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Does Drinking Alcohol Reduce Anxiety?

Does Drinking Alcohol Reduce Anxiety?
Written by Seth Fletcher on April 21, 2022
Last update: July 27, 2023
Anxiety is a common mental health condition characterized by feelings of stress or worry. For many who suffer from this condition, social interactions and the challenges of everyday life can feel unmanageable, leading to significant disruption and other difficulties. While the occasional feeling of stress or worry is certainly normal and part of the human condition, anxiety that feels more intense and debilitating often points to the presence of a generalized anxiety disorder. Untreated or self-treated anxiety can lead to negative consequences, including a decline in the individual's overall quality of life.
Table of contents

1. Alcohol and Anxiety
2. Can Alcohol Cause Anxiety?
3. Generalized Anxiety Disorder
4. Social Anxiety Disorder

Alcohol and Anxiety

Some people feel embarrassed or ashamed of their overwhelming anxious feelings, leading them to try to treat the symptoms of anxiety on their own. Have you ever felt uncomfortable in a social situation and used an alcoholic beverage to feel more relaxed and comfortable? If so, you're certainly not alone, but doing so can be a form of anxiety self-treatment. While the feelings of drinking to cope with anxiety might feel positive at first, they often change to negative swiftly. According to research performed in the department of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, the correlation between high levels of anxiety and alcohol abuse is significant. Many people who struggle with alcohol abuse or overuse also experience major mood and anxiety problems. Their data showed that few observations in the field of psychology have been documented as consistently or for as long as the association between the chronic misuse of alcohol and anxiety and its generally negative effects.

Can Alcohol Cause Anxiety?

Does-Drinking-Alcohol-Reduce-Anxiety.jpg Image via Unsplash by kekossDrinking alcohol has a depressive effect on the central nervous system. The first drink might cause a sedative feeling in the individual, decreasing their inhibitions and even creating a sense of euphoria. The result of these feelings might appear like a cure for anxiety, as the person no longer experiences anxious or worried feelings. For some with anxiety, a social situation can feel much more enjoyable when they have had a drink or two.Unfortunately, the alcohol effects are limited and can cause anxiety to worsen over time. When someone self-medicates with alcohol, they may try to maintain the positive feelings by drinking more and more. Excessive or heavy drinking can lead to significant health problems, including damage to the liver, brain, and heart. Chronic alcohol consumption can also create dependence, which means a person might struggle in any social situation without having at least one drink. In many people, using alcohol worsens anxiety when the effects subside.In a study of American war veterans participating in a treatment program for alcohol dependency, 98% of those using alcohol as a treatment for anxiety reported feeling at least one anxious symptom while drinking or withdrawing from drinking. The most common symptom among participants was heart palpitations, while others experienced at least one panic attack. In this situation, alcohol can act as an anxiogenic, or something that creates feelings of anxiety. As a result, the person experiencing anxiety might get into a vicious cycle where the thing they use to manage their condition causes it to worsen.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

There are various subcategories of anxiety disorders that fall under the category of generalized anxiety disorder. Understanding generalized anxiety disorder can help a patient determine whether they might be coping with the challenges related to this particular mental health condition. People with generalized anxiety disorder have a consistently high level of stress in their everyday lives, regardless of their changing situations. Anxiety and depression are often linked, causing people to feel stress, followed by depressive feelings.A person who feels anxious at the thought of going to work could become consumed with the potential worst-case scenarios that might occur. Someone who stays at home might feel paralyzed with fear that their house could catch on fire or someone could break in. A parent struggling with generalized anxiety disorder might feel particularly concerned about their child's prospective future. Constantly living with fear and worry can cause people to turn to alcohol to alleviate these stressful feelings.Drinking alcohol excessively can impact a person's physical health, as well as cause unwanted side effects. Hangovers often occur after drinking a lot of alcohol, which can cause nausea and vomiting, headaches, panic attacks, increased blood pressure, and other symptoms of anxiety. Using alcohol to cope with anxiety can also threaten an individual's ability to tend to their responsibilities at work, school, and home.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder occurs when an individual has significant fear or worry about participating in social situations. Some people confuse shyness or standoffishness with social anxiety, but a person with social anxiety disorder will typically feel anxious in any social situation, not just in one with people they don't know well. In severe cases, social anxiety can cause physical side effects, including gastric distress and headaches. Social phobias can also grow out of this mental condition, including the fear of being trapped away from home or being judged by others. Since many social situations involve alcohol use, it can feel natural and easy to manage social anxiety disorder with a drink. But continuing to use alcohol as a treatment can create a dependency in which a person can't participate in social situations without drinking. Long-term alcohol use also leads to an increased tolerance, which means the individual would need more drinks to reach the same level that they used to achieve with just one or two.

The Canadian Centre for Addictions (CCFA) Is Here to Help 

If you're struggling with alcohol dependency or abuse as a coping mechanism for anxiety, the Canadian Centre for Addictions can provide the support and resources you need to overcome this challenge. We offer a full range of quality services that provide our clients with flexible therapy and counseling for drug and alcohol addiction. Contact us now and ask about our addiction program. Our qualified treatment specialists can help you live a healthier and happier life that doesn't depend on alcohol.
Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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