Drinking To Cope With Financial Stress? Here’s How To Stop

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If you’ve noticed an increase in your drinking recently, you are far from alone. Still reeling from the fallout of the pandemic, Americans are now hit with the stress of high inflation and a turbulent economy. More specifically, many people are still getting back on their feet after months of unemployment, only to be hit with all-time high grocery bills and gas costs.

Stress is a common drinking trigger. But when it comes to finances, the issue of alcohol can be complicated. Money problems can motivate some people to drink more, but for others it can do the opposite. Here, we’ll look at this contradiction, as well as how to avoid a potentially harmful cycle. 

Are People Drinking More To Deal With Stressful Times?

man scowling over financial books at desk with lamp
Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava on Pexels

It’s common knowledge that drinking and stress often go hand in hand. Data shows that the stressors of COVID-19 ushered in an increase in drinking, particularly among women. Many sought refuge in alcohol to deal with stress related to unemployment, homeschooling, isolation, and uncertainty.1 

So now, with some pandemic-related stressors fading and inflation rearing its ugly head, is money the primary culprit for stress in 2022?

Harvard experts state, “though the pandemic appears to be slowly releasing its grip on our daily activities, there’s little sign that its effects on our mental health—and related alcohol consumption—are receding.”2 Could the financial fallout of the pandemic be driving more people to drink? 

Alcohol and Financial Distress: Why It Isn’t The Same For Everyone

It turns out that how much people drink when financially stressed varies quite a bit. It comes down to an individual’s normal drinking habits, personal history, psychology, and overall circumstances. 

One study from 2013 illustrates the point nicely. While researchers found a link between an economic downturn and increased drinking, they also laid out several conflicting factors that could push an individual in either direction.3

A person who is working less might drink more because:

  • They have more free time
  • They feel stressed or anxious about their future

But they might drink less because:

  • They are trying to save money
  • They are attending fewer work-related social events

There has also been some myth-busting about whether the poor really drink more than the rich. Research shows that people with higher socioeconomic status may actually consume similar or greater amounts of alcohol compared to lower income people.4 Some of the highest-drinking professions are actually upper-income. 

So, what it really comes down to is the impact of heavy stress-related drinking. A study on drinking and mental health among college students found a vicious cycle between debt, anxiety, and alcohol dependence.5 For people with less money, stress-related drinking is more likely to have serious consequences, reinforcing the problem.

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Why Some People Drink More When Facing Money Problems

When dealing with financial worries, as with any stressful situation, it’s common to look for a way to ease the pressure. Whether that’s worry over finding a job, or the fear of not making the rent, we all experience stress that feels hard to manage at times. Alcohol can seem like a good way to take the edge off and forget about those worries for a while. And, unfortunately, society seems to condone drinking as an acceptable coping mechanism. 

But the reality is that alcohol’s “positive effects” on stress actually make it harder for your body to rebalance after a stressful event. Alcohol can also make you more susceptible to stress in the long term, while stress hormones can likewise make you more vulnerable to alcohol dependence.

Research also shows that people with a history of alcohol addiction are more likely to drink to cope with stressful events in the future.6 In fact, a common cause of relapse is drinking to deal with the stress of alcohol withdrawal itself. In other words, alcohol and stress have a chicken and egg relationship on multiple levels, which is best avoided.

Why Excessive Drinking is Linked to Greater Financial Problems

woman drinking from a tequila bottle while managing bills
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels

Financial struggles are all too prevalent at the moment. Perhaps you are drinking too much lately because you are worried about earning too little, spending too much, or actually being unemployed with no job prospects on the horizon.  

Studies suggest that the unemployed may be “at risk” for abusing alcohol. Unemployment rates in alcohol treatment programs are extremely high: “Specifically, the unemployed are said to abuse alcohol as a means of coping with financial stress triggered by job loss.”7

But, while being unemployed might influence people to drink more, it might also contribute to unemployment, making it harder to hold down a job, or find a new one.

So, is there a risk of being stuck in a vicious cycle? It stands to reason that excessive drinking can make stressful events more likely to happen. Trouble with family, work, or the law can all be major stress triggers, and can all also be caused by alcohol abuse. Not to mention the hidden health cost of money stress, and the amount of money people spend on alcohol.

In short, alcohol use disorder is an illness that can be triggered by money stress, but there are many ways it can also affect your earnings, spending, and financial well-being. Once you’re caught in that cycle, it can be hard to get free of it. 

How To Know If You’re Starting To Drink Too Much

So, how can you tell when things are getting out of hand with your drinking? There are red flags that signal you have gone beyond moderate drinking. It is important to recognize both how much you drink and how drinking impacts your life.

Check if you are experiencing: 

  • Relationship issues due to drinking (arguments, avoiding family and friends)
  • Financial or job-related issues caused by drinking (spending too much money, missing work)
  • Alcohol-related physical or mental health issues (frequent hangovers, feeling depressed or irritable)
  • Continuing to drink despite these issues

If you’re struggling with any of these, it’s time to take a good look at your drinking habits. Try taking our alcohol use assessment to find out where you stand.

The Takeaway: Alcohol and Financial Stress

Ultimately, what matters most is how drinking and financial problems affect you personally. If you are a social drinker who can easily cut down or avoid spending money on alcohol, then there may be no issue here. However, if you notice that you’re drinking more than you’d like to be, regardless of your financial status, it may be time to seek help.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol during a time of increased financial stress, Ria Health may be an excellent option for you. We offer a flexible program that is accessible from your smartphone, anytime and anywhere. You don’t even need to be an “alcoholic” to join: We can help you catch problem drinking early, and establish healthier habits.

Get in touch with a member of our team today, or learn more about how it works.

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Written By:
Lisa Keeley
Lisa Keeley is a freelance writer who resides in upstate New York. She especially enjoys writing about health, wellness and living your best life.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
NYC-based content strategist with over 3 years editing and writing in the recovery space. Strong believer in accessible, empathic, and fact-based communication.
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