What You Need to Know About Drinking and Anxiety… Yes, Drinking Makes Anxiety Worse

What You Need to Know About Drinking and Anxiety... Yes, Drinking Makes Anxiety Worse
This entry was posted in Alcohol Addiction on by .

Do you find that you’re more anxious after drinking? You may wonder if the alcohol causes feelings of anxiety or if the anxiety causes you to drink. Drinking and anxiety are closely linked. Chronic use of alcohol can lead to anxiety as it impacts your ability to respond to stress appropriately.[1]

If you find yourself saying “I need a drink” after a stressful day, you’re considering alcohol as a solution to deal with anxiety. But depending on alcohol to number yourself to anxiety is a problem because it can exacerbate the feeling.

Alcohol and Anxiety

Anxiety is an emotion that triggers a stress response and releases stress hormones in our bodies. The symptoms may include heavy breathing, increased heart rate, and sweating. While some anxiety is normal – healthy, even – excessive or chronic anxiety could indicate an anxiety disorder.[1]

There are many types of anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias. Anxiety disorders are common in the US, with about 40 million adults struggling with some type of anxiety disorder.[2]

Anxiety can be caused by many factors, including environment, chemical imbalances, and genetics. Alcohol also contributes to anxiety. It may provide immediate relief for anxiety, but it’s short-term. After the effects of drinking wear off, alcohol causes an increase in the level of anxiety in the brain, leading to a cycle of drinking, panic, and self-medicating.

Here’s why alcohol can make anxiety worse:

  • Alcohol decreases serotonin: Alcohol can temporarily boost serotonin and cause good feelings, but over time, it decreases serotonin in the brain and leaves you more susceptible to depression.
  • Hangovers can trigger panic attacks: Hangovers, or acute alcohol withdrawal, cause symptoms like dehydration and nausea. These symptoms are similar to anxiety and may trigger a panic attack.
  • Alcohol impedes healthy sleep: Alcohol negatively affects the quality of your sleep, which primes your body to be more anxious the next day since you don’t feel rested.

Why You Shouldn’t “Unwind” with Alcohol

There’s some truth to the notion that alcohol can reduce stress. It’s a sedative and a depressant that acts on the central nervous system.

Initially, drinking reduces feelings of fear and stress, helping you feel happier, relaxed, and less inhibited or self-conscious. In fact, these effects can be similar to anti-anxiety medications. Unwinding with alcohol isn’t necessarily dangerous, but the de-stressing effects will stop if you drink enough to build a tolerance. When that happens, your anxiety and stress can be much worse.

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol will also negatively impact your physical and mental health. Consuming alcohol in excess can lead to loss of memory, blackouts, and possible brain damage, not to mention long-term health effects like liver damage.

Does Alcohol Cause Anxiety in the Long-Term?

We established that alcohol could cause an increase in anxiety after its mood-lifting effects wear off. But alcohol abuse can also cause long-term mental health disorders. Research shows that people with alcoholism struggle to recover from traumatic events, which may be a result of the changes in brain activity.[3]

Increased anxiety is also a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. If you consume alcohol in large amounts for a long period of time and suddenly stop, you may experience heightened anxiety symptoms. Other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Trembling hands

Are Anxiety Disorders and Alcoholism Co-Occurring Disorders?

Alcohol and anxiety often co-occur.[4] As two common forms of mental health disorders, these two disorders often occur together and impact each other.

The anxiety disorder can be exacerbated when you have an alcohol use disorder. New anxiety symptoms may form as well. The problem mostly stems from using alcohol as an unhealthy self-medicating or coping mechanism for anxiety rather than seeking treatment and learning healthy behaviors.

Why Changing the Relationship with Alcohol Can Reduce Anxiety

Self-medicating with alcohol to relieve anxiety trains your brain to become dependent on drinking to relieve the symptoms. Eventually, the de-stressing effects wear off, and you need more and more alcohol to achieve the same results. In addition, experiencing alcohol withdrawal makes anxiety worse.

Removing alcohol as a coping mechanism is the biggest step you can take to learn to deal with anxiety in a healthy way. Here’s why:

  • You’re retraining your brain to support recovery and learn how to calm yourself without needing alcohol.
  • You learn healthy coping mechanisms to deal with intense emotions and remove yourself from alcohol dependence and anxiety cycles.
  • You have an opportunity to address the root causes of anxiety and learn how to address it.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Drinking and Anxiety

Dual diagnosis is a diagnosis of a co-occurring mental disorder and substance use problem. As mentioned, alcohol and anxiety often co-occur, and the interactions between the two conditions can worsen each.

For success with dual diagnosis, it’s important to treat both conditions. You will need to stop using alcohol or drugs and address the underlying causes of the anxiety disorder, which may include behavioral therapy, medications, or other interventions.

Get Help for Drinking and Anxiety at Clear Life Recovery

If you or a loved one need help to manage anxiety disorders and alcohol use, there’s hope. Clear Life Recovery offers dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders like anxiety and alcohol use, helping you to find healthy coping mechanisms and end the cycle of alcohol and anxiety. Contact us today to learn more!



[1] https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol-and-anxiety#living-with-anxiety

[2] https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424849/

[4] https://arcr.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-use-disorder-and-co-occurring-mental-health-conditions/co-occurring-alcohol-use-disorder-anxiety