Alcohol and Anxiety: Understanding the Connection – Signs, Symptoms and Treatment
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Last Updated - 2/15/2023View our editorial policy
The connection between alcohol and anxiety works both ways. Alcohol can increase or create anxiety symptoms, while anxiety can lead to increased alcohol use. Because of their mutual impact, it’s crucial to understand the mental health effects of alcohol.
Why Alcohol Use Increases Anxiety
People with alcohol-induced anxiety often wonder why alcohol use causes anxiety. While alcohol may provide some short-term relief, it’s only temporary. In the long run, it rewires your brain, causing changes in chemicals and connections. These physical changes lead to long-term effects and increased anxiety. Even once alcohol use stops, an individual may need treatment to address the anxiety and physical changes.
Someone who tries to stop drinking on their own may experience frequent episodes of anxiety. This can then lead to resuming alcohol use to cope.
Symptoms of Alcohol-Induced Anxiety
Alcohol-induced anxiety, or “hangxiety,” occurs when someone experiences anxiety symptoms after heavy drinking. Physical symptoms may include:
- Agitation: Feeling on edge, hypervigilant
- Restlessness: Difficulty sitting still, resting or sleeping
- Panic: Fear or distress
- Nervousness: Uneasiness or worry
- Anger: Irritable
Experiencing these symptoms can feel distressing or overwhelming. This may increase overall anxiety severity and lead a person to cope by drinking more alcohol. Dealing with the physical effects of a withdrawal can also increase anxiety. These symptoms include:
- Difficulty concentrating
Can Anxiety and Alcohol Use Lead To Other Co-Occurring Disorders?
Ongoing alcohol use lowers your brain’s dopamine, impacting your ability to enjoy life. It also affects the brain’s GABA receptors, which puts you in a constant state of tension. Lower enjoyment and chronic stress lead to other mental health conditions, such as depression. Alcohol use and anxiety compound with these comorbid disorders worsening each other.
How Anxiety Causes Alcohol Abuse and Addiction
Anxiety is a feeling of fear, apprehension, dread or uneasiness that may accompany physical symptoms. These include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Quickened breathing
- Upset stomach
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Tight sensation in the chest
Anxiety can be beneficial in some situations, such as helping with focus during a job interview or getting important assignments completed. However, it can become an issue when it begins interfering with your daily life or increases in frequency. Some types of anxiety may indicate an underlying problem or point towards a specific anxiety disorder, including:
- Generalized anxiety disorder: Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent, excessive worry that affects many aspects of life.
- Social anxiety disorder: Social anxiety disorder is an excessive fear of interacting with others. As many as 20% of people with social anxiety disorder use alcohol.
- Panic disorder: Panic attacks are episodes of uncontrollable fear and panic that seemingly occur for no reason and resolve on their own. Individuals often worry about having another panic attack.
Anxiety can be so debilitating that people drink alcohol to find relief. But self-medicating often worsens the effects of anxiety over time and leads to substance misuse or addiction.
Can You Prevent Anxiety From Making Alcoholism Worse?
Incorporating stress management techniques can help with reducing anxiety. Some healthy coping methods may include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Setting a sleep schedule
- Breathing exercises
Remember — these techniques aren’t meant to be cures. Professional treatment addressing both anxiety and alcoholism is still the best way to begin healing.
Treatment for Co-Occurring Alcohol Addiction and Anxiety Disorders
Successful treatment addresses anxiety and alcohol addiction at the same time. This type of treatment helps you learn coping strategies to deal with anxiety as you stop using alcohol. It also addresses underlying causes such as past wounds or trauma.
Treatment often includes a combination of:
- Medical detox
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
Are you or a loved one seeking support for anxiety and alcohol use? The Recovery Village Columbus offers dual-diagnosis treatment for individuals through inpatient, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and outpatient programming. We also provide trauma-formed care such as EMDR. As proud partners of the VA Community Care Network, we work with VA benefits and offer FORTITUDE, a specialty track for veterans and first responders. Reach out to a Recovery Advocate today by calling 855-502-6158, and we’ll help you start your recovery journey.
Top Reads About Alcohol Addiction
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Harmful Interactions.” 2014. Accessed June 25, 2023.
Weathermon, Ron & Crabb, David W. “Alcohol and Medication Interactions.” Alcohol Research and Health, 1999. Accessed June 25, 2023.
Laban, Tahrier Sub & Saadabadi, Abdolreza. “Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors.” StatPearls, July 19, 2022. Accessed June 25, 2023.
McHugh, R. Kathryn & Weiss, Roger D. “Alcohol Use Disorder and Depressive Disorders.” Alcohol Research Current Reviews, October 21, 2019. June 25, 2023.