If you’re asking, “Does alcohol help anxiety?” you may be searching for a way to handle burdensome anxiety symptoms. Whether it’s your family, career, school, or other circumstances, stress is inevitable. So, what do you do when none of the stress-relieving activities you’ve tried are helping? You may consider drinking to cope. But does it help? Below we’ll go over the risks associated with using alcohol to cope with your anxiety and where you can get help if your mental health doesn’t improve when you stop drinking.
The Truth About Unwinding With Alcohol
Relaxing with a glass of wine in the evening or having a drink with friends over dinner isn’t inherently dangerous. But if you rely on alcohol to unwind from every stressful event, you are at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Over time, your tolerance will grow, which in turn will cause you to drink more each time to feel relaxed.
Alcohol is a depressant and a sedative that impacts your central nervous system. This means that drinking alcohol can provide temporary relief from feeling stressed or anxious. You may even feel a sense of euphoria. These effects on the brain are why many adults who struggle with a social anxiety disorder use alcohol to calm their nerves in social situations.
When you consume alcohol, it interferes with neurotransmitters such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Simply put, GABA levels in the brain are stimulated while you drink to control anxiety, stress, or fear and create a calming effect. As a result, many people find it helpful to have a drink to relax before bed or during a first date. But chronic or heavy drinking can deplete levels of GABA causing feelings of unease to return.
Does Alcohol Help Anxiety?
As mentioned, periodically unwinding with alcohol, if it’s doctor approved, can be safe. But for those struggling with anxiety and alcohol use disorders (AUD), it can lead to lasting mental and physical health problems. Therefore, you should never use alcohol to cope with stress. Instead, you should seek help from a doctor or mental health professional to manage the underlying cause of your anxiety.
Some individuals turn to alcohol to cope with unmanaged anxiety symptoms or daily stressors. But despite mimicking the effects of some anti-anxiety medications, alcohol is not a substitute for anxiety treatment. The initial calming effect from drinking can make your feelings or aspects of your life more tolerable. However, it’s only temporary and doesn’t help you resolve the underlying triggers of your anxiety.
So, does alcohol help anxiety? To sum it up, the answer is no. Instead, long-term alcohol use will cause or worsen pre-existing symptoms of anxiety in addition to other mental and physical health problems. As a result, it’s important to have coping mechanisms to safely express your feelings.
Below are additional ways drinking can cause anxiety and what you can do to stop the cycle.
What Is Hangover Anxiety “Hangxiety”?
When looking for an answer to the question, “Does alcohol help anxiety?” you may come across the term “hangxiety”. But what is it? Hangxiety is a combination of the terms “hangover” and “anxiety”. This refers to the feelings of dehydration, dread, and panic that often accompany a night of binge drinking.
This form of excessive alcohol consumption leads to depleted levels of GABA, memory loss as a result of blacking out, unintentional injury, and many other risks. As for your mental health, not only does this cause you to feel depressed, but it also increases your chances of feeling anxious and experiencing panic attacks.
Over time, using alcohol to manage your anxiety levels will increase your tolerance. When this happens, you need to drink more to achieve the same level of calmness you did when you drank less in the past. Moreover, this created tolerance, meaning your body no longer functions without the presence of alcohol in your system. In this case, rather than reducing stress, you can increase your feelings of anxiety.
Worsening anxiety is also a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. If you have an alcohol dependence, you can experience withdrawal symptoms within hours of your last drink, depending on the severity of your AUD. Alcohol-induced anxiety can last anywhere from a few hours to an entire day.
How to Prevent Alcohol From Causing or Worsening Anxiety
The longer you rely on alcohol to manage inevitable stress and anxiety, the more likely you are to develop an alcohol use disorder. Keep in mind that developing an alcohol use disorder doesn’t happen overnight. An AUD is the result of long-term drinking habits that include high tolerance and dependence.
If you’re concerned about the relationship between your anxiety and alcohol use, these are a few steps you can take:
- Track how much your drink
- Reduce the amount you drink
- Maintain reduced drinking
- Reflect on your progress
Tracking how much you drink and when you drink can help you determine your triggers. Taking note of how you feel when you drink can also help you recognize the patterns contributing to your anxiety. This can be a starting point for managed drinking or your sobriety journey as you work toward altering your behaviors.
From here, you can try reducing the amount you drink per week. Keep in mind that it’s better to make small, gradual reductions. This will make your new goal more attainable and prevent you from early relapse. As time goes on, you should see an improvement in your anxiety levels when you no longer rely on alcohol to cope with stressors. Don’t forget that you will need new and healthy coping mechanisms in their place.
However, you should not attempt to quit drinking without supervision from a doctor or mental health professional if you may have an alcohol use disorder. If you abruptly stop drinking, you may experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, you should seek professional help to come up with a plan to safely reduce your alcohol consumption.
Treatment for Alcohol Abuse and Anxiety Disorders
When you first started drinking to relieve stress, you most likely didn’t intend for it to become a habit. But over time, you may have lost control of your drinking as you tried to cope with new or worsening anxiety symptoms.
Ending the cycle of drinking to cope with your anxiety can be scary at first. In the beginning, unlearning behaviors that helped you survive difficult times can magnify the feelings you’re trying to escape. However, getting the support you need can help you overcome your anxiety and long-term alcohol use.
At Springbrook Behavioral Hospital, we specialize in mental health and addiction recovery. Our comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment program helps patients recognize their triggers and behaviors contributing to their anxiety and alcohol use. Moreover, our dual diagnosis program provides a variety of evidence-based treatment and therapy modalities for helping individuals achieve long-term recovery.
Some of the treatment modalities at our treatment center include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Medication management
You no longer have to wonder, “Does alcohol help anxiety?” because you will develop new and healthy coping mechanisms to help you regulate your emotions in the face of daily challenges. Our addiction specialists, physicians, and mental health professionals will provide you with the necessary resources to begin lasting recovery.
Quit Drinking to Improve Your Anxiety Today
Now that you have an answer to the question, “Does alcohol help anxiety?” you can take the next step toward sobriety and improving your anxiety. Springbrook Behavioral Hospital has a variety of flexible and individualized treatment programs that help adults attain long-term recovery. Whether you enroll in our inpatient dual diagnosis program or our partial hospitalization program (PHP), you will receive the support you need.