What is the connection between alcohol and anxiety?
People suffering from anxiety may drink alcohol to feel relaxed and forget their worries. However, these effects can be short-lived and people often discover over time that alcohol actually contributes to or worsens the anxiety they are trying to suppress.
Dr Wayne Kampers, consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton, has looked at the effects that alcohol can have on a person with anxiety. He has also outlined the treatment and support options available if you are struggling.
Can drinking contribute to or worsen anxiety?
Initially alcohol can reduce your fears, lower your stress levels and take your mind off any troubles. However, drinking alcohol, especially heavily and over a long period of time, can increase your anxiety by reducing your levels of serotonin and other brain chemicals, which are already low in anxious and depressed people.
If you have been drinking alcohol - particularly in excess – this can lead to increased anxiety the next day.
Can anxiety lead to people drinking alcohol or abusing alcohol?
While we are culturally conditioned to have a drink to ‘calm our nerves’ or cope with social interactions, it can end up being a viscous cycle where alcohol initially decreases anxiety but then increases hangover anxiety and depression the next day.
People who suffer with social anxiety may find that the only way they are able to cope in social situations is to drink alcohol. This may develop into alcohol abuse, particularly if they have to socialise often, say as part of their work, or if their tolerance to alcohol increases meaning they need larger amounts to reduce their anxiety.
What treatment is available for anxiety and alcohol abuse?
If you have a substance abuse disorder with a mental illness such as anxiety, depression or PTSD, then you have a co-occurring disorder. Though the symptoms of one disorder may have existed before the other, both disorders tend to exacerbate one another.
It is recommended that you receive integrative intensive medical and therapeutic intervention and care for both disorders at the same time. At Priory we are able to offer a 28-day residential Addiction Therapy Program for more severe cases and a Day Care Program for those who are better suited to living at home during treatment.
There is also outpatient treatment available for harmful drinking, where you will receive therapy tailored to your individual needs in a friendly and relaxed setting.