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Topic: Coping with Urges to Drink Alcohol

Question: What can people do to decrease their alcohol use and help cope with urges to drink during the times of stress?

Melissa J. Henke, M.D.
Psychiatrist Medical Director North Dakota Professional Health Program & Heartview Foundation

Expert's Response

To understand why people may feel the urge to drink more alcohol during times of stress, it is important to recognize that alcohol is a fairly decent “anxiolytic” – meaning it is effective in helping reduce our overall levels of anxiety. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we are all walking around more tense and anxious, so some people have found that drinking alcohol can help them relax. While this is helpful in the short-term, the long-term effects of using alcohol to manage anxiety is more harmful than it is helpful. Therefore, it is best to find other, more healthy ways to cope with anxiety – and we have to get pretty creative with these strategies during significant times of stress.

These are some strategies to help cope with urges to drink alcohol:

  • Stay connected. Maintaining social connections and receiving support from family and friends is incredibly important to individuals struggling with addiction. Set up a weekly phone call with your family, or host video game nights with your friends.
  • Find a meeting. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a peer-led support group, has started hosting more of their meetings online – so there is even better access to a meeting when you need it most, even if you live in a very rural part of the state.
  • Reach out to a professional for help. Many substance use treatment providers can now deliver services through telehealth, meaning that you don’t have to leave your home in order to attend a therapy appointment.