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Alcohol & Anxiety

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Is My Alcohol Use Contributing to My Anxiety?

For someone who struggles with alcohol use, alcohol is a destructive and temporary attempt to relieve anxiety and forget about any underlying present stressors. Unfortunately, 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.

Even more unfortunate: alcohol can cause the onset of anxiety symptoms or even worsen someone’s pre-existing anxiety symptoms. Many individuals engage in alcohol use in an attempt to reduce their overall anxiety symptoms, but this isn’t a helpful strategy. Let’s look more in-depth at the question, “Does alcohol cause anxiety?”

What is Anxiety? 

First, let’s define terms and explain what we mean by “anxiety,” and how it’s different from everyday stress. 

Anxiety and stress are both emotional responses, but they differ significantly in their origins and impacts on our lives. Stress is typically a response to an external trigger, such as a tight deadline or a challenging situation, and tends to be more immediate and situation-specific. It often dissipates once the stressful situation is resolved. 


Anxiety, on the other hand, is more of an internal response, characterized by persistent, excessive, and often irrational worry about everyday situations. It can be long-lasting and might not be linked to any specific trigger, making it harder to manage. While stress is a reaction to a current threat, anxiety is more about the anticipation of future threats, often leading to physical symptoms like heart palpitations, trembling, and fatigue, reflecting the body’s preparedness for these perceived future challenges.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

Clinically speaking, an anxiety disorder is a mental health condition characterized by persistent, excessive worry or fear that interferes with daily life. It encompasses various disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and specific phobias. Symptoms of anxiety disorders may include restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances. Anxiety disorders can be debilitating and may impact relationships, work, and overall well-being. Treatment options typically include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes to manage symptoms effectively and improve quality of life.

What is Alcohol-Induced Anxiety?

If you’ve been wondering, “Does alcohol cause anxiety?” understanding this term might be helpful. Alcohol-induced anxiety is a condition where individuals experience heightened feelings of anxiety or panic during or after consuming alcohol. This reaction can occur due to alcohol’s effects on the brain, disrupting neurotransmitter balance and affecting mood regulation. While alcohol may initially provide a sense of relaxation, its aftermath can lead to increased anxiety levels, especially in individuals prone to anxiety disorders or those consuming large amounts of alcohol. This condition emphasizes the complex relationship between alcohol and mental health. Looking into the details of what goes into alcohol use with anxiety can help understand what’s happening and the best next steps to take.

Does Alcohol Cause Anxiety? 

Alcohol & Anxiety

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. 

Social Anxiety Disorder & Alcohol Dependence 

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.

Alcohol & Anxiety

New Directions for Women

Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol and Anxiety

While alcohol may initially provide temporary relief from anxiety symptoms, it can ultimately exacerbate anxiety in the long term. It can disrupt neurotransmitter levels and increase feelings of depression and anxiety.

Using alcohol to cope with anxiety can lead to dependency, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms. It can also interfere with the effectiveness of anxiety medications and exacerbate underlying mental health issues.

Alcohol can interact with medications prescribed for anxiety, reducing their effectiveness and increasing the risk of adverse side effects. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before consuming alcohol while taking anxiety medications.

Healthier (and more effective) alternatives to alcohol for anxiety relief include practicing relaxation techniques, engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and seeking support from a therapist or support group.

Managing social anxiety without alcohol involves gradually exposing yourself to social situations, practicing relaxation techniques, challenging negative thoughts, and seeking support from friends, family, or mental health professionals.

Moderate alcohol consumption may not be harmful to everyone with anxiety, but it’s essential to be mindful of individual tolerance levels and the potential for alcohol to worsen anxiety symptoms over time.

You can look out for signs indicating that alcohol consumption may be affecting your anxiety. These signs may include increased feelings of anxiety or depression, difficulty controlling alcohol intake, experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and using alcohol to cope with stress or emotions.

Yes, frequent alcohol consumption, especially nightly drinking, can disrupt neurotransmitter levels in the brain, leading to increased anxiety symptoms over time. This helps explain why does alcohol cause anxiety. Alcohol’s impact on brain chemistry can exacerbate existing anxiety disorders or trigger symptoms in individuals predisposed to anxiety.

Yes, if you’re struggling with anxiety and alcohol use, it’s essential to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can provide strategies for managing anxiety without alcohol and support you in addressing any underlying issues contributing to alcohol use.

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