Is My Alcohol Use Contributing to My Anxiety?

Alcohol can cause an onset of anxiety symptoms or even worsen someone’s pre-existing anxiety symptoms. Many individuals will engage in alcohol use as a harmful coping skill in an attempt to reduce their overall anxiety symptoms. Let’s look more in-depth at the question, “Does alcohol cause anxiety?”

Does Alcohol Cause Anxiety? 

Generally, alcohol is viewed as a destructive and temporary attempt to relieve anxiety and forget about any underlying present stressors. It’s important to note that alcohol doesn’t have the power to erase any underlying stressors or triggers. Whether an individual’s anxiety is related to financial stress, past trauma, or untreated depression, alcohol serves as simply a temporary band-aid. 

The longer an individual depends on alcohol to assist in treating their anxiety, the more at risk she becomes of developing a full-blown alcohol use disorder. Additionally, the longer she engages in this vicious cycle, the more likely anxiety symptoms will lurk. This is especially likely if the overall underlying triggers weren’t appropriately treated or addressed. When an individual engages in chronic alcohol use, their ability to respond to stress in an effective or healthy way can lead to anxiety. 

That is one of the factors between the relationship with alcohol and anxiety. And how does alcohol affect anxiety? Well, alcohol affects a person’s amygdala, which is the area of a person’s brain that regulates their negative emotions. There have been brain imaging studies that have found amygdala abnormalities functioning in many individuals with alcohol use disorder. 

Understanding the Impact of Alcohol Use & Abuse

One of the most commonly used and also misused substances in the U.S. is alcohol. In 2019 alone, 85.6% of individuals reported drinking alcohol at a point in their lives, 25.8% of individuals aged 18 and older reported engaging in binge drinking in the past month, and 14.5 million individuals aged 12 and older had an AUD. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an alcohol use disorder is considered a clinical term for alcohol addiction or alcoholism. Alcohol abuse occurs when a person utilizes alcohol in various detrimental ways that can overall impact their life. 

When a person engages in alcohol abuse, it involves drinking more than what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Dietary Guidelines reports for alcohol. It states that individuals who choose to drink should do so in moderation. This would signify 2 drinks or even fewer for a man and 1 drink or even fewer for a woman, and this is per day. 

More About the Impact of Alcohol

It’s essential to note that a standard drink is equivalent to about 12 ounces of 5% beer, 5 ounces of 12% wine, 8 ounces of 7% malt liquor, or even 1.5 ounces of 80 proof hard liquor or distilled spirits such as gin, rum, whiskey, or vodka. Excessive alcohol use is also known as alcohol abuse includes heavy drinking, drinking while pregnant, and binge drinking. It’s vital to understand that not every individual who engages in excessive drinking has an active AUD, but unhealthy or excessive alcohol use can lead to addiction development. 

An AUD is considered a chronic brain disorder that causes an individual to continue engaging in alcohol use despite any negative consequences it creates on their lives. According to the NIAAA, it is distinguished by compulsive drinking, negative feelings when the person doesn’t drink, and an inability to control the overall alcohol use. A rather huge proportion of individuals who engage in alcohol abuse normally have co-occurring disorders. 

If you’re trying to get more of an understanding of the relationship between alcohol and anxiety, it’s imperative to note that having either an anxiety disorder or alcohol use disorder can significantly elevate the risk of developing the other one. 

The Relationship Between Alcohol and Panic Attacks

There was a study that reported that about 25% of individuals who sought panic disorder treatment had an active history of alcohol dependence. It’s important to remember that alcohol has a huge effect on the various chemicals in a person’s brain such as serotonin and dopamine. When the chemicals in an individual’s brain are altered, it can completely throw off how a person’s body reacts in everyday situations. Alcohol overall induces panic in a person because of all the effects on gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a chemical that has a relaxing effect normally. 

There is an ongoing relationship between alcohol and anxiety and anxiety after drinking. Mild amounts of alcohol can overall stimulate GABA, along with relaxation feelings. When a person engages in heavy drinking, it can deplete gamma-Aminobutyric acid. This can cause panic feelings and an increase in tension. 

