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Drinking Alcohol Can Make Your Anxiety Worse

Alcoholism and Anxiety

woman with anxiety

Anxiety and alcohol do not mix well

People most often associate depression with heavy drinking, in fact depression is probably one of the most well known emotional issues that people are familiar with.  Drinking does become a depressant on the body and mind.  And it’s common for someone to grab a beer, cocktail or glass of wine to  “settle their nerves“.  This is especially true for someone who is in an uncomfortable social setting.  The idea is the alcohol will relax them and reduce or eliminate their anxiety.  Heavy or alcoholic drinking can compound these problems over time.

If You Suffer From Anxiety Heavy Drinking Is No Cure

We have all heard the phrase “self-medicating” but for someone with an anxiety disorder, no matter how mild or pronounced, alcohol is not a form of treatment.  Alcohol abuse is particularly prevalent in people with social anxiety disorder, those who often find social interactions painfully challenging and difficult to navigate. A research study from the National Institute of Health found that up to 20 percent of people who have social anxiety disorder also meet the criteria for alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder. The study also indicated that experiences of severe anxiety are rarely reduced by drinking alcohol:

“[Alcoholics with anxiety disorders] may have started drinking as a coping mechanism because of their positive expectancies, but they may continue to use alcohol because they associate alcohol consumption with symptom relief. Unfortunately, few experimental studies have investigated expectancies about alcohol’s ability to reduce social fears.”

Alcohol’s depressant nature can make one temporarily feel more relaxed, however, increased use of alcohol as a crutch poses an obvious problem and risk.  After all alcohol is an addictive drug and can cause an array of emotional, social and physical problems.

Alcohol May Actually Cause Anxiety Disorders

female with anxiety

Feelings of anxiousness can complicate sobriety

It’s not uncommon for someone to experience anxious feelings after a night of drinking, especially if they are already inclined to feeling anxious or experience panic attacks. The anxiety can be triggered as their body works to remove alcohol from their system. And some antidepressants and other prescription drugs can interact with alcohol to increase anxious feelings. It can resemble an anxiety-fueled hangover.

In 2012, researchers at the University of North Carolina discovered that heavy drinkers seem to “rewire” their brains in ways that make them morevulnerable to anxiety issues. They experimented with mice, putting them through experiences that had the potential to be slightly traumatic, while also plying them with small quantities of alcohol (but enough, in a mouse’s small body, to replicate heavy drinking). The mice who were not fed alcohol weren’t bothered by these experiences; but the ones who were “heavy drinkers” were disturbed about them, even if there was nothing traumatic happening at the time. Researchers discovered that the brains of the alcohol-affected mice were reshaped and a key nerve cell wasn’t working properly, creating huge potential for anxiety. In other words, if an alcoholic suddenly starts to develop anxiety disorders, this is likely why.

Anxiety Can Interfere With Sobriety

A study conducted in 2001 of people who had been through formal alcoholism treatment discovered that  2001 study of how people were doing after alcoholism treatment found that 60 percent of those who didn’t have other mental health issues in addition to their alcohol addiction remained sober. However, only 27 percent or so of those who struggled with depression or anxiety were able to maintain their sobriety and only 12 percent of those who struggled with anxiety and depression were able to remain sober.

In a 2005 research paper scientists found that people with anxiety disorders who gone through alcoholism treatment were “significantly more likely” to relapse than people who didn’t have other mental health issues. “Baseline social phobia,” the scientists wrote, “was the single best predictor of a return to any drinking after treatment, whereas panic disorder was the single best predictor of a relapse to alcohol dependence after treatment.”

These are just a couple examples of research that has shown the link between remaining sober for those with anxiety issues and drinking problems.

Getting Help

The take away from this is the importance of identifying and treating both the alcoholism (aka alcohol use disorder) and the anxiety issues in someone who is afflicted with both.  Careful consideration should be given to things like “social” and other phobias, that it’s not enough to simply treat the alcohol abuse problem, the psychological issues need to be a focus as well.

Read our special report “Alcohol And Alcoholism And The Affect On The Brain” and our Alcoholic Hotline is here 24/7 for those in need of guidance.  1-888-702-6908