Many adults in the United States drink alcohol to cope with their mental health problems. If you drink to quiet your insecurities before going out with friends or to prevent frequent anxiety attacks, your experience with alcohol and anxiety is common. However, the fleeting moments of relief while inebriated quickly end, causing those who rely on alcohol to keep drinking to continue the vicious cycle. Ending this cycle can be hard and often requires professional help. But with that said, it’s never too late to reach out for help to regain control from alcohol and anxiety.
The Relationship Between Alcohol and Anxiety
Alcohol and anxiety have a complicated relationship. Not only can alcohol cause the onset of anxiety symptoms, but it can also worsen anxiety symptoms you already have. For many people, it can be difficult to determine which came first when it comes to having an anxiety disorder and an alcohol use disorder.
Anxiety affects the central nervous system by accelerating your heart rate, increasing blood flow, and releasing adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones that play a role in the body’s stress response. This is your body’s way of responding to a perceived threat to keep you safe in the presence of danger. However, individuals with anxiety will frequently experience this stress response without a present threat because their brain incorrectly perceives danger. As a result, individuals can trigger unconscious and uncontrollable anxiety and panic attacks.
Alcohol can increase anxiety levels, causing you to experience more frequent anxiety and panic attacks as well as an overall sense of fear. This happens because alcohol interferes with the levels of a certain neurotransmitter in your brain called GABA. Put simply, GABA makes you feel calm and relaxed. Drinking alcohol can stimulate GABA levels to create feelings of confidence and ease, but heavy drinking can deplete these levels. When this happens, feelings of panic and unease return.
Why Alcohol and Anxiety Don’t Mix
Alcohol is a socially acceptable and readily available way to temporarily escape from symptoms of anxiety. Drinking may help you let go of your inhibitions in an uncomfortable social setting or unwind after a stressful week. While drinking in these situations isn’t necessarily a sign of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it can turn into a problem when they interfere with your ability to function or cause health problems.
Alcohol-induced anxiety can arise if you’re using alcohol to cope with another issue. The symptoms appear the same as if you had an underlying anxiety disorder before the drinking. The difference is that the symptoms could potentially go away after you stop drinking. In this case, these symptoms of anxiety are often a result of alcohol withdrawal. Individuals experience withdrawal when their body becomes dependent on alcohol to function. If your body is dependent on alcohol, no longer drinking can cause you to feel anxious or become sick.
In the long run, alcohol and anxiety don’t mix. The combination can lead to decreased sleep quality, digestive issues, a weak immune system, and other serious health issues. If you feel like alcohol and anxiety are a part of your daily routine, it may be time to investigate the underlying cause with the help of a professional.
Signs Your Relationship to Alcohol is Unhealthy
Chronic alcohol use alters the way your brain functions. Over time this leads to alcohol dependence. Being dependent on alcohol means you’re unable to function in your daily life without consuming alcohol. You may be able to identify that the need to drink as soon as you wake up is unhealthy but getting to this point takes time. You may have innocently started using alcohol to cope with your social anxiety disorder, overwhelming stress, or trauma. But weeks, months, or years can go by before you realize the effect drinking has had on your life.
Struggling with a co-occurring disorder such as anxiety can make it difficult to recognize when your consumption of alcohol is becoming unhealthy. This is especially true if you’re reliant on alcohol to make you feel better when you’re unable to cope with the symptoms any other way. However, there are a few signs you are stuck in an unhealthy cycle of alcohol and anxiety. These signs include:
- Drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in a day
- Needing a drink to start your morning
- Binge drinking four or more days a week
- Needing a drink every time you do out with people
- An inability to stop or control your drinking
Are You Getting Hangxiety?
Hangxiety is the combination of the words “hangover” and “anxiety”. But what does it mean? Hangxiety refers to feelings of dread and embarrassment after a night of heavy drinking. You may struggle to remember what you said or did, causing you to fear the worst. There’s a chance nothing happened, but you’ll have to check with your friends or loved ones first. This is a frightening experience that is often the result of binge drinking. Consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short time can cause blackouts, which refers to the brain’s inability to preserve short-term memories while inebriated.
In this case, anxiety is a common response to potentially embarrassing or uncharacteristic behavior you displayed while drunk. Furthermore, the flood of dopamine as a result of your heavy drinking is now depleted. That temporary rush of confidence and happiness has now turned into shame and dehydration. Those who struggle with an existing anxiety disorder, more specifically social anxiety are at a higher risk of experiencing hangxiety.
Alcohol and anxiety may seem like a great pair, but the feelings you seeking at the bottom of a bottle will only temporarily relieve you of your anxiety symptoms. Your underlying mental health problems will be magnified once you’re sober. You may be tempted to use alcohol as a coping mechanism, but the long-term effects can have a detrimental impact on your life.
How to Put an End to the Alcohol and Anxiety Spiral
Identifying that you need help getting out of the vicious cycle of alcohol and anxiety is the first step toward recovery. Springbrook Behavioral Hospital offers a dual diagnosis program that helps adults overcome their battle with addiction and mental health problems. This specialized inpatient treatment program addresses the complex relationship between alcohol use disorders and anxiety disorders.
While enrolled in the dual diagnosis program, you can benefit from a variety of treatment and therapy modalities. Some of these treatment modalities include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Medication management
You will work with a care team composed of physicians, addiction specialists, and mental health professionals. Their goal is to ensure you’re safe and able to meet your recovery goals as you take the first steps toward sobriety. As they guide you through these treatment modalities, you will learn how to cope with and reduce your anxiety symptoms. You won’t be tempted to turn to alcohol when you feel the first sign of anxiety because you’ll have healthier coping mechanisms and community support to help you pull through the moment.
Where to Get Help for Your Struggle with Alcohol and Anxiety
You don’t have to get stuck in the vicious cycle created by alcohol and anxiety. If you’re ready to get help and stop masking your symptoms, Springbrook Behavioral Hospital is here to provide the support and resources you need.
If you have any questions about how we can help you, give us a call at 352-600-3288. You can also fill out a confidential contact form online. Our admissions team is here to give you the information you need to start your recovery journey at the right place. Get the help you need today.