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It is not uncommon for people to consume alcohol to alleviate stress and anxiety. This can be especially pertinent during holiday seasons when some people feel forced into uncomfortable situations with friends or family members that trigger emotional responses from the past. However, although alcohol can often be used to mitigate anxiety, does alcohol consumption have a cyclical effect or a reverse effect by increasing stress levels for the drinker instead?

Although it may be unclear as to which factor, anxiety or alcohol use, is the root issue at hand, the truth is that regardless, their relationship to one another can cause a dangerous, self-perpetuating cycle (coping with more alcohol to “treat” an underlying anxiety disorder but causing further strain and alcohol-induced anxiety, thus continuing the cycle, etc.). 

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To get the most holistic, all-comprehensive treatment for anxiety and alcoholism, you must take the time to understand the symptoms of anxiety, signs of alcoholism, how both are linked, and how to get help if you are struggling with anxiety-induced alcoholism or alcoholism-induced anxiety.

Symptoms of Anxiety

In life, it is common for one to experience stress/anxiety from time to time. Maybe you are going through a major life transition and are uncertain about what the future has in store for you, or you’re nervous about an upcoming event, etc. However, if you are struggling with anxiety on a more regular, daily occurrence, you must seek professional medical help to alleviate the often debilitating effects stress can cause on your mind and body. To understand if you struggle with anxiety and need medical help, it is important to know the symptoms of experiencing anxiety.

Some common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Nervousness, restlessness, or being tense
  • Trembling or muscle twitching
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating on anything other than the thing you are worried about
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Feelings of danger, panic, or dread
  • Rapid breathing or hyperventilation 
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Increased or heavy sweating
  • Obsessions about certain ideas (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)
  • Anxiety around things that happened in the past (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Avoidance of things that trigger stress/anxiety
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It bears repeating: if you struggle with any of these symptoms regularly, you must seek medical guidance to alleviate these, often overwhelming, feelings brought on by anxiety. Furthermore, suppose you are suffering from panic attacks, which are the sudden onset of overwhelming feelings of fear or distress that peak within minutes and include at least four symptoms from the list below. In that case, you must learn how best to manage your stress through guidance from your doctor.

Some signs of a panic attack include:

  • Sweating
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling hot or cold
  • Sensation of choking
  • Fear of losing control
  • Chest pains or tightness
  • Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesia
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, feeling faint
  • Nausea or gastrointestinal problems
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Feeling “detached” from oneself or reality

Signs of Alcoholism

There are many warning signs of alcohol abuse. However, while many may be easily discerned in oneself, other signs may be difficult to detect. If symptoms are left untreated for a while, alcohol abuse can spiral out of control and cause devastating effects on yourself and your relationship with others. Therefore, it is essential that to receive the help needed for alcohol abuse, you must be extremely honest with any warning signs you may be experiencing.

Some common signs that alcohol abuse/alcoholism may be at hand include:

  • Feeling a strong urge to drink (craving alcohol)
  • Choosing to drink over daily obligations/commitments
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Making excuses or becoming defensive about your drinking
  • Hiding your drinking from others
  • Showing signs of abnormal irritability and mood swings
  • Continuing to use alcohol despite being in physically hazardous situations (operating machinery, driving, etc.)
  • Using alcohol despite having health complications

This list is in no way an all-inclusive list of signs of alcoholism. So if you feel you have issues around alcohol abuse, you must seek outside help, either through a medical professional or by attending a treatment facility.

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The Link Between Alcohol Abuse and Anxiety

When someone struggles with anxiety as a daily occurrence, the effects can be debilitating, possibly causing one to seek comfort and relief from their symptoms through unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking alcohol. However, despite trying to control anxiety through drinking, drinking can often worsen anxiety. Research suggests that heavy drinking can interfere with neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for positive mental health. This can cause someone who struggles with overwhelming stress to spiral downward into further bouts of anxiety.

