Alcohol and Anxiety

Alcohol and anxiety have a complicated relationship. Alcohol is used to self-medicate and relieve anxious feelings. But it can cause even more anxiety. Plus, if you struggle with anxiety even when you’re not drinking, alcohol will likely make it worse.

How Does Alcohol Affect Anxiety?

The relationship between alcohol and anxiety is strong. Many people use alcohol to unwind. Sitting down with a beer might help you take the edge off after a stressful day. Taking a few shots before you go out can make you feel energetic and uninhibited. But alcohol delivers its effects in two phases. Initially, it floods your system with dopamine. This makes you feel excited, euphoric and happy. It may feel as though your anxiety subsides as you relinquish fear and worry.

At the same time, the sedative qualities of alcohol slow the functioning of your central nervous system. You might not notice this depressive effect while the dopamine is still rampant in your system. But as your dopamine levels subside, the depressant continues to work, leaving you feeling sluggish, tired and uncomfortable.

Have you ever woken up after a night of drinking and felt anxious? Your heart might be beating rapidly, you’re sweating more than usual, and you just don’t feel settled. That’s because alcohol can increase anxiety. While some people refer to this as “hangxiety,” it doesn’t only happen when you’re hungover. Anxiety from drinking can hit at any time during or after the buzz.

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What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

You can have physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety. For many, the psychological symptoms include:

  • Feelings of intense worry
  • Panic that’s not relative to the situation
  • Perpetual overwhelming feelings
  • A need to freeze or disappear when you’re extremely uncomfortable
  • Irritable mood
  • Intrusive, worrisome thoughts

Some of the physical symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Digestive distress
  • Muscle aches
  • Shakiness

Pay attention to the physical and emotional symptoms that you have while you drink. It’s common for alcohol to numb some of these symptoms as it takes effect. However, as you drink more or the intoxication diminishes, you might experience an increase in these signs of anxiety. The crankiness that you feel during a hangover can also be attributed to the anxiety that alcohol withdrawal produces.

Does Alcohol Make Anxiety Worse?

If you have an existing anxiety disorder, you likely have frequent or continual symptoms. Using alcohol to calm yourself down when you’re anxious might work at first. But using alcohol to cope with anxiety disorders creates a dangerous cycle.

When the effects of the alcohol wear off, you’re back to your general state of anxiety. On top of that, you have symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as jitteriness, a headache and insomnia. These physical complaints exacerbate your anxiety. Plus, your emotions feel off because your body is trying to balance its neurotransmitters after a night of drinking.

In sum, you feel worse than you did when you started. Consuming more alcohol can make this hangxiety go away. But you eventually develop a tolerance, and you need more alcohol to cope with the same level of anxiety. Increasing the dosage of alcohol reinforces this cycle, and your anxiety worsens.

Alcohol-Induced Anxiety

You don’t have to have an anxiety disorder to experience the negative effects of alcohol on your mood. Alcohol-induced anxiety is a disorder that is characterized by the onset of physical and psychological anxiety symptoms as a result of alcohol consumption. The symptoms may be present during or after a drinking episode. In some people, withdrawal causes anxiety symptoms.

The symptoms of alcohol-induced anxiety usually continue as long as you drink. But they tend to diminish within six months of getting sober.

It’s important to identify any underlying symptoms of anxiety even if you believe that you have alcohol-induced anxiety. If you have a co-occurring disorder, discontinuing your alcohol use won’t necessarily relieve your symptoms. You’ll need to learn strategies for coping with anxiety and supporting your mental health that don’t involve alcohol.

Sleep, Alcohol and Anxiety

Up to 70% of people with generalized anxiety disorder say that they don’t sleep well. Anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep. But sleep deprivation can worsen anxiety, creating a loop that’s difficult to get out of.

What’s more, alcohol negatively impacts sleep quality. Although drinking alcohol might make you pass out, it doesn’t help you get good quality sleep. Your sleep cycle is affected when you drink, and you don’t get the type of rest that nourishes your brain and body.

Therefore, it’s important to focus on sleep as an approach to reducing anxiety. But if you have an alcohol use disorder, you may not be getting the sleep that you need to heal fully.

Alcohol Is Not a Healthy Coping Strategy for Anxiety

Alcohol may reduce your anxiety temporarily. But alcohol and anxiety don’t make a good cocktail. Alcohol doesn’t treat the mental disorder; it simply masks the symptoms for a while.

To cope with anxiety, you have to develop healthy strategies for processing the distressing feelings that the disorder causes. A healthy strategy won’t cascade into a negative cycle that requires more treatment to get out of.

There are thousands of methods of coping with anxiety. Dunking your face in a bowl of ice water activates the parasympathetic nervous system and has an instant calming effect. Practicing mindful non-attachment allows you to accept and honor your feelings as you watch them move away from your body. Establishing routines throughout your day helps you know what’s coming next and feel less overwhelmed.

With practice, education and support, you will find it easier and easier to use these healthy strategies. In fact, many of them may become automated. Instead of using alcohol to manage your anxiety, you’ll use your own resources and resilience.

At Burning Tree West, we offer a community of peers and professionals to help you access the parts of yourself that are vital for recovery. We understand that making this call can produce some anxiety. We’re here to relieve some of that.

Get Help Now

Call our admissions specialists who can help you find the best treatment center for your needs. If you need help with drug abuse or addiction recovery, we can help you.

(888) 530-9424