We have all heard someone say that they need a drink after a stressful day. Maybe you’ve even done it yourself. It can be tempting to reach for a glass of wine or a pint of beer to help settle your nerves.

The relationship between anxiety and alcohol is complicated. While many believe a drink is an easy option to provide relief, it may actually end up doing more harm than good as drinking alcohol can increase your anxiety levels.

It is not uncommon for alcoholism and anxiety to exist alongside one another, many individuals who are diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder have co-occurring disorders, such as a form of anxiety disorder. It is both a reason to drink and a result of drinking. This post will explore what anxiety and alcohol abuse are and the many different layers of their relationship.

What Is Anxiety Disorder?

We all feel anxious from time to time. It’s a natural emotional response to things we find stressful or overwhelming. It’s common if you are a student and feel anxious about presentations or assignments, or if you have a job interview coming up, but these feelings usually pass once the situation is over. However, if these feelings of anxiety are consistent, overwhelming, or are beginning to affect your day-to-day life, you may have an anxiety disorder.

Many people struggle to control their worries. The feelings of anxiety, unease, and fear are constant and make it difficult to go about daily life. Anxiety is also a symptom of several other mental health conditions, including:

  • Phobias, such as claustrophobic or agoraphobia
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Panic disorders

All of these disorders cause the body to suddenly release a set of hormones, pumping adrenaline through the bloodstream, resulting in us preparing to run away or to react, also known as fight or flight mode’. It makes the heart race, induces shortness of breath, and causes us to feel shaky or sweaty.

It is important to remember that there is a multitude of effective treatment options that can guide you in living a happy and fulfilling lifestyle with an anxiety disorder. Symptoms can be easy to manage and with the right help, you can learn to control your anxiety.

Types and Symptoms of Anxiety

There are a number of different types of anxiety disorders that manifest themselves in different ways, it depends on the individual and their specific circumstances. One key similarity is that they all share symptoms of excessive fear and worry.

Panic Disorder

A panic disorder is recognised by unexpected and recurring panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden and intense episode of dread and fear that is accompanied by symptoms such as:

  • Pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sense of impending doom

People with panic disorder experience panic attacks frequently and are often anxious about when the next one will happen.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Generalised anxiety disorder is the most common panic disorder with it affecting around 5% of the UK population. The main symptoms are excessive and chronic fear and worry about everyday things that make it difficult to function. In order to be diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder, these symptoms are to be present every day for at least six months.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is severe anxiety that is induced by social situations and settings. Many people assume social anxiety symptoms are shyness or being quiet but it can actually cause physical symptoms, such as sickness. Social anxiety can cause you to feel like others will judge your behaviors and feelings and stops you from socially interacting with others.

Alcohol Use and Abuse

Drinking alcohol is often seen as a socially acceptable option to socialise, celebrate, or relax, but when these drinking habits become persistent and alcohol is used as a means of dealing with anxiety or down days, the effects can have negative consequences.

Alcohol abuse is alcohol consumption that is deemed excessive; it is the inability to stop drinking despite it negatively impacting a person’s life. Alcohol abuse means that you drink alcohol outside of societal norms and use the substance as an unhealthy coping mechanism.

Alcohol dependence is the most serious type of high-risk drinking and means that you are heavy drinking at a level that can cause harm to your health. Alcohol dependence means that a person is unable to function as normal without drinking alcohol, at times it can become the most important factor in someone’s life.

Those with alcohol dependence will begin to realise that they need to drink more alcohol to feel the same effects, also known as an increase in tolerance. Despite the negative consequences, they often prioritise drinking over other obligations or activities.

Alcohol dependence also causes an individual to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop drinking or cut down on their alcohol intake. Physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include nausea, sweating, or shaking, and are caused by a drop in blood alcohol levels. This is where the vicious cycle of alcohol abuse begins as a person continues drinking alcohol in an attempt to avoid alcohol withdrawal.

A large portion of people who are living with alcohol dependence also have co-occurring anxiety disorders. Having one or the other can increase the risk of developing the other.

alcoholism and anxiety

Alcoholism and Anxiety

Many people believe that if they drink alcohol they will feel calmer or more relaxed, and they are not entirely wrong. Alcohol is a depressant that works by affecting the central nervous system, and although you may initially feel more relaxed, this is only a temporary feeling, the effects are short-term and can quickly wear off.

The relationship between alcohol and anxiety can go both ways. If you are living with an anxiety disorder then drinking alcohol could increase the severity of your symptoms.

If you drink alcohol regularly, the central nervous system eventually gets used to the suppressing effects of alcohol use. This means that if the alcohol level drops suddenly, the brain will be affected. As alcohol leaves the system the body reacts by entering into ‘fight or flight’ mode, the same symptoms that are present with anxiety disorders.

