Anxiety & Alcohol: Does Drinking Make Anxiety Worse?

Alcohol has been associated with calming ourselves down. When dealing with nervous situations, many people are tempted to drink alcohol to calm their nerves, but drinking alcohol can actually increase anxiety. While there is some truth to the fact that alcohol can reduce stress, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can result in noticeable mental consequences, which can create more anxiety.

Alcohol & Anxiety Are Co-Occurring

Alcohol use can exacerbate an existing anxiety disorder. Likewise, anybody with a pre-existing anxiety disorder can use alcohol as a coping mechanism so it can contribute to excessive alcohol use.

How Does Alcohol Make Anxiety Worse?

Alcohol changes the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, notably serotonin. Serotonin sends signals between nerve cells and is considered a natural mood stabilizer that can help to regulate anxiety and depression. Because alcohol changes the levels of serotonin, you can feel more anxious after the alcohol’s effects wear off. 

The long-term consequences of alcohol abuse are a number of health problems. Those who drink heavily over a long time are potentially more disposed to developing anxiety. Additionally, drinking alcohol can trigger panic attacks. Many people may feel a sense of anxiety after drinking regularly, and panic attacks caused by alcohol are a very serious matter. Many people use alcohol as a coping mechanism for panic attacks. Panic attack symptoms include: 

  • Chest pain. 
  • Palpitations. 
  • Vision problems. 
  • Nausea.
  • Breathlessness 
  • Fear that you’re going to die. 

Alcohol can lessen the effects, but it is only a temporary fix. Self-medicating can leave individuals psychologically dependent on alcohol as they’ve come to rely on it to keep anxiety at bay. However, someone experiencing addiction finds that they have to increase the dosage in order to cope with the symptoms of anxiety, meaning that they need to increase their alcohol use to feel “at baseline.”

How Can We Deal With Anxiety Without Alcohol?

There are a number of ways that we can manage anxiety without alcohol:

Counteracting the Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety involves not just the mental component, but the physical one as well. Therefore, learning how to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety can give us more control over how we are thinking and feeling. Many common practices include mindfulness and meditation, but to reduce symptoms instantly, one of the best components is to breathe in the right way. Mindful breathing, such as box breathing, can help us to regulate our sensations. When we feel anxious the body attempts to increase oxygen levels and increase our “fight or flight” sensation. Taking slow and deep breaths through your nose will reduce the lightheadedness and dizziness that usually accompany anxiety. 

Choosing Situations That Do Not Involve Alcohol

It may seem difficult to avoid places that serve alcohol, but this is one of the best approaches to eliminating triggers. Spending time in situations without alcohol is an important approach, but it’s essential to spend time with people who understand your issues with alcohol. 

Do Not Set Unreasonable Goals

Many people set themselves up for failure by giving themselves unattainable goals. It’s important in the approach to recovery to take small steps. Accepting that a small amount of anxiety is normal makes it easier to engage in situations where anxiety levels can ride high.

Reach Out to Peaks Recovery

Anxiety and alcohol are co-occurring disorders, but it does not have to be this way. Understanding your approach can make a big difference in dealing with anxiety, which is where the right help can be invaluable. Here at Peaks Recovery, we understand that abstaining from a substance like alcohol can cause more anxiety, which is why we focus on stabilization as a foundation to helping everyone.