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 in hopes of mitigating anxiety, does alcohol consumption actually have a cyclical effect, reverse effect by further 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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In order to get the most holistic, all-comprehensive treatment to anxiety and alcoholism, it is imperative that you take the time to understand what the symptoms of anxiety are along with the 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, it is essential that you seek professional medical help in order to alleviate the often debilitating effects stress can cause on your mind and body. To understand if you struggle with anxiety and need to seek medical help, it is important to know what the symptoms of experiencing anxiety are. 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 (OCD– obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • Anxiety around things that happened in the past (PTSD-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, it is essential that you seek medical guidance on how to alleviate these, often overwhelming, feelings brought on by anxiety. Furthermore, if you are suffering from panic attacks (a sudden onset of overwhelming feelings of fear or distress that peak within minutes and include at least four symptoms from the list below) it is imperative that you 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
  • Sensation of choking
  • 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 for alcohol abuse, however, while many may be easy to discern in oneself or another, 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 in order to receive the help needed for alcohol abuse, it is vital that you 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 drinking 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 physical hazardous situations (operating machinery, driving, etc.)
  • Using alcohol despite having health complications

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This list is in no way an all-inclusive list of signs of alcoholism and so if you feel you have issues around alcohol abuse, it is essential that you seek outside help, either through a medical professional or attending an inpatient/intensive outpatient alcohol treatment center.

When someone struggles with anxiety people as a daily occurence, the effects can be debilitating, possible causing one to seek comfort and relief from their symptoms through unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking alcohol. However, despite efforts to try to control anxiety through drinking, often times drinking can make anxiety worse. In fact, research suggests that heavy drinking can interfere with neurotransmitters in the brain that are 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 as alleviating their 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. Research confirms this by proving that people who have 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. Actually, reducing alcohol can in fact bring on more feelings of happiness, self-confidence, social functioning, and an overall state of emotional and mental well-being. Therefore, it is crucial that if you struggle with anxiety that you treat it before trying to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. There are many, healthier ways of coping with anxiety with 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 within you can help you to learn to relax when such feelings arise again. Furthermore, a trained medical professional may recommend that you take 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, it is imperative that you seek the guidance of a trained medical professional if you are struggling with anxiety or alcoholism. It could also be beneficial to you if seek help through an inpatient/intensive outpatient drug rehab that specializes 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 if it’s anxiety-induced alcoholism or alcoholism-induced anxiety, that 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 that specializes in addiction treatment can help ensure that you are approaching your plan of care with a holistic approach. If this all seems like too much to figure out on your own, 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. 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.

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