Alcohol Amplifies Anxiety Here's Why & What To Do About It

 

You’ve often heard in TV shows, movies, songs, plays, musicals, interactions with friends and family, western culture at large, and the internal workings of your own alcoholic brain that alcohol can calm your nerves. Oftentimes, fear and anxiety lead us to seek mood-altering substances in a desperate attempt to quell said fears and anxiety.

But here’s the plot twist: it doesn’t work. Well, come to think about it that’s not much of a plot twist since the title literally says “alcohol amplifies anxiety” but still, you get the point. The fact is, alcohol doesn’t fix anxiety the way TV shows, movies, songs, plays, musicals, interactions with friends and family, western culture at large, and the internal workings of your own alcoholic brain might lead you to believe.

In this article, we’ll debunk the myth that alcohol alleviates anxiety and talk about healthy ways to deal with anxiety in recovery.

 

how to stop anxiety after drinking alcohol

 

What is Anxiety?

Everyone on this planet has fears. Well, maybe the people who do wingsuit jumping don’t have fears, but everyone has fears beyond those who don wingsuits and jump off cliffs to glide at high speeds. Anxiety goes beyond simply having worries and fears. Anxiety involves worries and fears that get worse over time and don’t go away. This can interfere with several aspects of your life, including job performance, schoolwork, and personal relationships.

Anxiety is an overarching term for several specific disorders, including:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People with GAD suffer from a constant feeling of worry or dread, which can interfere with daily life. This doesn’t mean they occasionally worry about things; this means they experience frequent worry for months or even years. Symptoms include:

  • Feeling restless, wound-up or on-edge
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Headaches, muscle aches, or stomachaches
  • Struggling to control feelings of dread
  • Insomnia

Panic Disorder

Sufferers of panic disorder experience frequent and unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear, discomfort, or a sense of losing control even when there is no obvious danger or trigger. Panic attacks can also be part of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. As someone who has suffered panic attacks, I can tell you that panic attacks are nightmarish. 

Symptoms of panic attacks include:

  • Pounding or racing heart (it can almost feel like you’re having a heart attack)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Tingling sensation
  • Feeling of impending doom
  • Feeling like everything is out of control

As if panic attacks weren’t enough, the fear of another panic attack can add more anxiety. People with panic disorder often end up avoiding situations they fear will lead to a panic attack.

Social Anxiety Disorder

This is one I have a lot of personal experience with. Social Anxiety Disorder (which is appropriately abbreviated as “S.A.D.”) involves intense, persistent fear of being watched or judged by others. People with social anxiety feel like whenever they walk into a room, everyone is talking about them, judging them (always, and I mean always, negatively), and that every social situation will go drastically wrong. The fear of social situations can be so intense that people with SAD will try to avoid them altogether.

Symptoms include:

  • Blushing, sweating, or trembling in social situations
  • Racing heart
  • Stomachaches
  • Rigid body posture
  • Speaking with an overly soft voice
  • Difficulty making eye contact or being around people they don’t know
  • Constant feelings of self-consciousness and fears that people around them will judge them negatively.

Phobia-Related Disorders

Phobias are intense, overwhelming fears of certain things or situations. People with a phobia will take active steps to avoid encountering things they are afraid of, which can interfere with their day-to-day life. Examples of phobias include:

  • Acrophobia (fear of heights)
  • Fear of flying
  • Agoraphobia (fear of wide-open spaces. Literal wide-open spaces, not the song)
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)

Using Alcohol to Cope with Anxiety

In comes the way many people, especially the ones who would be prone to reading blog articles on the website of a drug/alcohol treatment center, try to cope with anxiety: drugs/alcohol. There’s a reason fear is a common topic in 12-step meetings. When we drink/use, we are trying to hide. Hide from our emotions, hide from our worries, hide from our fears. Why feel fear when you can drown it in a river of vodka?

Here’s the thing: while drugs/alcohol may temporarily help you forget about your worries, it doesn’t make them go away. The symptoms of anxiety are still there, no matter how much alcohol you pour over them. The stressors in your life, like your job, family, and children, trying to maintain a façade that you’re a fully functional human being and not a hopeless addict/alcoholic even though all evidence objectively shows that you are an addict/alcoholic and desperately need help, are still there.

On top of that, chronic alcohol use interferes with your ability to respond to stress/fears in healthy ways, which only makes anxiety worse. According to American Addiction Centers, alcohol affects the amygdala, the area of your brain that regulates negative emotions. Brain imaging has shown abnormalities in the amygdala of people with alcohol use disorder (alcoholics).

does alcohol cause anxiety attacks

 

Overcoming Anxiety in Recovery

We’ve talked a lot about anxiety and how alcohol only amplifies it, but what about solutions? It is possible to overcome anxiety in recovery, with the help of a 12-step program and with professional help.

Therapy

Working with a professional therapist is a fantastic resource for finding tools to handle anxiety. Therapy sessions can give you a safe place to discuss your feelings and give you healthy tools to work through your anxiety.

Meetings

You probably saw this one coming. Meetings are a great place to talk about things that are causing you fear with people who have the same crazy alcoholic brain you have. The overlap between addicts and people with anxiety is very large. Sometimes, simply vocalizing what you are feeling can be a great way to alleviate some of the anxiety.

When I came into the rooms, I was terrified of other people. For the first year of my sobriety, I barely talked to anyone. Eventually, when I finally got a sponsor, he strongly suggested I volunteer for a secretary position (the person who finds readers, does the 7th tradition announcements, etc.) The prospect of going up in front of a group of people terrified me. However, when I got the position, it allowed me to come out of my shell. I got to meet people, I got to know them, and I started to realize that I could actually trust these people.

If you are afraid of sharing, that’s okay. Just remember that no one in AA meetings is going to maliciously make fun of you for sharing during a meeting, and if they do, they need the program more than anyone else.

Meditation

Another common way to manage your anxiety in recovery is meditation. This doesn’t mean going to a monastery in Bhutan and sitting in the lotus position (side note, the Bhutanese name for Bhutan is “Druk Yul” which translates to “Land of the Thunder Dragon” which is awesome). Meditation simply means taking a moment to slow down and think of only your immediate surroundings, tuning out your other worries.

Exercise

Exercise is a fantastic way to get natural, healthy endorphins. Not only that but getting in better shape can help with self-confidence and give you more energy. I’m an avid runner, and to me, running is like meditation. Beyond my personal experience, I know a lot of people who began doing exercise routines in recovery and experienced great results for both their physical and mental health.

 

Conclusion

Recovery is a great time to find healthy ways to deal with anxiety. Oregon Trail Recovery is a great place to get a foothold into recovery. Join our programs today and start your journey into recovery.