Alcohol and anxiety are two of the most prevalent health disorders in the U.S., so it shouldn’t surprise you to learn there is a connection between the two. People with anxiety often drink as a coping mechanism to help mute their symptoms, which is why they are more likely to develop a problematic relationship with alcohol than those without anxiety. However, over time, alcohol misuse can make anxiety worse.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal emotion everyone experiences from time to time. There’s a difference, however, between occasionally feeling anxious and having an anxiety disorder. Prolonged or intense episodes of anxiety – a hallmark of anxiety disorder – can be disruptive and lead to an inability to fulfill normal daily responsibilities. They can also be detrimental to your overall quality of life.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of anxiety disorder include:
- Difficulty focusing on tasks
- Knowing that your worries are largely overblown, but being unable to control them anyway
- A disrupted sleep schedule
The Risks of Using Alcohol to Self-Medicate
Because of alcohol’s ability to help people relax, someone with an anxiety disorder or who experiences panic attacks might drink to help them calm down and feel less on edge. However, this coping mechanism often backfires because long-term alcohol abuse usually means developing a higher tolerance to its effects, thus resulting in the need to drink more to achieve the desired results.
While alcohol can reduce anxiety temporarily, it can also exacerbate the problem. Because of the way alcohol rewires the reward pathways in the brain, people who frequently drink to excess are likely to experience anxiety the day after heavy drinking because their serotonin levels drop sharply without alcohol in their system. Intoxication to the point of a blackout can also be stress-inducing for people who can’t remember if they did anything dangerous or embarrassing the night before.
A 2012 study by researchers at the University of North Carolina showed that alcohol’s effects on the brain can make heavy drinkers more likely to have anxiety problems, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder. The research revealed a molecular-level link between alcohol and anxiety.
Getting Help for an Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol abuse can eventually lead to both a psychological and physical dependence, and someone trying to quit drinking will experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms such as sweating, shaking and a racing heartbeat. Anxiety is also a withdrawal symptom in many cases. Medical detox is the safest way to flush all the toxins of alcohol out of your system while keeping your withdrawal in check, so you can begin the work of recovery.
If you have a drinking problem and have committed to making a fresh start, Vista Taos is the ideal place to regain control of your life and discover new freedom. At our residential treatment center in New Mexico, we help men and women living with addictions with a holistic treatment process based on the 12-step approach. To learn more about how we can help you, reach out today.