Nonetheless, because alcohol can temporarily put someone at ease, many people may attribute alcohol’s effects to alleviating stress. Furthermore, because the effects are short-lived, many people may stay on the hamster wheel of drinking to avoid feeling unpleasant feelings of anxiety, thinking that the momentary lapse of unpleasant uneasiness brought on by alcohol use will keep them at ease for the long term by continuing to drink.

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The reality, however, is that drinking more alcohol will only exacerbate the anxiety in the long run.  confirms this by proving that people with an alcohol use disorder have higher levels of anxiety than people who do not have an alcohol use disorder. Whether anxiety disorders drive someone to drink or drinking causes anxiety disorders is unclear. However, more studies are being conducted with results that signify a link between the two and that alcohol does not treat an anxiety disorder. Reducing alcohol can bring on more feelings of happiness, self-confidence, social functioning, and overall emotional and mental well-being. Therefore, it is crucial that if you struggle with anxiety, you treat it before trying to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope.

There are many healthier ways of coping with anxiety by making some lifestyle changes, such as: 

  • Practicing meditation practices or yoga
  • Getting enough rest
  • Spending more time outdoors
  • Exercising
  • Eating healthy
  • Reducing caffeine intake

It may also be beneficial to seek the guidance of a therapist/counselor who can help you pinpoint what provokes your anxiety. Working through what stirs up feelings of stress can help you learn to relax when such feelings arise again. Furthermore, a trained medical professional may recommend taking recovery-safe medication (non-addictive medication) to help alleviate symptoms often experienced with anxiety.

What to Do if You Struggle with Anxiety and Alcoholism: Dual Diagnosis Alcohol Treatment

As mentioned previously, you must seek the guidance of a trained medical professional if you are struggling with anxiety or alcoholism. It could also benefit you if you seek help through an inpatient/intensive outpatient drug rehab specializing in dual-diagnosis treatment (treatment that addresses both the anxiety and alcoholism, not just one or the other). That way, you can rest assured that regardless of anxiety-induced alcoholism or alcoholism-induced anxiety, you are being taken care of through a holistic, well-rounded plan.

In addition to the dual-diagnosis treatment through an alcohol treatment center, participating in counseling with a therapist specializing in addiction treatment can help ensure that you approach your care plan with a holistic approach. Suppose this all seems like too much to figure out on your own. In that case, fortunately, there are inpatient/intensive outpatient alcohol rehab centers that put together an individualized, all-inclusive treatment plan for you based on your own unique needs.

Infinite Recovery offers alcohol and opiate detox in Houston, Austin, and across Texas. Reach out today to get on a path of mental, physical, and emotional welfare. Your future self will thank you for pursuing life-long happiness and well-being.

Sources:

Infinite Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial guidelines and medical review policy.

  1. Cirino E. Anxiety: Symptoms, Types, Causes & More. Healthline. Published September 16, 2018. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety-symptoms
  2. Fields L. Hyperventilation: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment. WebMD. Published October 29, 2021. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/lung/lung-hyperventilation-what-to-do
  3. Mayo Clinic Staff. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published March 11, 2020. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354432
  4. Mayo Clinic Staff. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published July 6, 2018. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967
  5. Ansorge R. Heart Palpitations: Causes, Treatments, After Eating, Lying Down. Published July 20, 2021. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/what-causes-heart-palpitations
  6. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Paresthesia | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Published May 4, 2022. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/paresthesia
  7. Smith JP, Randall CL. Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorders. Alcohol Res. 2012;34(4):414-431.
  8. McCaul ME, Hutton HE, Stephens MAC, Xu X, Wand GS. Anxiety, Anxiety Sensitivity, and Perceived Stress as Predictors of Recent Drinking, Alcohol Craving, and Social Stress Response in Heavy Drinkers. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 2017;41(4):836-845. doi:10.1111/acer.13350
Amanda Stevens, BS

Medical Content Writer

Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Ascendant NY, The Heights Treatment, Epiphany Wellness, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed July 5, 2022

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