind and body.”
Many of us might be turning to alcohol to kickstart this process. Does it really help us relax? It’s not a straightforward answer, so give me a moment to explain. Because alcohol is a sedative and a depressant that affects the nervous system, drinking can reduce fears, take our mind off our troubles, help us to feel less shy, give us a boost in mood and generally help us to feel more relaxed, at first. But once we start drinking, we can build a tolerance to the de-stressing effects of alcohol. In other words, the actual effect of alcohol decreases and our need for it increases. Soon the stresses are barely muted, and the drinking may be starting to cause problems. Problems caused by drinking, whether in our personal or professional life, can be a much bigger stressor than the stresses felt when we first started drinking to relax. We might now have cravings for alcohol that did not exist before, and are now faced with having to choose to feed the craving with more alcohol or depriving your cravings (not always easy to do).
Wanting something that is creating problems in our life does nothing to relax us. In fact, it creates more stress. This often increases aggravation, frustration and irritability. Trying to drink our problems away ensures the true source(s) of problem is not being addressed. It guarantees remaining trapped in a buildup of stress, dulling the symptoms of stress rather than doing something to change it long-term. Things go from bad to worse when problems caused by drinking are added to the mix.
Though alcohol temporarily offers some relief, it also has a tendency to add another layer of problems. This may be hard to see because alcohol can make us oblivious to our stresses in the moment. I am going to go out on a limb, though, and assume we have all had (or know someone who has had) the experience sobering up only to find that your stress is still there, or has even worsened.
We can achieve relaxation by removing the source the stress, if possible, or by managing our experience of it in a way that does not cause added stress/problems. It is impossible to eliminate stress from our lives completely, but we can all develop strategies to manage it. Substance abuse is never a good way to deal with stress. If you find yourself struggling to find healthy ways to manage your stress, please reach out for help. Call Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 to speak with me, the Substance Abuse Resource Program coordinator, or a psychologist trained to work with law enforcement personnel. Information and services are available to you, your spouse and your family, and they’re free.
If you are sworn, Peace Officer’s Fellowship (POF) is available. You can contact one of the members on this page and they will be more than happy to assist a fellow deputy. If you are non-sworn, feel free to contact me for AA meeting resources.