This article is medically reviewed by Dr Robert Lefever, a world-leading addictions specialist.
Regardless of who you are or where you come from, some occasions may give you anxiety. Picture this: Giving a speech during your first day in school, standing in front of a crowd, or even attending a highly competitive interview. These activities are bound to give some people sleepless nights and can result in anxiety.
To overcome anxiety, some people may resort to alcohol. Why alcohol? Though clinically categorised as a depressant, alcohol has both stimulant and sedative effects. When alcohol is taken in low quantities, a person may experience a stimulating effect, that euphoric and relaxing effect. On the other hand, when taken in large amounts, alcohol may result in sedative effects, including slowed brain activity and slowed blood pressure, respiration, and alertness.
Some individuals can opt to consume alcohol to overcome their moments of anxiety. Unfortunately, this may result in unhealthy relationships with alcohol and may slowly lead to addiction. The good thing is that you can break the unhealthy relationship with alcohol. If you are in this position or have a loved one suffering from this, please call 0203 955 7700. An experienced advisor is available to speak.
How does anxiety happen?
Anxiety is a natural response of the body when you find yourself in a stressful situation—the feeling of uncertainty of what’s going to happen causes people to experience fear and panic. Occasional anxiety is perfectly normal and can manifest in cases such as job interviews. However, when anxiety is highly intense or takes place for a prolonged time, it can cause adverse effects.
Anxiety can either be a social or general disorder (GAD). Social anxiety is the fear of being around other people, especially those you are not conversant with. On the other hand, people with generalised anxiety disorder experience excessive and prolonged-lasting worry and fear, usually for more than six months.
What are the possible causes of anxiety?
In GAD, individuals experience anxiety over non-specific reasons ranging from their health, work, social interactions, among other things. For example, it can be caused by withdrawal from alcohol drug abuse but also appear due to various health factors. And sometimes, it is caused by environmental factors such as work, relationships, and family problems.
These are some of the medical problems that can lead to anxiety:
- Respiratory disorders, such as asthma
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Rare tumours
- Withdrawal from certain medications
Some of the symptoms of anxiety are as follows:
- Feeling weak or tired
- increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Experiencing gastrointestinal problems
What are the factors that may increase the risk of anxiety?
- Past experiences. People who have experienced abuse and traumatic experiences are at risk of developing an anxiety disorder at some point in life. For instance, children who were raped or sodomised, people who have ever been involved in accidents, or other painful events can lead to anxiety disorder.
- Individual’s personality. People with certain personalities are more prone to anxiety than others.
- Illness. Having a condition is not a pleasant experience for anyone. However, some diseases can be severe; hence, those suffering from them get stressed about when and how to recover.
- Mental health disorders. Depression, as a mental disorder, can cause anxiety to people.
- Stress buildup. Difficult Situations in life such as joblessness and the death of loved ones causes stress. As the tension builds up, you are likely to experience intense anxiety.
- Drugs and alcohol. When abused, drugs and alcohol can trigger anxiety. Further withdrawal of drugs and alcohol can cause anxiety.
How does anxiety lead to the use of alcohol?
Can alcohol reduce stress and anxiety? To some extent, drinking alcohol can reduce stress and anxiety. Some people use alcohol to manage anxiety and depression, but excessive drinking worsens the situation. In the UK, alcohol is a favourite coping mechanism, whereby many people take alcohol to relieve anxiety and stress. In England, about a quarter out of an estimated 589,000 people dependent on alcohol is likely to receive mental treatment such as anxiety and depression.
Though considered a depressant, alcohol has both stimulant and sedative effects. When you start to take a drink, it can produce a feeling of relaxation and euphoria. It may also make you more socially confident, reduce stress, and make you less shy. All those effects may make taking alcohol seem exciting since it provides an individual with anxiety relief.
Can anxiety cause tolerance and alcohol addiction?
Consuming alcohol provides immediate relief from anxiety to some people. However, the effects are just short-term. For a short period, you may feel relieved from stress. But, as the alcohol begins to wear off, you will realise the underlying triggers, including financial problems, past trauma, or depression, still exist. In addition, as you continue using alcohol to treat anxiety, your body begins to grow tolerance. High alcohol tolerance will require individuals to take more alcohol than they previously used to experience the same effects.
Finally, you may end up consuming more and more alcohol and hence become dependent on alcohol. Alcohol dependence makes an individual crave more intake, and it can be challenging to stop the consumption. Additionally, individuals experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking alcohol, and therefore they find themselves trapped in alcohol addiction. People suffering from anxiety are discouraged from using alcohol as a coping mechanism, and instead, they should seek help.
Can alcohol cause anxiety?
As a depressant, alcohol inhibits the central nervous system by impacting numerous pathways and functions. As a result, an individual experiences cognitive impairment, slurred speech, and poor judgment. In addition, after drinking for a prolonged period, the brain may fail to regulate mood and emotions, leading to anxiety, irritability, and mood changes.
Excessive alcohol use affects a person’s ability to deal with stress effectively. On the same note, alcohol worsens anxiety. At first, alcohol can relieve stress and anxiety. However, with time, the body grows a tolerance to the depressing stress effect of alcohol. As time goes, you may need to consume more alcohol to experience the same impact. As a result of excessive drinking, you may become dependent on alcohol.