Many individuals with panic disorders or various other forms of anxiety disorders may attempt to self-medicate with alcohol in the hope that it’ll reduce their anxiety levels. As stated previously, when more and more alcohol is consumed in a person, they can ultimately become more dependent on alcohol engagement as a result. When the person stops drinking, they put themselves more at risk of undergoing alcohol withdrawal, which can also result in severe anxiety. 

anxiety and alcohol

Can Alcohol Increase the Symptoms of Anxiety for Those Who Suffer From Anxiety Disorders? 

You might have found yourself asking one or more of the following questions, “Does alcohol increase anxiety?”, “Can alcohol trigger anxiety?”, or “How does alcohol affect anxiety?”. Alcohol does overall increase the anxiety symptoms of individuals that suffer from anxiety disorders. The way alcohol changes the levels of serotonin along with various neurotransmitters in the brain can worsen anxiety. 

In fact, individuals generally feel more anxious after the alcohol tends to wear off. Alcohol-induced anxiety can last for several hours, or even after a whole day after drinking. Anxiety after drinking is certainly possible and common. 

When individuals utilize alcohol to cope with a social anxiety disorder can be extremely threatening. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 7% of Americans have this type of anxiety. When an individual has social anxiety, it’s common to find social situations unbearable. It is common for individuals with a social anxiety disorder to engage in alcohol use to cope with social interactions that are difficult for them. When this occurs, alcohol dependence can occur during socializing, which worsens anxiety. 

About 20% of individuals with a social anxiety disorder can struggle with alcohol dependence. Apart from needing alcohol to experience comfort during socializing, there are various other dependence signs such as:

  • Drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in one day
  • Needing a drink to get going in the morning
  • Drinking heavily four or more days per week
  • Requiring a drink at each get-together 
  • An ability to stop drinking 

Overconsumption of alcohol use can lead to hangovers. Generally, hangovers can cause symptoms that make individuals experience more anxiety, including:

  • Low blood glucose (sugar)
  • Dehydration 
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

Why Might People Experience Anxiety After Drinking?

A question you might be asking is, “Why does alcohol cause anxiety?” One of the most known times when the impact of alcohol on mental health such as anxiety is the most evident in the morning after drinking. Especially if a person has engaged in a large amount of alcohol use. 

It’s pivotal to note that alcohol is a depressant that affects an individual’s natural level of happiness chemicals such as dopamine or serotonin. This signifies that although the individual might undergo an initial boost the previous night, the next day, the individual will feel deficient in those same chemicals. When this occurs, an individual might feel down, depressed, or anxious. 

How Do Anxiety Disorders and Alcoholism Co-occur?

Alcohol and anxiety often co-occur. Anxiety and alcohol use disorders are common co-occurring disorders that can cause significant distress and impair an individual’s overall daily functioning. When individuals ask the question, “Does alcohol increase anxiety?” 

The answer is yes. When a person has an alcohol use disorder, their anxiety disorder can certainly be exacerbated or it can even lead to new anxiety symptoms being formed. The relationship can happen similarly by a pre-existing anxiety disorder contributing to a person’s alcohol use disorder. One of the main issues lies in individuals typically utilizing alcohol when they have anxiety as an extremely unhealthy coping mechanism. 

New Directions for Women Can Help Ladies Who Are Suffering From Alcoholism 

The sure way to avoid the anxiety that is triggered by alcohol is to drastically reduce alcohol consumption or to stop drinking altogether. It does depend on whether or not your anxiety is due to an underlying disorder that you’ve tried self-medicating with alcohol or if it’s alcohol-induced. Nonetheless, when an individual quits alcohol or a mind-altering substance, they will become more level-headed and grounded. 

Seeking professional treatment for anxiety and AUD can help you prevent the negative feelings and consequences associated with alcohol-induced anxiety and fully take back control of your life. An integrated type of treatment is the most effective to treat co-occurring disorders, such as alcohol use disorder and anxiety. Contact us today to get started.

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