Can Alcohol Help With All Anxiety Disorders
For many people, alcohol can be a great way to get a leg up against their anxiety.
To loosen up in social situations and help you reach social interaction-based goals under a lightened load of social anxiety, alcohol might have its uses for you .
Similarly, alcohol can sometimes help with phobias. If, for example, you have a phobia of public speaking and have a speech to give, a drink or two may help to take the edge off. Granted, this advice only stands assuming your phobia occurs somewhere that alcohol use is safe and acceptable.
Other anxiety disorders, such asGeneralized Anxiety Disorder,Panic Disorder, and PTSD, should not be treated with alcohol. This is because these anxiety disorders often occur on a daily, regular basis. Alcohol should never be consumed on a daily basis , or dependence and alcoholism are sure to follow.
If your anxiety is more predictable, as social anxiety often is , drinking alcohol for anxiety relief may help you ease into the situation. Lets talk about social anxiety and alcohol in a bit further detail.
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Alcohol affects your brains chemistry and increases the risk of feeling anxious or depressed. If youve been drinking more recently and have noticed youve been feeling low, giving up alcohol could help.
Experts have seen that people who were depressed and drinking, who then gave up alcohol, started to feel better within a few weeks. If you try this and feel better, then its likely it was the alcohol causing your low mood.
You may notice you feel brighter and youre getting on with your life better. But if your low mood doesnt improve and affects your quality of life, its important to contact your GP for help and support.
Signs that alcohol is harming your mental health include:
- finding it hard to sleep after drinking
- having a low mood
- feeling tired and hung over regularly
- feeling worried and anxious in places and with people that you wouldnt normally have any worries about
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Understanding Alcohol Use & Abuse
Alcohol is one of the most commonly used substances in the U.S. In 2019, 85.6% of people reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lives, 25.8% of people aged 18 and older reported binge drinking in the past month, and 14.5 million people aged 12 and older had an alcohol use disorder , the clinical term for alcoholism or alcohol addiction, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism .1
Alcohol abuse means that you use alcohol in unhealthy ways that impact your life. It involves drinking more than the Centers for Disease Controls Dietary Guidelines for alcohol, which states that people who choose to drink should do so in moderation. This means 2 drinks or fewer for a man and 1 drink or fewer for a woman per day. A standard drink is the equivalent of 12 ounces of 5% beer, 8 ounces of 7% malt liquor, 5 ounces of 12% wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits or hard liquor . Excessive alcohol use includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and drinking while pregnant.2
A large proportion of people who abuse alcohol also have co-occurring anxiety disorders. Having either an alcohol use disorder or an anxiety disorder can substantially elevate your risk of developing the other.3
Anxiety And Alcohol Dependence
According to a 2018 study published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, the comorbidity is commonly seen between mood/anxiety disorders and substance use disorders. The reason behind these co-occurring conditions is the self-medication hypothesis, which means people suffering from mental disorders commonly misuse substances to relieve the symptoms of mental health conditions. Over time, this practice of self-medication may turn into an independent condition or addiction.
AUD and anxiety disorders do commonly co-occur,â Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC, a therapist and co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist in New York, tells WebMD Connect to Care.
âAUD and anxiety disorders are akin to the chicken or the egg dilemma as to which came first. Some individuals with an anxiety disorder may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism only to develop a dependence on alcohol while others with alcohol dependence may develop anxiety as a result of their alcohol use,â Sternlicht says.
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Breaking The ‘vicious Cycle’ In Adolescence And Early Adulthood
The interrelationship between alcohol and anxiety often starts in adolescence.
“Teenagers that are more anxious are more likely to start using alcohol at a younger age,” Dr Stapinski says.
“They’re also at greater risk of progression from using alcohol to using alcohol harmfully, and then later down the track to an alcohol-use disorder.”
Dr Stapinski and other researchers at the Matilda Centre have created an online early intervention program for young people.
It provides support from psychologists with online cognitive behavioural therapy to help young people learn coping strategies to manage both anxiety symptoms and alcohol use.
“What we wanted to do is wind back the clock in some ways and get in when that relationship between anxiety and alcohol is first starting,” Dr Stapinski says.
A recent trial of the program found it reduced both anxiety symptoms and hazardous drinking.
