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Health & Wellness Services Division of Student Affairs

Alcohol and coping with stress

We’re well into the semester and many of us have stressful deadlines and looming final projects. If you feel your stress rising with the workload, you’re not alone.

A lot of Cougs feel stressed by their academic load. In 2016, 83 percent of Cougs reported feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do.

When life gets stressful, it can be tempting to cope by drinking. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can lower anxiety and make you feel relaxed. While this may calm your nerves for a while, the effects are short-lived.

While drinking may make you feel better in the moment, regular drinking and binge drinking can increase stress and anxiety. And long-term, heavy drinking can alter the brain’s chemistry, making you more susceptible to stress.   

While occasionally drinking to relax or socialize with friends can be healthy and normal, regularly drinking to cope with stress can become a dangerous habit. How do you know when your drinking is problematic? Ask yourself:

  • Is drinking the only way you cope with stress?
  • Do you have to drink more to get the same benefits?
  • Do you feel anxious if you are unable to drink?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may want to speak with a health care provider or counselor about your drinking habits.

Drinking doesn’t address the underlying causes of stress. Instead, focus on ways you can reduce your overall stress levels, or increase your resiliency to stress and support your mental health.

Consider trying activities that help you deal with stress successfully, like:

You can learn more about alcohol, stress management, mindfulness and other topics by attending our free workshops listed on CougSync.

Alcohol and your diet

When we think about how alcohol affects our body, we immediately think of a nasty hangover.  However, alcohol can impact our nutrition as well.

Alcohol offers little to no nutritional value. In fact, most ingredients in alcoholic beverages are non-essential, meaning our bodies don’t need them to function.

Your body treats alcohol like a toxin. This means your body will try to remove the alcohol from your system before it does anything else. As a result, non-essential nutrients in alcohol start to replace essential nutrients from your food. When this happens, your body loses out on important proteins, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. In extreme cases, drinking too much or too often can lead to malnutrition.

This can also impact your metabolism and your body’s ability to burn fat, which can lead to weight gain.  Drinking on an empty stomach to compensate for the calories in alcohol can intensify its effects.

These nutrition deficiencies can also impact your mental and emotional wellbeing. Excessive alcohol use can greatly lower the B vitamins in your body, which play an important role in preventing anxiety, depression and fatigue.

So what can you do? Try drinking in moderation to limit the number of empty calories and non-essential nutrients you consume.

Tailgating too hard?

Tailgating too hard?

School has started, the temperature is cooling off and Cougar football is underway.  When it comes to football season, tailgating seems to be as popular as the game itself. You get to socialize, probably eat some delicious grilled food and enjoy some alcohol.

Football season lasts for several weeks throughout the fall semester. And for some, this means drinking alcohol fairly regularly.

If you do choose to tailgate before the game, the goal should be to have fun and to socialize with friends, family and fellow Cougs, and not to drink as much as you can.  Of course you’ve probably heard the phrase “drink in moderation.” But, it’s not totally clear what this means, or what it looks like.

We know drinking moderately is beneficial because it can help prevent alcohol poisoning, consuming too many empty calories and some of the less-than-pleasant side effects of drinking too much.

To learn what moderate drinking is for you, try some of these tips:

  • Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Also, drinking water throughout the day will help you stay hydrated.
  • Sip your beverage rather than gulping it down.
  • Eat food before and while you are drinking to help absorb the alcohol in your stomach.
  • Encourage your friends to stop when they’ve had enough.

Be on the lookout for people showing the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning. Getting drunk before the game can ruin not only the game, but also the rest of your day.

Know the signs of toxic drinking

know the signs of toxic drinking

Do you know how to tell the difference between a little too much to drink and a dangerous situation?

Many students at WSU choose not to drink. In a 2016 survey, more than 18 percent of WSU students said they’ve never used alcohol and another 14 percent said they haven’t used alcohol in the past 30 days.

However, even if you don’t drink or use alcohol in moderation, knowing when to get help for a friend can be critical. In the same survey, more than 85 percent of students said most of the time or every time they party, they stick with the same group of friends all night. Learning the signs of toxic drinking will help you know when it’s time to get help for a friend or acquaintance.

Watch out for these signs of toxic drinking. Seek medical attention for a person who:

  • Is passed out or semi-conscious and cannot be awakened;
  • Vomits while sleeping or passed out and does not wake up;
  • Has cold, clammy, pale or blueish skin; or
  • Is breathing slowly or irregularly.

If you suspect an alcohol overdose, call 911 right away. Be sure to call at the first sign of alcohol poisoning. Waiting for them to show more signs is extremely dangerous. It’s also incredibly risky to assume they’ll be fine if they just sleep it off.

If you’re worried about getting in trouble, keep in mind that WSU’s Office of Student Conduct follows a Good Samaritan Guideline that will protect you and your friend from university discipline for alcohol or drug use if you call for assistance. This guideline mirrors similar Washington state laws followed by law enforcement.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how to help someone with an alcohol overdose, we offer CPR & Alcohol Safety workshops. Sign up to get your CPR certification, learn how to recognize alcohol-related medical emergencies and gain the skills and confidence to respond.