alcohol and anxiety

For most Americans, after a long day of work or play, having a glass of wine or cold beer seems like the perfect way to relax. However, there is an integral link between alcohol and anxiety that many are unaware of, highlighting the link between substance use and mental health.

Drinking alcohol to unwind or alleviate anxiety symptoms may feel like a harmless practice, but it can quickly lead to alcohol-induced anxiety or an alcohol dependence issue. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders among adults in the US, and self-medicating with alcohol is quite common. However, the two do not function well together in the long term, and understanding the relationship between alcohol and anxiety is critical for overall wellness and finding healthy ways to cope with stress.

Alcohol and Anxiety: A Vicious Cycle

Simply defined, anxiety is excessive and persistent fear of everyday situations, but there are many varying types of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and various phobia-related disorders. Anxiety becomes more serious when it starts to interfere with everyday life and lasts for extended periods of time. The best thing a person experiencing anxiety can do is seek professional medical treatment and determine a long-term care plan.

It is true that drinking may temporarily uplift one’s mood, but alcohol abuse can quickly form when it is used to self-medicate. The vicious cycle of starts when someone starts chronic alcohol consumption to deal with anxiety. He or she temporarily feels better as the alcohol affects the central nervous system, but then alcohol withdrawal symptoms set in and anxiety worsens. Then, the desire to continue drinking arises and an alcohol addiction can quickly form. 

Anxiety and depression are completely treatable without the use of alcohol, and starting the vicious cycle of using alcohol as a coping mechanism often leads to painful and irreversible negative consequences.

How Alcohol Worsens Anxiety Disorders

Chronic alcohol use is often tied to pre-existing anxiety disorder, and using alcohol to treat anxiety usually worsens an individual’s mental health. When someone consumes alcohol, a flood of dopamine enters into the brain, causing good feelings to arise and anxiety levels to go down. Then, when those dopamine levels go down, feelings of anxiety quickly replace any good feelings caused by alcohol. 

This anxiety rebound is often intense and worsens pre-existing anxiety. On top of those feelings of anxiety, the brain will come to crave dopamine from the alcohol, deepening one’s reliance on alcohol. As a result, someone self-medicating with alcohol will develop deeper anxiety, depression, and alcohol dependence.

Getting the Help You Need

If you have found yourself in this loop of anxiety and alcohol, you are not alone. Unwinding with alcohol is not as innocent as it may seem, and, if it becomes a regular occurrence, you may need to seek more serious mental health and alcohol treatment.

Once someone realizes they are self-medicating, he or she may be able to regulate alcohol use on their own and seek healthier anxiety treatment. However, if you have difficulty giving up alcohol as a treatment for anxiety, it may be time to seek professional help. Professional addiction treatment provides a wide range of services, most notably mental health care, that can help an individual understand the root of their anxiety and develop helpful strategies for overcoming feelings of panic or stress when they arise. Remember, you do not need to fight this battle alone and professional help can be a life-changing (and life-saving!) experience for many.

If you have additional questions about the link between mental health, anxiety, and substance abuse, or would like to speak with an addiction specialist, our team at Harmony Outpatient is here to help. With our compassionate staff and personalized care, we can help you overcome alcohol challenges in your life and pave the way for a brighter tomorrow. Reach out today.