“What we’re seeing is if you help someone with their anxiety, they’re better able to make changes to their drinking, because they’re not so reliant on their alcohol use to manage their anxiety,” Dr Stapinski says.
Side Effects Of Alcohol Misuse
Even if someone starts drinking alcohol as a way to cope with anxiety, it can quickly have the opposite effect. For one, drinking alcohol more frequently or having larger amounts can cause hangovers.
The symptoms of a hangover, such as nausea and vomiting, dizziness, dehydration, and low blood sugar, can make it hard to function. If someone is sick because of a hangover, they might not be able to attend to their responsibilities at home, school, or workwhich can, in turn, fuel their anxiety.
Heavy or regular alcohol misuse also often leads to withdrawal. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and anxiety disorders can be similar. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Elevated blood pressure and heart rate
- Increased body temperature
- Panic attacks
If a person experiences alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it can create a cycle of heightened anxiety and increased alcohol misuse.
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Signs Of Alcohol Misuse
Whether you have a mental health condition like anxiety or not, there are certain behaviors that can signal that your relationship with alcohol could be cause for concern.
You might recognize these behaviors in yourself or someone in your life may have made you aware of them. Signs of alcoholism can include:
- You drink alcohol frequently or excessively. According to the ADAA, this would be drinking alcohol four or more times per week. It can also mean that you have five or more drinks in one day.
- You feel that you need to consume alcohol and are unable to stop. You might feel that you need to have a drink to function in your day to day life.This might take the form of feeling that you need a drink before you can wake up and start your day.
- You might feel the need to have more drinks throughout the day to keep yourself going.
- You might feel that you need to continue to drink to prevent symptoms of withdrawal.
- You feel guilt, shame, remorse, or other intense emotions about your drinking.Having these feelings about your relationship to alcohol without having the support you need to confront them can make it more difficult to cope. You might find that the intense shame you experience actually drives you to drink more as you try to escape your uncomfortable feelings.
Another sign to consider is external rather than internal: when the people in your life express concern about your relationship to alcohol.
When they talk to you about your drinking behavior, your loved ones might:
Youll Have More Energy
Have you ever woken up the morning after a night of drinking feeling completely depleted energy-wise? Cutting back on alcohol allows us to have increased energy throughout our day, says Stone. This means that were better able to participate in movement, activities, and exercise, which is proven to help decrease anxiety and stress levels.
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Useful Resources And Information
- Al-Anon offers support and understanding to the family and friends of problem drinkers.
- Alcohol Change UK campaign for better alcohol policies and improved support for people whose lives are affected by alcohol problems. They offer help and support if you want to change your drinking habits.
- Alcoholics Anonymous runs free self-help groups for anyone who thinks they have a drink problem.
- Drinkaware provides advice, information and tools to help people make better choices about their drinking.
- Drinkline is a free, confidential helpline for anyone worried about their drinking or someone elses. Call 0300 123 1100.
- SMART Recovery groups help people build their motivation to change and offer tools and techniques to help with their recovery.
- Turning Point offers tailored support to people with drug or alcohol problems. This could be advice, medical treatment, peer support, social activities or help getting back into work, for example.
- We Are With You offers free, confidential support with alcohol, drugs or mental health.
LGBTQIA+ support services:
- The Gay and Sober website has regularly updated information on online LGBTQIA+ recovery group meetings.
- The LGBT Foundation provides information, support and advice to LGBTQIA+ people. They offer one-to-one and group support for people concerned about their drug or alcohol use.
- Alcohol Change UK has more resources for LGBTQIA+ people who drink in moderation or dont drink.
Alcohol Drugs And Anxiety
If you drink alcohol or use drugs like pot, it is probably because you want to change the way you feel. This is one of the main reasons why adults choose to spend their money on that rather than on something else. Maybe you want to chill out a bit and relax, have fun, or simply forget about some of the annoying and upsetting things in your life.
Alcohol or pot may help you cope with stress or anxiety in the short term. But over time, this strategy can backfire especially if you are using it to cover up or escape from anxiety or other difficult feelings. In fact, research shows that this quick-fix method to self-medicate actually makes things worse, and puts you at greater risk of alcoholism and other problems with substance abuse. And one of the biggest costs is that you never really address the underlying problems, like anxiety. Its still there.
