Sarah Rusbatch – AMA (WA) Medicus Magazine“Grey Area” Drinking Coach
Social drinking and stress drinking – how to tell the difference.
Alcohol is everywhere, especially during the festive
season. But how much drinking is social drinking,
and how much is stress drinking?
Stress drinking is when you drink to take the edge off,
to unwind, or to numb out at the end of a stressful day.
Sometimes we justify drinking every day – because we feel
At this time of year, it’s easy to blur the lines of stress drinking
and social drinking, because the festive season can feel
stressful. It’s also the time of year that society deems it
acceptable to be out drinking most nights, and most social
events include alcohol.
So how do you tell the difference between stress drinking and
Social drinking is largely safe and unproblematic. Having a
couple of glasses of alcohol in a social environment (and
leaving it at that) is considered social drinking.
Stress drinking is drinking to relax, escape, or numb yourself.
It’s used as ‘self-care’ to self-medicate or alleviate anxiety and
overwhelm, or to temporarily soothe an overworked nervous
The issue with stress drinking is that alcohol actually causes
the brain to release the stress hormone cortisol, leaving us
feeling more stressed and anxious than before we had a drink.
Also, as we build tolerance to alcohol, we need more and
more to reach the same effect. What starts as ‘just one’ can quickly
become half a bottle, then the whole bottle, and with this increased
consumption comes many other detrimental side effects – including
poor sleep, low energy, brain fog, anxiety, weight gain, and more.
Stress drinking danger zones.
You arrange catch-ups just so you can drink.
You don’t just have two drinks – you keep going to help
You’re resentful when alcohol isn’t served at a social event.
You rely on alcohol to help turn your busy mind off, or to
get to sleep.
Your tolerance is increasing, and you need to drink more
for the same level of switch-off.
You’re stuck in a cycle of feeling stressed and
overwhelmed, drinking to feel better, then feeling worse.
You drink on nights you told yourself you wouldn’t –
because you feel anxious or exhausted.
Grey area drinking includes stress drinking, and it’s far more
common than people think.
I believe the term alcoholic is outdated and surrounded by stigma.
The truth is, so many drinkers fall into the ‘grey area drinking
category’ – which means they’re not at rock bottom, but their
relationship with alcohol is problematic.
It’s often at the end of the festive season when excessive stress
drinking leads people to try to abstain from drinking for a period.
Our new year pledges of better health are largely alcohol related.
At this time of year, it’s easy to blur the lines between
stress drinking and social drinking, because the festive season can feel
stressful. It’s also the time of year that society deems it acceptable to
be out drinking most nights, and most social events include alcohol.