Note: This website is for informational purposes only and must not be construed as medical advice. (See disclaimer at foot of page.)
It seems so simple, even logical: We have a drink, our anxiety decreases and we feel better right?
But whilst alcohol might sound like a simple solution for reducing anxiety, we need to look past the short-term in order to see what happens in the long-term when we drink in these situations.
Here are the hidden truths about alcohol and anxiety that you’re probably not aware of, and what steps you can take next:
Alcohol as a short-term anxiety fix
We all know that having a drink can calm our nerves. So for those of us who suffer from anxiety and stress, and particularly those of us who have one of the various anxiety disorders, alcohol can be the first thing we reach for, to make the anxious feelings go away.
And it’s true, alcohol does lower anxiety levels in the short-term.
- Alcohol acts quickly to depress the central nervous system, giving a feeling of relaxation for a short period of time.
- In the short-term, alcohol increases the chemical inhibitory neurotransmitter Gamma-aminobutyric acid (or “GABA”), which has the effect of stopping the anxious feelings being produced.
- Alcohol’s chemical effect therefore makes it a fast acting “anxiolytic” – i.e. an anxiety reducer.
This is all well and good in the short term. But what about the longer term?
Alcohol’s long term effects
We need to know what happens when we regularly turn to alcohol in order to cope with anxiety and stress. The short answer is that we become less and less able to cope with anxiety as time goes by.
Four reasons why alcohol becomes less and less effective in reducing anxiety:
- A recent study has shown that long-term exposure to alcohol reduces the levels and function of the GABA-benzodiazepine (or “GBzR”) receptor in the central nervous system.
- In other words, long-term consumption actually reduces the anxiolytic function in the brain, making us less able to cope with anxiety in the long run.
- Alcohol withdrawal symptoms experienced after drinking can actually increase anxiety levels beyond what was being experienced before.
- Whilst the anxiety disorders social phobia and agoraphobia tend to precede heavy alcohol use, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder actually tend to follow heavy alcohol use. In other words, long-term alcohol use can actually cause general anxiety and panic attacks.
The danger of spiralling alcohol dependence
Not only does alcohol reduce our body’s ability to combat anxiety in the long-term, there is another very real danger for anxiety sufferers: dependence.
If you regularly “self-medicate” with alcohol, there’s a good chance you’ll become dependent on it over time, and you won’t be able to live without it. Alcohol becomes your “crutch”, and you won’t believe you can relieve your anxiety any other way – which is just not true!
Regular heavy alcohol consumption can adversely affect your life in all sorts of ways. It disrupts sleep patterns, can damage relationships with loved ones, reduce your ability to work properly etc. All of these effects, even when only slight, can lead to more feelings of anxiety – which then results in more drinking – and the spiral keeps going…
Another danger is potential misdiagnosis. Because the withdrawal symptoms experienced by alcohol dependants are similar to the symptoms experienced by anxiety sufferers, there’s a danger that heavy alcohol use can even mask an underlying anxiety disorder.
In fact, long-term studies that have shown that anxiety sufferers are statistically much more likely to have a dependence on alcohol than non-anxiety sufferers. Similarly, anxiety has been identified by the medical profession as a strong risk factor associated with alcoholism.
So what can you do?
Practical steps you can take to help relieve anxiety
Consuming alcohol in order to relieve your anxiety symptoms is never a good idea. If you have anxiety issues, make sure you watch your alcohol consumption very carefully. You don’t necessarily have to give up alcohol completely, but make sure you are aware of when, how much, and why you are drinking.
If you want to stop anxiety and panic attacks for good, there is a drug-free solution that actually works, according to the consumer feedback we’ve seen:
And if you do regularly drink heavily, or you feel you are dependent on alcohol, please do speak to your doctor.
Disclaimer: Important Notice regarding use of this Web Site
This website is for informational purposes only and must not be construed as medical advice.
In all instances see a physician or other health provider if you believe you have a medical condition.
See medical disclaimer notice here.