It is common for people to use alcohol to ease their anxiety. The connection between alcohol use disorder and anxiety can be a self-maintaining and harmful cycle. Studies have also shown how anxiety intensifies habitual drinking and vice versa. We all experience different types of emotions, which are natural and normal. However, intense emotions can bring about a lot of worry and fear that can manifest into complicated anxiety disorders. Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental disorders affecting millions of people in the US. Even though it is a serious medical condition, most people suffering from it do not get the treatment they need. This forces most of them to turn to harmful self-medicating alternatives, such as alcohol, the most commonly used. Anxiety comes from different areas. Understanding what it is and how it works can help you look into various treatment options.
The term “anxiety disorder” is used to describe certain psychiatric disorders involving extreme fear and worry. These disorders include Social Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia, Panic Attacks, Panic Disorder, and General Anxiety Disorder or GAD. Other conditions also closely linked to anxiety are Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Using Alcohol for Anxiety
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and anxiety disorders usually occur concurrently. People who experience situational anxiety typically use alcohol to help them take the edge off, referred to as the “tension reduction hypothesis.” This theory implies that you can use alcohol to self-medicate and protect your brain from experiencing anxiety symptoms.
At first, taking alcohol can help an individual relax while also making it more comfortable and easier to handle social situations. It can also make some problems appear less intimidating. When one first takes alcohol, they will experience:
- An increase in their self-confidence
- Lowered inhibitions
- Decreased anxiety levels
- An improvement in their mood
However, these positive feelings are usually temporary and are associated with some risks, bringing about more anxiety-linked fears. For starters, alcohol can severely weaken your reasoning and logic, causing most people to engage in dangerous situations. It also increases the chances of things going wrong, stimulating your flight or fight response and replaying your anxiety repeatedly. Someone suffering from an anxiety disorder has a higher chance of developing an alcohol use disorder. Research also shows that alcohol use disorder is more widespread among people suffering from anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia.
You might be drinking to calm your nerves, but the alcohol has the opposite effect. Anxiety-linked fears and emotions are elevated with increased chronic alcohol consumption. Alcohol use disorder can even set off an anxiety disorder.
The Connection Between Alcohol and Anxiety
As a depressant, alcohol reduces serotonin (happiness hormone) levels. Alcohol’s sedative properties can temporarily help you feel more relaxed. Decreased serotonin levels have been connected to elevated anxiety. Additionally, your body will also gradually develop alcohol tolerance, making it harder to generate relaxing and calming effects. When you take alcohol, it affects the balance of processes and chemicals in the brain. Therefore, the effects of increased confidence and reduced inhibitions will wear off gradually. Continuous alcohol use also brings about additional health problems and complications. Studies have also shown that alcohol disturbs your body’s internal sleep regulator, and sleep issues can generate an onset of anxiety.
Quitting Alcohol to Manage Anxiety
Quitting alcohol can help lessen and cure your anxiety eventually if addressed early, and it can also lower the chances of developing long-term anxiety disorders. There are also available treatment options for dual diagnosis care for people suffering from alcohol use disorder and anxiety disorders. It is always challenging to stop drinking, even if you were just a casual drinker. Alcohol has a way of replacing regular stress coping mechanisms in a way that inhibits the body’s ability to respond healthily to stress and anxiety. It can even get to a point where your anxiety feels more severe than it would be if you had not taken any alcohol. This can also affect people who have never used alcohol to deal with stress intentionally.
It is advisable to find other ways to relax and socialize without taking alcohol, such as spending time outside or exercising. Such activities can reduce anxiety symptoms significantly and increase your body’s serotonin levels. People can successfully manage all kinds of anxiety through a combination of therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes instead of using alcohol. On the other hand, continued and chronic alcohol abuse may require rehabilitation and addiction treatment.
Here are some strategies you can implement to help you deal with anxiety without using alcohol:
Find Alternative Coping Mechanisms
Stress coping is a mental ability and a mindset, so it can be challenging to find natural coping methods. You will need to learn how to overcome your anxiety mentally through practice. Until then, you can take up activities such as playing sports or exercising. Conventional relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, or yoga can also help with anxiety.
Boredom is one of the biggest culprits of anxiety and sobriety. Your mind tends to fixate more on your anxiety and stressors when you are bored. If you do not have anything better to do, your stress will run wild, and you may end up looking for harmful outlets. This is why it is essential to find wholesome, stress-free, social activities to occupy your mind and time.
Develop a Support Network
It is also advisable to have a group of people who hold you accountable, so you can reach out to them whenever your anxiety creeps up. They should be people with whom you can share all your thoughts and feelings. Your support network will help you find alternative coping outlets that exclude alcohol.
People who quit alcohol can also suffer from anxiety, which can be caused by chemical withdrawal. However, this could also be related to using alcohol as a way to self-medicate their anxiety. The key is to learn other ways to cope with your anxiety while implementing complementary long-term anxiety treatment methods.