Alcohol-Free January
Stopping Drinking

How to cope with work-related stress without turning to alcohol

John Risby
by John Risby
Published: January 09, 2023 Last updated: November 30, 2023
A man looking stressed at work
Work-related stress can be a major trigger for many trying to maintain their sobriety or keep drinking to a minimum.
It can be tempting to turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism at the end of a tough day as it's easy to stop by a bar for a couple of beers or crack open a bottle once we've closed the front door behind us.
It’s important to remember that resorting to a tipple too often can lead to the long term negative effects that alcohol can have on both physical and mental health, and is a slippery slope to developing an addiction.
So, how can you cope with work-related stress without turning to alcohol?

The Danger Of Using Alcohol To Combat Stress

Using alcohol to cope with stress can have serious negative consequences on both physical and mental health. Some of the risks associated with using alcohol as a coping mechanism include:
  • Physical health risks: Heavy alcohol use can lead to a range of physical health problems, including liver disease, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of certain types of cancer. Additionally, alcohol can impair judgment and coordination, which can lead to accidents and injuries.
  • Mental health risks: Alcohol is a depressant, and it can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression. It can also interfere with the brain’s ability to regulate emotions and behaviours, which can lead to mood swings and other mental health problems.
  • Addiction: One of the most serious risks associated with using alcohol to cope with stress is the risk of developing an addiction. When alcohol is used to numb negative emotions or escape from stress, it can lead to a cycle of dependence that is difficult to break. Those who struggle with addiction may experience negative consequences in their personal and professional lives, including financial problems, relationship issues, and legal problems.
In addition to these risks, using alcohol as a coping mechanism can also make it more difficult to effectively manage stress in the long term. Instead of addressing the root causes of stress and finding healthy ways to cope, alcohol use can provide temporary relief but ultimately make stress worse in the long run.
It’s essential to be aware of the dangers of using alcohol to cope with stress and to seek out healthier alternatives. While it may be tempting to turn to alcohol in times of stress, the risks and consequences associated with this coping mechanism make it an unhealthy and potentially dangerous choice.

Cutting Down Work-Related Stress

Finding healthy ways to manage time and prioritise tasks can be an effective way to cope with stress. This may involve creating a to-do list, setting deadlines for tasks, and breaking large projects into smaller, more manageable chunks. It can also be helpful to eliminate or delegate tasks that are not essential or that can be done by someone else.
Setting achievable goals is another way to manage stress. Rather than trying to take on too much at once, it can be helpful to set small, achievable goals that will help you make progress without feeling overwhelmed. This could involve setting a goal to complete one project per week, or setting a goal to exercise for a certain amount of time each day.
Taking time for hobbies and activities that bring joy and relaxation is another important way to cope with stress. This could be anything from reading a book to playing a musical instrument to going for a hike. Engaging in activities that you enjoy can help to reduce stress and improve your overall well-being.

Swap The Suit For Shorts

Another effective way to relieve stress is through exercise and physical activity.
Exercise can release both endorphins and dopamine.
Endorphins are chemicals produced by the body that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators. They are released in response to physical activity and are thought to contribute to the “runner’s high” that some people experience after a workout. Endorphins can help to reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is involved in pleasure and reward. It is also released during exercise and has been linked to feelings of happiness and well-being. Some research suggests that regular exercise can help to increase dopamine levels in the brain and improve mood.
While both endorphins and dopamine play a role in the mood-boosting effects of exercise, the specific mechanisms through which they contribute to these effects are not fully understood. However, it is clear that exercise can have positive effects on both physical and mental health, and that these effects may be related, in part, to the release of endorphins and dopamine.
Not only does exercise improve your mood, it also helps to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality. Taking a walk outside or hitting the gym can be great ways to blow off steam after a particularly stressful day at work.


Relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing can also be effective in managing stress. These practices can help to calm the mind and bring a sense of clarity and focus. There are many free apps and resources available that can help you get started with meditation and other relaxation techniques.
Seeking support from friends, family, or a therapist can also be helpful in managing work-related stress. Talking about your challenges and concerns with someone you trust can provide a sense of perspective and help you feel less alone. A therapist or counsellor can also provide specialised support and guidance in navigating stress and other challenges related to sobriety.

Find What Works For You

It’s important to find the stress-management techniques that work best for you and to incorporate them into your daily routine. This may involve trying out different techniques and finding a combination that works for you. Remember to also be kind to yourself and recognise that it’s okay to take breaks and rest when you need it. Overall, finding healthy ways to cope with stress is an important part of maintaining your sobriety and well-being.

How To Cope With Alcohol-Based Work Functions

If you are required to attend after-work activities with colleagues that typically involve alcohol, consider suggesting alternative activities that don’t involve drinking. In many countries, it may be discriminatory or even illegal to make such events alcohol-based, although this does not stop many organisations from doing so. To protect yourself and your sobriety, it may be necessary to speak up and suggest alternative activities or to politely decline to attend events that do not align with your values and goals.

Consider speaking up

Depending on your level of concern, you may find it helpful to communicate with your boss or HR about your needs and seek their support in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. But do bear in mind not all companies take such openness the right way. As always, there’s “what should happen” and “what does happen” and only you will know how your company may react. The law is very likely on your side but that can be little comfort if you find yourself pushed out for being open about any potential issues.

Find Your Sober Community

Finally, seeking out a supportive sober community can be a great source of encouragement and accountability. There are many online and in-person resources available for those in recovery, such as sober meet-ups and support groups. Try our Alcohol-Free Community on Facebook.


It’s important to prioritise your sobriety and find healthy ways to cope with work-related stress. This may involve a combination of exercise, seeking support, practicing relaxation techniques, setting boundaries, and finding alternative social activities.
Consider talking to your boss or HR and try to prevent or avoid after-work alcohol-based activities.
Seek out a supportive sober community for additional support.
John Risby

About The Author

John Risby
Co-Founder of The Alcohol-Free Shop and John is a recovering alcoholic who stopped drinking in June 2004. Born and raised in Manchester, he now lives in Malaga with his wife and young daughter. He came to terms with being an alcoholic many years ago, but still finds the concept his daughter is Spanish very strange.