Does alcohol cause anxiety?

Alcohol & Anxiety


A cocktail mix of stress, anxiety, fast-pacing heart rate, and the experience of restlessness.

There is a new buzzword in the market which describes an individual’s symptoms of hangover and anxiety which you may experience the next morning after a night of heavy alcohol consumption. And yes, there is a scientific reason why many of you might go through this worst kind of hangover. Alcohol, as experts state, it slows down our brain functioning by affecting the neurotransmitters which are responsible for regulating our moods, and feelings. Alcohol also may disrupt sleep leading to experiencing irritability, nausea, and making you feel cranky. Individuals who are already experiencing Anxiety Depression or any other mental health disorders and consume alcohol to deal with their emotions might experience the symptoms worsening gradually.

Impact of Alcohol Use-

Over the last 3 decades, India has seen a significant increase in alcohol consumption. This increase mostly attributes to rising urbanization, increased access to advertising, and acceptance of alcohol consumption in our culture.

Individuals consume alcohol due to several reasons such as social norms, positive past experiences with respect to alcohol consumption, peer pressure, curiosity to try something new, to have fun, to deal with day-to-day stress, to repress inhibitions feel free, etc. Under the influence of alcohol individual’s may experience a sense of euphoria, and they might become chattier, and socialize more, which is often considered a plus side as the individual may feel his best self is out in open. This kind of euphoria is felt due to the enhancement of a chemical known as Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) which has a relaxing effect.

Alcohol is a type of depressant that helps in making people relaxed for a shorter period of time, which wears off quickly. As mentioned earlier it is crucial to remember that alcohol has a massive effect on various chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin which alter due to heavy drinking and can completely change how a person’s body reacts in everyday situations.

Relationship between alcohol and anxiety

To understand the relationship between alcohol and anxiety let us first understand what is anxiety. Anxiety is a feeling of worry or fears with respect to what will happen. It is both mental and physiological states of expecting negative outcomes. When in this state of anxiousness individual experiences an increased level of arousal and feels tortured due to apprehension leading to a distressed worrying pattern. It leads to going into a survival mode which activates the body system to respond to an unknown danger whether it is imagined or real.

Individual anticipates bad outcomes and may feel jittery and fast heart rate as the body feels discomfort. In a state of anxiousness, an individual’s attention is towards making certain changes to protect something they care for. It is very natural to feel anxious as in some situations it can make a person productive and save the day.

So when does this anxiety becomes a disorder?

When an individual experiences anxiety persistently in situations when there is no real danger at all, they physically find it difficult to stay in a relaxed mode. It becomes pervasive and it can disrupt day-to-day life whether in work settings, relationships, or personal life. It causes difficulty in sleep , irritability , impaired concentration, intrusive thoughts, and fatigue, individuals may also have specific or unspecified fear or phobia related to something. An individual often uses alcohol to feel relieved from these symptoms. Anxiety is more strongly associated with alcohol dependence than alcohol abuse .

A study reported that 25% of individuals who were under panic disorder treatment had an active history of alcohol dependence. Drinking alcohol increases dopamine levels in the pleasure center of the brain. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical that swirls through your head, but this rush only lasts short term. When dopamine levels reduce as the effect of alcohol disappears, anxiety feelings tend to rebound.

Though alcohol is able to suppress anxiety feelings this rebound effect may be much worse than the existing level of anxiety. Alcohol has a tendency to induce panic in an individual because heavy drinking can deplete GABA, causing increased tension and feelings of panic. These factors often cause it difficult for the individual to quit drinking as when they try it leads to develop severe anxiousness.

Another study shows that 20% of individuals with a social anxiety disorder can struggle with alcohol dependence as consuming alcohol helps them to socialize more the inhibitions are suppressed. But eventually, due to the long-term use, one might develop tolerance and get desired effect to relax and socialize with people. Gradually instead of one glass of alcohol, they may need two or more glasses to have the same feeling.

Healthy Coping of Alcohol-

Alcohol often tends to replace the brain’s need to learn to cope with stress by itself. So quitting alcohol can cause more anxiety. You can use the following strategies to cope with the withdrawal effects.

Strategies to cope with withdrawal effects:

  1. Coping is teamwork- Individuals should take help and support from friends, and family to share their feelings and be present with them in this process.
  2. Engage in activities you like- Picking up a new hobby or program or practicing relaxation techniques would help deal with stress and anxiety. It would help in keeping yourself distracted from negative thoughts and feelings.
  3. Staying Active- Engage yourself in physical activity such as exercising, aerobics, swimming, and outdoor games. Keeping yourself active helps you in calming yourself and keeping your mind busy.
  4. Get professional help- Seeking psychiatric help from mental health professionals in an outpatient or inpatient setting is crucial. There are also de-addiction centers or psychiatric clinics and hospitals with teams of psychiatrists and psychologists or counselors to provide assistance in the recovery process. Counselling can aid in understanding the main cause of pain, setting goals, and learning healthy coping strategies. Learning techniques and skills to deal with stress can really help you in long term.
  5. Support Groups- Support groups are an excellent way to feel a part of the community as they share their struggles with a group dealing with similar issues. This motivates them to move forward in the treatment process.
    In India, there are several mental healthcare facilities available. If you or someone you know needs help with anxiety and alcohol use, you can get in touch with the experienced mental health professionals at Mpower .

Image credits: Freepik

Anushree Kadam
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