One of the most prevalent reasons people organize post-work happy hours or pour themselves a glass of wine with dinner is to help them unwind. In small quantities, alcohol can provide a short-term sense of stress relief because it is a depressant that alters the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. However, chronic alcohol abuse leads to higher-than-average levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can be dangerous to your health. If you have developed a problematic relationship with alcohol, what harm could you be doing to your brain?
What Is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone associated primarily with your body’s fight-or-flight response. However, it also carries out other essential responsibilities, such as helping regulate your blood pressure and your sleep/wake cycle.
Your body releases cortisol in response to stressful situations where you might need to react quickly. Under normal circumstances, when the stress trigger is no longer present, your body should return to its baseline levels within 20 to 60 minutes.
Alcohol and Cortisol – Understanding the Link
Alcohol consumption also causes the release of cortisol. People with an alcohol dependency have chronically elevated cortisol, which leads to a condition known as neurotoxicity. Symptoms of this condition include impaired memory, decision-making skills, attention and learning.
If you have a drinking problem, you may assume quitting alcohol altogether will help your body and brain recover from neurotoxicity and other health problems associated with chronic drinking. However, trying to transition from heavy alcohol use to abstinence can also cause a dramatic spike in cortisol levels, among other withdrawal symptoms.
Though it is highly risky to attempt to stop using any drug cold turkey once you’ve developed a dependence on it, alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances to quit using without medical supervision. That’s largely due to a severe, possibly life-threatening condition known as delirium tremens.
How to Quit Drinking Safely
For people with a drinking problem, the benefits of getting sober far outweigh the potential negative consequences of withdrawal. However, because of the array of unpleasant health complications that can occur during withdrawal, it’s essential to seek appropriate care in an environment where medical professionals can monitor your symptoms and keep you comfortable. Medically managed detox is the first phase of recovery for those who enter substance abuse treatment because it sets the stage for better mental and physical well-being by freeing you from the effects of dangerous chemicals.
Alcoholics who give up drinking without professional help are often more prone to a relapse – and one reason is the connection between alcohol and cortisol. Undergoing detox, immediately followed by primary treatment, will help you break free of your unhealthy relationship with alcohol and address the root causes of your addiction.
Ending an Addiction on Your Terms
At Vista Taos Renewal Center, we help adult men and women struggling with an addiction to alcohol and other substances. Take our addiction self-test to determine if you need help, and contact us when you’re ready to learn more.