A glass of wine to unwind

A glass of wine to unwind - why alcohol is not a good stress reliever

A common response for many people to a stressful day is to open a bottle of wine, head to the pub for a ‘pint or two’, or to have a couple of beers in front of the TV.

Research carried out in 2015 showed that alcohol advertising has been very effective in convincing us that alcohol is ‘essential to relaxation’

TV programmes such as ‘Sex in the City’ have left still powerful images in my own mind when I think of a young woman getting home from a day of work and needing to unwind, whether with friends or alone.

In fact, when I was beginning my long habit of drinking alone, I often saw myself like Carrie Bradshaw, convincing myself that what I was doing was cool and sophisticated, rather than the problem behaviour that I now see it as.

How alcohol helps us feel less stressed

Lower inhibitions

That alcohol creates that release and relaxed feeling cannot be denied.

Alcohol affects the brain chemistry, and changes the behaviour of neurotransmitters that send information around the brain.

It depresses the parts of our brain that feel inhibited, whether that inhibition is caused by stress, social awkwardness, shyness etc.

This is why conversation seems to flow easier after a couple of drinks, as the normal filters that govern and censor what we say become less active.

Over time, and number of drinks however, this depressive quality of alcohol takes a darker turn.

The lack of inhibition often leads us to behaviours that we might regret, and can lead, ultimately, to depression.

Feel good

Alcohol mimics the behaviour of GABA, a powerful neurotransmitter that makes us feel good.

GABA calms and soothes the nervous system, so in imitating this behaviour, alcohol makes us think that it helps us relax.

However, while alcohol is ‘pretending to be’ GABA, it is also increasing the production of cortisol in the brain.

Among its many roles in the functioning of the body, cortisol is ‘the stress hormone’, produced as part of the stress response of the nervous system


Alcohol creates dopamine, the neurotransmitter that creates pleasure and reward.

When something creates a rush of dopamine in the brain, we want more of it.

This is why many people find that once they start drinking, they find it hard to stop, and why alcohol is so dangerously addictive.

Over time we need more to create that same dopamine rush, and, cruelly, it becomes harder to get that dopamine hit from other sources.

As Brene Brown says in ‘The Gifts of Imperfection

“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”


Many people think that alcohol helps them to sleep.

I convinced myself of this for years.

Having suffered with insomnia since a silly film left me terrified that we were all going to be murdered in our beds as a child, I realised early in my heavy drinking ‘career’ that if I drank enough, I could ‘fall asleep’ without any of the night time rumination that kept me awake when sober.

The irony that I was staying up absurdly late to get this drunk was totally lost on me, and every morning I would wonder why I struggled to even hear my alarm clock (going to bed totally drunk at 2am would have been the obvious answer, but I never saw the connection, or maybe was wilfully ignorant of it)

Alcohol might help you fall asleep quicker, but it does not give good sleep.  After a night of drinking, you are unlikely to wake up feeling energised and refreshed, but are more likely to feel lethargic, sluggish and in need of more sleep.

Alcohol interrupts the sleep cycle so that we get less of the REM that is needed to allow the brain to do the work it needs to do when we sleep.

Lack of sleep also contributes to stress and increases cortisol levels, so by drinking to beat stress  and insomnia, there is a chance that we are actually increasing the chances of being affected by both.

Healthier ways to deal with stress

There are many other ways to deal with stress in a healthier way that isn’t going to have such and adverse effect on mental health and leave us at risk of addiction.

Yoga, good breathing, walking, creative practices, talking to a good friend, exercise, gratitude, meditation and stillness, gardening and more are all powerful ways to shift tension and stress, and create that much needed sense of release and relaxation without causing short term, and potentially long term damage to the body and mind.

Grow with Gratitude

I have created a powerful 10 day course and masterclass that will help you to harness the benefits of gratitude in your life.  Through the masterclass you will learn more about the benefits of gratitude for wellbeing, and some ways to make gratitude a part of your daily life, while the 10 day course takes you on an exploration of what you are grateful for, and starts you in the habit of practicing gratitude daily.  At the end of the 10 days you will be given

This is a potentially life changing course is available for just £47! Find out more by clicking below

oooh yes please button


Esther Nagle on EmailEsther Nagle on FacebookEsther Nagle on InstagramEsther Nagle on LinkedinEsther Nagle on PinterestEsther Nagle on TwitterEsther Nagle on Youtube
Esther Nagle
Teacher, writer, speaker at Balance and Breathe
Esther is a former alcoholic, smoker and all round stressed out mess. She found the path to health, happiness, freedom and joy through Yoga. She is a passionate advocate for the power of Yoga, and time in Nature, in bringing balance to life, and giving you control over your health, happiness and wellbeing.

Esther is a powerful public speaker, writer and author. Her first book, Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction Through Yoga, has gained many 5 star reviews and has helped many people along their recovery journey.

Privacy Preference Center


Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID, wc_cart_hash_#, wc_fragments_#,


Registers a unique ID that is used to generate statistical data on how the visitor uses the web site.

@@History/@@scroll|#, _ga, _gat, _gid, _pinterest_cm
_ga, _gat, _gid


Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

bcookie, bscookie, fr, impression.php/#, lidc, VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE, GPS, YSC, NID, r/collect
fr, impression.php/#, tr


Unclassified cookies are cookies that we are in the process of classifying, together with the providers of individual cookies.

cmp25265370, tk_lr, tk_or, tk_r3d, tk_tc, tve_secret, viewed_cookie_policy

Close your account?

Your account will be closed and all data will be permanently deleted and cannot be recovered. Are you sure?


Subscribe to get 10 Tips for a Happy Recovery


This easy to read ebook provides practical tips to help you beat stress and find peace and happiness in your recovery, along with a short follow up series to help you embed the concepts into your daily life.

You have been added to the list. Please check your email for your ebook, and watch out for follow up emails over the next few weeks