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The Connection Between Alcohol And Anxiety

Alcohol is often sought out for its perceived ability to calm and soothe one’s anxiety or stress. However, in reality alcohol can worsen anxiety. A study concluded 20% of people with social anxiety had an alcohol use disorder. Continued exposure to alcohol can also produce a tolerance or dependence which produces withdrawal symptoms. Individuals who engage in long-term drinking can risk detrimental health risks that can at worst be fatal. If individuals currently take anti-anxiety medications, combining it with alcohol can worsen side effects of the medication.

Presently, 40 million American adults battle anxiety. Out of the 40 million American adults who suffer, only 37% get treated for generalized anxiety disorders. Anxiety also impacts roughly 25% of children, and if it goes untreated, can follow them into adulthood. Some of these types of anxiety can include:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder related anxiety

  • Panic disorders

  • High levels of stress

  • Anxiety from depression

  • Social anxiety disorder

Depending on the type of anxiety one faces, he or she can experience recurring symptoms of stress, sweating, depression, and problems sleeping, eating, or concentrating. Individuals battling anxiety can feel tempted to consume alcohol as a coping mechanism. Over time, however, continued drinking can worsen symptoms of anxiety. Additionally, individuals struggling with anxiety can also experience depression if he or she uses alcohol to cope.

How Alcohol Impacts Anxiety

Individuals typically anticipate relaxation when consuming alcohol to soothe anxiety. In addition to such sensations, individuals can feel a stronger sense of self-confidence, courage, and lowered inhibitions. However, individuals can also feel dizzy or lightheaded, act impulsively or recklessly, and experience forgetfulness. If someone drinks heavily or develops a tolerance to alcohol, he or she can experience withdrawal symptoms that include depression and anxiety. A weekend of binge drinking can bring about feelings of anxiety in addition to feelings of nausea and irritability.

The effects of alcoholism and anxiety can be complex. Long-term drinking changes the GABA chemistry in the brain, which is responsible for assisting in relaxation. As a result of these changes, individuals are unable to fully relax and can enter into anxiety-inducing states. This can lead to a vicious cycle of drinking to reduce anxiety but risking getting anxiety from not drinking. Lastly, the feelings of being hungover and not being able to regularly function can be distressing.

Signs Of An Alcohol Use Disorder

Finding healthy ways to cope with anxiety such as exercise, mediation, talking to loved ones or a therapist, journaling, or having hobbies can be constructive ways to reduce dependences on a substance. However, struggling with alcohol abuse and anxiety often signal deeper challenges needing professional assistance. Signs of an alcohol use disorder include:

  • An inability to stop drinking.

  • Needing more alcohol to feel a buzz.

  • Spending time away from family and friends to drink.

  • Increasing alcohol-related activities or spending.

  • Combining drugs with alcohol for an intense effect.

  • Poor school or job performance due to drinking.

  • Strained relationships due to alcohol use.

  • Drinking while pregnant.

  • Drinking to alleviate feelings of depression or anxiety.

  • Withdrawal symptoms of alcohol.

  • Blacking out due to alcoholism.

  • Craving alcohol.

Although this list is not exhaustive, they reveal underlying challenges with alcoholism that can cause long-term health risks. Medically-assisted detox can provide medications to curb symptoms of withdrawal, along with counseling to uncover the root of the problem.

How Alcoholism Treatment Helps

Treatment allows individuals to focus on sobriety in a space that offers medication, education, and counseling. Choosing to go cold turkey from alcohol abuse can present challenges that can be difficult to endure on one’s own. Inpatient treatment provides 24-hour hands-on monitoring with scheduled activities, group and one-on-one counseling. Some facilities offer meditation and yoga to bring peace while individuals heal from symptoms of addiction, anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of drug withdrawal.

Drugs like Librium are commonly prescribed to alleviate alcohol cravings; Benzodiazepines also help reduce withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol use disorders; antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are available for support. Group therapy provides camaraderie and support while individuals discuss the impact of alcoholism on their relationships and other subjects. One-on-one therapy allows someone to fully connect with a mental health professional to explore reasons for alcohol dependence. Treatment provides various tools for recovery in a structured environment where people can recover without feeling isolated.

Get Help

Finding support for alcohol and anxiety disorders can be straightforward. A key step is discovering what options are available for treatment after realizing you or your loved one needs help. If you or a loved one suffers from an AUD, contact a treatment provider today.

  • Author: Krystina Murray | Last Updated: October 4, 2021

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    Krystina Murray

    Digital Content Writer

    Krystina Murray has received a B.A. in English at Georgia State University. She has over 7 years of professional writing and editing experience, and over 17 years of overall writing experience. She enjoys traveling, fitness, crafting, cooking, and spreading awareness of addiction recovery to help people transform their lives.

  • Medical Reviewer: David Hampton

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