Aug 10 21

How Stress Creates Alcohol Addiction

Tranelle Maner

Alcohol abuse is a major problem in the United States. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol abuse is responsible for 88,000 deaths annually in the US alone. In addition to this toll, it costs an estimated $223.5 billion per year. While there are many reasons why people fall into alcohol abuse, there’s one major culprit that often gets overlooked: stress.

What Is Stress?

Stress can be defined as physical or emotional discomfort caused by the forces of nature. In most cases, it is the combination of physical discomfort and emotional distress that causes stress.

The brain tends to protect itself from any new stressful situations by flooding it with chemicals, called neurotransmitters, and making it harder for those neurotransmitters to be released, thus decreasing the effects of stress. The neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps make us feel good, is one of these chemicals. When we’re in a good mood, we release dopamine. When we’re depressed, we release less dopamine. But if too much stress is released, dopamine won’t be released as much, which can lead to feelings of depression and lower self-esteem

Stress comes from a variety of sources and is oftentimes a necessary part of life. However, chronic stress can take a toll on a person’s body and their emotional state, which often results in several physical and emotional problems.

Major sources of stress include money worries, unemployment, and relationship problems.

How Does Stress Harm the Body?

Here’s a simple explanation of how stress can harm your body and why it can be such a deadly threat to your health: the human body has a stress response that can be triggered in many different ways. In order to avoid danger, it activates the stress response. During the response, the body’s vital organs are stimulated and the immune system sends out an alarm to signal to the rest of the body that it is under threat. This alarm gets your adrenaline flowing and the heart races, and is accompanied by a rise in the levels of stress hormones. The levels of these hormones are usually controlled by a master hormone called Cortisol. A surge of the hormone, which can last anywhere from minutes to hours, triggers the brain’s dopamine reward system. Stress hormones like cortisol stimulate your cells to respond by increasing your blood sugar and energy levels, producing an immediate reward. But there’s a strong link between cortisol and depression. It also plays a major role in the development of alcoholism.

The Link Between Stress and Substance Addiction

Stressful times aren’t often talked about, but a study conducted by researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette University found that heavy alcohol use correlates with higher levels of stress. The results of this study support the idea that higher levels of stress can lead to an increased likelihood of addiction to substances like alcohol, although this may not be an effective mechanism to explain addiction from other substances such as nicotine or cocaine.


It’s estimated that a third of the general population in the US is suffering from stress on a daily basis and stress is far more damaging than you think.