Drink to not think

People who experience trauma can often turn to alcohol and other substances to manage the intense flood of emotions and traumatic reminders. They may also use it to try to numb themselves. Drugs and alcohol may initially dull the effects of trauma and help manage associated distress, but a dangerous cycle may begin.
After a traumatic event, a person may drink to deal with anxiety, depression, and irritability. Some may even drink to not think about the traumatic experience(s). When we experience a traumatic event, the brain releases endorphins that help numb the physical and emotional pain of the event. This is our body naturally helping us cope. Typically, alcohol initially seems to relieve these symptoms and lessen the emotions and pain of having to remember what happened to you. However, when you “drink to not think”, this interrupts the natural protective function the body was already doing. As a result, we create a type of emotional withdrawal that can set us up to deal with increased and prolonged distress that could lead to the development of posttraumatic stress.

Alcohol and Stress

There’s some truth to the idea that alcohol can reduce stress. Alcohol is a sedative and a depressant that affects the central nervous system. At first, drinking can reduce fears and take your mind off of your troubles. It can help you feel less shy, give you a boost in mood, and make you feel generally relaxed. In fact, alcohol’s effects can be similar to those of antianxiety medications and, in some cases, can reduce symptoms of anxiety. It can act on the reward pathways of the brain, fostering and strengthening the belief that you need alcohol to cope with stress. This could explain why some people feel that their stress goes down when they drink and why they may want to drink again. As your brain becomes accustomed to higher concentrations of alcohol, it begins to depend on it more to function.

Occasionally unwinding with alcohol isn’t necessarily dangerous if your doctor approves. But once you start drinking, you can build a tolerance to the de-stressing effects of alcohol. This can make anxiety and stress even more difficult to cope with.

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can also have noticeable physical and mental consequences. Over time, consuming too much alcohol can lead to blackouts, loss of memory, and even brain damage (especially if it causes other health problems, such as liver damage). These issues can create more anxiety as you cope with their symptoms.

The Impact on Relationships

The combination of trauma and drinking can increase challenges related to getting close to people and having conflicts with the people you do have a relationship with. The very thing a person needs is support and connection, yet those are often damaged as a result of drinking consequences and behaviors. People who use substances may have increased difficulty with emotional and behavioral regulation. When chemical use starts, judgment gets significantly impaired. As a result, the person may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors that can lead to additional trauma

Other Ways to Treat Trauma

A good therapist knows drinking is generally not THE problem. It is usually a symptom of another problem. Often, the problem is trauma. In such cases, drinking is not generally about having fun. It is about managing the pain of what you are dealing with.

Effective treatment of trauma does not mean you have to talk about what happened. We don’t want you to reexperience it. That probably happens enough. We focus more on how it is affecting you today. Drinking may have been the “solution” you turned to, but it is likely making things worse. We will not take that coping skill away until we teach you new ones. There are many other, more effective ways to deal with the past than drinking.

Trauma therapists are specialists in dealing with the treatment of individuals who have suffered extreme, shattering experiences. They use many different techniques for dealing with trauma, and come into a patient’s life at various points after a trauma has been experienced.

Tips to stop stress drinking

Even if you’ve been turning to alcohol more than you’d like to cope with stress, there are steps you can take to adopt different habits.

Recognizing any factors that make your stress go up can help you identify your stressors.

If learning about world events causes you feelings of anxiety, turn off the screens. Limit your intake of news to certain times of the day.

Being able to step back for a time could help you reset and prevent you from getting stuck in a stress cycle.

If your stress or anxiety is related to a long-term stressor such as a traumatic event, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for help. They can provide you with tools and strategies for managing your stress.

Moderate exercise — such as stretching, yoga, and walking — can help reduce feelings of stress on your body. Mindfulness techniques such as meditation can also help you focus on the present moment.

Eating a balanced, diet of lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables can also help you feel better overall and relieve stress.

Try to get regular, high quality sleep. While many people use alcohol to help them sleep, this substance can prevent restful sleep, making you feel more sleepy during the day.

Try to find a few activities that offer enjoyment. Engaging in these activities can help reduce stress when you might otherwise choose to consume alcohol. This can be anything from sports and outdoor activities to indoor crafts and artwork.

Consider getting involved with a local faith community or service organization. You can attend services, talks, join clubs, or volunteer. For many people, the chance to break isolation can be a big help in trying to reduce alcohol consumption.

Even with your best efforts, stress can still be overwhelming.


If you’re in a crisis, you have options for immediate help. You can:

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

You can also speak with a friend, family member, counselor, or therapist. There are a number of ways to find help from a mental health professional to better manage stress