A few things you may not know:
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How Long Does Alcohol Anxiety Last
According to Bhatt, alcohol-induced anxiety can last anywhere from days or weeks to longer periods of time such as months or years. Exactly how long the anxiety lasts varies by individual, depending on several factors. These can include the amount and duration of alcohol consumed, pre-existing levels of anxiety and the presence of other mental and physical conditions as well environmental factors.
Weinstein explained: “Alcohol-induced anxiety is also associated with alcohol withdrawal,” for which anxiety symptoms could last for more than a week, with the first 48 hours being the most difficult.”
If the anxiety after drinking is related to a hangover, “it could certainly last as long as other hangover symptoms,” Koob said. If the anxiety is related to chronic excessive consumption, it is possible for the anxiety to last several months or more after a person stops drinking. “It takes time for the body to readjust.”
How Does Alcohol Affect Depression
Depression is where someone experiences low mood for weeks, months or even years and it can affect their everyday life. As weve mentioned, alcohol can have a temporary positive effect on how we feel, which is why many people who suffer from depression will turn to alcohol in an attempt to improve their mood. However, alcohol is a depressant, which means it depresses our central nervous system slowing down our brains activity, nervous system as well as impairing our emotions and judgement.
Similar to the cycle we mentioned for anxiety, it can be easy for someone experiencing depression to find themselves in a cycle of drinking. Heavy or regular drinking is linked to symptoms of depression and this can make it difficult to understand what is causing the depression This is because when we drink more, any pleasant effects begin to fade away and we begin to feel negative emotions such as anxiety or depression.
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Healthier Ways To Relax
Take time to unwind and relax in healthier ways at the end of a stressful day.
- Do some exercise. This could be a class, sports club or simply a brisk walk.
- Practice yoga or stretching to unwind. Put on some calm music and move and stretch your body, gently and slowly. Breathe deeply while you do this.
- Listen to some calming music.
- Cook. Many people find chopping, slicing and cooking relaxing. Try a new recipe and make time to create your favourite meal.
- Have a relaxing bath. Use essential oils, candles and bubbles to connect and stimulate all your senses.
How Anxiety Works In The Brain
Anxiety is a normal part of life, and its actually an intelligent emotion. Our brains are hardwired to respond to danger as a survival trait meant to protect us from harm.
The part of the brain that springs into action to protect us from danger is called the amygdala. When it senses a threat, the amygdala releases hormones that increase blood pressure and heart rate, preparing you physically to deal with an imminent threat.
The amygdala is part of the so-called reptilian brain that helped early humans survive their world. But in todays world, a brain primed for anxiety can cause more harm than good. According to a hypothesis called the evolutionary lag, the brain you have today is perfectly suited to the world as it was 50,000 years ago.
So what does this mean for you as someone who has anxiety in the modern world? Your brain may react to perceived threats, like a slight at the grocery store, the same way our ancestors brains reacted to, say, a saber-toothed tiger.
Your amygdala responds to perceived danger by triggering your bodys emergency stress response. An oversensitive amygdala might react to everyday stressors by flooding your body with hormones designed to save you from mortal harm.
Its helpful when encountering a ferocious animal in the wild but not so beneficial when you get in a fight with your partner about whose turn it is to do the dishes.
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Benefits Of Drinking Less Alcohol On Your Mental Health
Cutting down on alcohol is beneficial for both your physical and mental health, here are some reasons why you should consider drinking less:
- You will be able to sleep better – having a restful sleep can help to improve our mood and concentration the next day.
- Your mood will improve – try to resist drinking alcohol when you feel down or anxious and notice how your mood changes.
- Youll have more energy – when we drink, we can feel very tired and unmotivated, by cutting down on alcohol, you can feel more refreshed and notice you have more energy to do activities.
- Youll be able to concentrate better – if you drink often, you may notice that your concentration and ability to work is impaired. Drinking less will help you to be more productive and reduce stress.
- Your skin will improve – Alcohol can affect your appearance and dehydrate your skin, which may have an impact on your self-esteem.
- You may lose weight – youll be surprised by the amount of calories in your drinks, find out how you can lose weight by cutting out alcohol.
- Youll save money – alcohol isnt cheap, so by cutting down on the amount of alcohol you buy, youll be able to save more!
- Your overall health will improve – By cutting down on alcohol, youll reduce the risks of developing liver or heart disease as well as some cancers.