Alcohol can affect anxiety in the following ways:
- Hangovers from alcohol can cause anxiety. After a night of drinking, many people experience a hangover. Effects of a hangover include nausea, headache, and rapid heartbeat, among others. A hangover can trigger an anxiety attack.
- Alcohol affects your serotonin levels. At first, alcohol may boost your serotonin levels hence giving you a relaxed and euphoric feeling. But, ultimately, it decreases serotonin in the brain in the long run, making an individual more prone to depression and anxiety.
- Alcohol impacts your sleep. Alcohol affects body functions, and you may end up having gastrointestinal disorders. With a lot of discomforts, it is impossible to have a quality sleep. Waking up after an inadequate sleep, you tend to be stressed out and anxious.
- Withdrawal effects. Consuming alcohol for a long time makes you dependent on it. Once the body gets used to drinking, trying to stop becomes difficult. This can lead to anxiety or even make it worse.
Can alcohol treat anxiety?
As earlier observed, alcohol may provide you temporary relief from anxiety and stress. For that reason, many people believe and take a drink to make themselves feel good and relaxed. The use of alcohol to cope with anxiety is sometimes referred to as self-medicating, which may work for a short period. However, over time, the adverse effects outweigh the temporary relief.
First, alcohol may give you temporary relief from stress and anxiety. Still, it does not erase the causes of anxiety, for instance, work-related pressure and stress, past trauma, or illness-related anxiety. Further, excessive use of alcohol leads to cognitive impairment leading to low mood and anxiety. Further to that, one is left feeling worse as the temporary feeling of calm fades away. Therefore, it is clear that alcohol does not treat anxiety.
If you are contemplating resorting to alcohol to cope with anxiety, you need to look for assistance. Please call 0203 955 7700, and an experienced advisor is available to speak to you and provide help.
Does quitting alcohol treat anxiety?
Depending on the root cause of anxiety, quitting alcohol can treat alcohol-induced anxiety, but anxiety treatment may need other techniques. If the stress was alcohol-induced, meaning it resulted from overuse of alcohol, leaving alcohol stops anxiety. However, if alcohol is not the underlying cause of concern, other treatments will accompany quitting alcohol.
Significantly, quitting alcohol has an overall health benefit. A healthy brain, free from the influence of alcohol, will have the ability to manage anxiety effectively.
Is alcohol harmful to anxiety?
It is not possible to make a general finding that alcohol is bad for anxiety. Some people can maintain moderate alcohol consumption that is controllable. Further, alcohol is used during ceremonies in many cultures. Therefore, controlled alcohol consumption is not harmful.
However, alcohol has the potential to worsen anxiety. As individuals long for the relaxation effect of alcohol, they may become dependent on alcohol as a coping mechanism. Therefore, the impact of overusing alcohol cannot be understated. Also, if the anxiety is not alcohol-induced, its consumption cannot deal with your anxiety triggers.
How to treat anxiety?
Generally, anxiety is treated by a combination of:
- Behavioural therapy
Psychotherapy involves talking to a psychologist or psychiatrist, who can assist you in learning your moods, feelings, and behaviours. After several psychotherapy sessions, you can learn how to have healthy coping mechanisms for challenging situations in your life.
Behavioural therapy employs a broad range of techniques that aim to change undesirable behaviours leading to anxiety. It works by reinforcing desirable behaviours in your life while eradicating harmful activities.
In some cases, anxiety may be severe, and the psychological treatments may not be of significance to help. Besides, some people may prefer medication over other types of treatments. However, drugs do not cure but relieve anxiety symptoms. Therefore, medicine has to be prescribed by a licensed doctor or a psychiatrist.
The following medications are commonly used:
Antidepressants work to reverse depressing effects in the brain. They help to improve the ability of the brain to control mood and stress. The downside of antidepressants is that they can be slow to work. They require a lot of patience before they are effective.
- Anti-anxiety medications
They are used to combat anxiety disorders. Benzodiazepines are the most common anti-anxiety medications. The good thing about benzodiazepines is that they relieve anxiety quicker than antidepressants. However, the negative side of benzodiazepines is that people can build a tolerance to them when used over a long time, increasing doses to get the same effect.
To counter people building tolerance of anti-anxiety, doctors prescribe benzodiazepines for short periods. Another drawback is that benzodiazepines may have withdrawal symptoms.
- Beta-blockers medication
Beta-blockers are drugs mainly used to treat high blood pressure, but they can also relieve anxiety symptoms, such as trembling and rapid heartbeat. It is advisable first to consult the doctor for safe treatment.
How can I change my lifestyle to reduce anxiety?
Some lifestyle contributes to increased risk of anxiety and the earlier you change them, the better. The lifestyle changes include:
- Avoiding alcohol
- Getting enough sleep
- Healthy diet
Anxiety is a natural response to an uncertain event. However, as much as it is normal and can happen to anybody, intense anxiety over a period exceeding six months is problematic and a cause of concern. As people try to contend with anxiety, they may take alcohol to relieve them from anxiety.
To treat anxiety, you should first understand various causes and factors that increase the likelihood of anxiety. For example, some form of anxiety has been linked to alcohol abuse as people find relief from other mental health problems. However, anxiety can only be treated well through medical prescriptions and therapy.
Anxiety is a problem that affects many people. Despite producing temporary relief to anxiety, alcohol worsens the situation in the long run. If you are having trouble with anxiety or alcohol, please call 0203 955 7700, and an experienced advisor is available to speak to and provide help.