Alcohol and Anxiety - Rehab Guide
alcohol and anxiety

Alcohol and Anxiety

How Anxiety Causes Alcohol Usage

Some people turn to alcohol if they have anxiety as they believe it relieves them of the condition. However, many mental health issues are linked to substance abuse and anxiety.

The bottom line is, alcohol and anxiety don’t go well together. Read on to find out all about how each perpetuates the other.

Lots of us can relate to this situation: you’re at a gathering where you don’t know everyone. You’re nervous about speaking to different people, so you grab a beer or wine to calm your nerves.

The reason why this works so well is that alcohol is considered a depressant, which means it can have a sedative-like or calming effect. As a result, as you consume more alcohol, you’ll feel more relaxed and at ease. Your heart rate goes down, your blood flow also slows, and your mind doesn’t feel like it’s racing as much anymore.

For those who have severe anxiety, they may find themselves constantly relying on alcohol to make social interactions or other experiences tolerable. As a result, they abuse the substance and develop an addiction. In fact, 20% of those with SAD also have a dependence or addiction to alcohol.

How Alcohol Causes Anxiety

Anxiety is a reason that many individuals drink and a result of drinking. A study done by researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found that heavy drinking can actually cause anxiety problems, if not make you more susceptible to them. This is because frequent drinking causes the synapses in your brain to become rewired.

In addition, while drinking may temporarily relieve anxiety, it can also bring it back in full force just a few hours later. Not only that, but you don’t even need to drink heavily for this to happen; just a few drinks can cause your anxiety to return, and it can last well into the next day.

So if you swear you get anxiety after drinking, you’re not imagining it. Drinking and anxiety relief is only temporary and it can actually exacerbate existing issues.

About Anxiety

You may think having anxiety means you get nervous or shy before a major event, such as meeting new people or participating in a competition. This may be true, and it’s normal to experience this type of feeling

However, others are afflicted in a more severe manner. In fact, it can be so severe they develop disorders that are disruptive to their daily lives.

Some anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Phobias

As you can imagine, any of the above can take a heavy toll on your mental health. This is especially true if you don’t seek professional help and try to manage them on your own. For those who choose to go it alone, a fair portion of them self-medicate with alcohol and/or drugs.

In 2013, there were over 8 million cases in the UK. While it’s normal to have anxiety come and go, for others, it can be a crippling condition that lasts for long periods of time or even permanently.

Anxiety and the Brain

You probably already understand how symptoms affect you physically. But let’s take a closer look at how it affects your brain.

Anxiety specifically affects your central nervous system (CNS). It drives the “flight” part of your “fight or flight” response, which means you experience a quicker heart rate and more blood flow. This is why your brain feels like it’s racing when you’re anxious.

alcohol and anxiety

Alcohol Dependency and Addiction

It is entirely possible to become dependent or addicted to alcohol.

First of all, if you keep drinking to alleviate your anxiety, this can create a mental addiction. You quickly associate alcohol with something that helps you, so whenever you feel like things are out of your control, you might crave and seek out a drink.

In addition, long-term use of alcohol rewires your brain, as we’ve covered above. You develop a physical dependence on alcohol.

Should you try to get sober on your own, it might be very difficult. Withdrawal symptoms include nausea, sweating, shaking, and increased heart rate, all of which can cause your anxiety to skyrocket. As a result, you might be trapped in a vicious cycle where you get anxious and drink, and you drink and get anxious.

How to Get Sober

The good news is, you can always get sober, which can have fantastic results for both your physical and mental health. If you found it challenging to quit on your own, there’s always alcohol rehab.

In rehab, they can help you detox safely in the beginning. Then, they’ll address your drinking and anxiety through professional counsellors. Together, you’ll figure out the most effective ways of handling your triggers and getting through tough times without the use of alcohol.

This can be an ongoing journey, as, after rehab, you can always attend aftercare.

Alcohol and Anxiety Aren’t a Good Mix

As you can see, self-medicating Anxiety with Alcohol isn’t a good mix at all. While it may feel like it helps with your mental health issues at first, that won’t be the case in the long term.

Anxiety is a very real disorder that can be crippling. But understand that drinking is only putting a plaster on a severe wound.

To really heal and regain control over your life, you must address your issues head-on. The best way to do so is to get sober and focus on improving your mental health so you can lead a happy and healthy life.

If you feel like you have an issue with drinking, then perhaps it’s time to get some help. Contact us today for some free advice.


Author 'John


Trained in addictionology in the Johnson Model, and specializing in substance abuse for individual and couple counselling. John's personal experience has given him a wealth of insights, which he integrates into practice. His extensive training has allowed him to gain expertise in individual and group counselling, concurrent disorders, case management, executing treatment plans and relapse prevention. He started this free helpline as a result of a life change and to help others get sober and live a life free from drugs and alcohol. John covers a variety of topics relating to addiction and recovery in his articles.


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