The long-term effects of alcohol addiction can induce a range of health problems, including mental health disorders. Research has also found that people with an alcohol abuse disorder often find it difficult to recover from a traumatic event, this could be due to the effects that alcohol abuse has on the brain.

Experiencing increased anxiety is a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. If you drink alcohol in abundance and for a long period of time, you will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to cut back or suddenly stop.

Self Medicating With Alcohol

Anxiety disorders can also affect the central nervous system. It can increase heart rate, and blood flow and causes the brain to go into a state of overdrive. In some cases where people are experiencing extreme anxiety, doctors can prescribe benzodiazepines, as they work by suppressing the central nervous system. These calming effects are very similar to what people experience after drinking alcohol.

It is common for people to attempt to self-medicate and manage anxiety symptoms through drinking alcohol. However, this is an unhealthy coping mechanism that only makes the symptoms of an anxiety disorder worse.

When you have an anxiety disorder, having one drink to relieve stress can quickly turn to two and then three; it’s a quick relief and easy option in an attempt to silence the mind and settle the nerves. However, this form of self-medication increases the risk of developing alcohol dependence and therefore addiction.

The Relationship Between Panic Attacks and Alcohol

If you experience sudden and extreme anxiety or fear, it may be the symptom of a panic attack. Other symptoms of panic attacks include an increased heart rate, and feeling lightheaded, faint, or dizzy.

So, can alcohol cause panic attacks? The answer is yes. Alcohol affects a chemical in the brain called GABA. GABA typically has a calming effect on the brain and small amounts of alcohol can increase it to induce further feelings of relaxation. However, heavy drinking can reduce GABA which causes increased tension, feelings of panic, and in some cases, panic attacks.

Alcohol Induced Anxiety – ‘Hangxiety’

Alcohol-induced anxiety. often referred to as ‘hangxiety‘, is recongised as the uneasy and uncomfortable feeling after drinking a large amount of alcohol, typically experienced after binge drinking. This is experienced because alcohol increases dopamine, which is known as the hormone which makes us feel good. It then sends a sudden rush of euphoria throughout the body and brain and relieves symptoms of anxiety disorders. However, once this alcohol leaves the body and the levels of dopamine are depleted, individuals will experience a sudden rush of anxiety.

If you are living with a social anxiety disorder, then you may feel anxiety the day after drinking thinking about things that you said or did when under the influence of alcohol. It may cause you to feel more agitated and stressed than normal.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder and Anxiety Disorders

If you are living with an addiction to alcohol and anxiety, things may seem overwhelming and it can seem difficult to reach out for help. However, with the right support and treatment plan, you can learn to effectively manage your anxiety disorder and alcohol consumption.

When a person has been diagnosed with more than one mental health disorder, it is referred to as a co-occurring disorder, for example living with an anxiety disorder and an alcohol use disorder. Each condition has the power to influence the other, so, if one is left untreated, it could increase the length of recovery.

An integrated approach to treatment is the most effective to ensure both conditions are being treated equally. An integrated approach includes an individualised treatment plan that focuses on both disorders throughout sessions.

The first step in substance use disorder treatment is detox. Alcohol detox is when alcohol use is stopped so the body can clear itself of any remaining toxins that were present because of drinking. During a detox, it is not uncommon for individuals to experience a set of withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety. If you are living with an anxiety disorder these feelings can be overwhelming. With treatment, you can learn to manage anxiety symptoms in a safe and comfortable environment to ensure the process is as smooth sailing as possible.

Anxiety disorders are treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. The most effective and commonly used form of psychotherapy for treating anxiety is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This focuses on teaching skills to help manage symptoms which you can then use in everyday life.

There are a number of options for treatment programs that are offered on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Inpatient treatment involves living in a treatment facility where 24-hour care is offered alongside therapy, to support you on your recovery journey. Outpatient treatment is when an individual lives in the comfort of their own home whilst attending scheduled appointments and regular check-ins to ensure treatment is successful.

Treatment at Addcounsel

At Addcoundsel, we offer private luxury rehab services which are delivered in a series of luxury properties, with online and homecare options available. We treat a range of mental health disorders provided by a team of highly skilled specialists who deliver treatment with care and compassion.

We are the leading provider of the ‘one client at a time’ approach for those experiencing mental health disorders and addiction. Treatment is individualised for each client to ensure an unrivaled level of care and successful recovery.

Our team boosts an abundance of expertise and knowledge in all aspects of your recovery journey. Dedicated therapists, psychiatrists, addiction specialists, and nutritionists create a comprehensive plan and process that is designed specifically just for you. Our experts offer extensive options for treatment services to help you recover, these include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Adult sibling therapy
  • Conflict resolution and mediation
  • Family systems therapy
  • Interpersonal development
  • Pyschodynamic therapy

If you believe you or a loved one is living with an anxiety disorder and or alcohol use disorder, contact us today to see how we can help you.

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