Can Alcohol Make My Anxiety Worse?

Last modified: August 2, 2019

Richard Honaker M.D.
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Can alcohol and getting drunk make anxiety symptoms worse? Can it be applied the other way around as well? It is often tough to determine the true causes of coping mechanisms and mental illness. Here’s what we’ve come up with.

You are on your way to have a drink with your friends and actually plan on getting drunk but you hesitate because you’ve noticed that drinking alcohol seems to elicit more anxiety from you.

There are actually reasons why you feel that way whenever you drink alcohol. Drinking makes people feel relaxed, but sometimes it can trigger more anxiety from you, which might appear to be a bit weird.

Alcohol is a Known Depressant

According to Aarti Gupta, PsyD, alcohol is a depressant, which is why your nervous system relaxes. It can even decrease anxiety or sedate people. It is therefore understandable that you would associate drinking with de-stressing, repose, and unwinding.

From that explanation, you may think that alcohol is a good thing for people with anxiety. That is not the case at all. Alcohol also provisionally changes the way serotonin works in your brain.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that performs a special function in regulating people’s mood and anxiety. Researches have suggested that alcohol can cause rises in the stress hormone called cortisol. Both mentioned neurological changes can add to a person’s feelings of anxiety.

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However, there are other psychological reasons why drinking alcohol can trigger anxiety in some people. For example, when you get drunk, you could have a blurred vision, heightened heart rate, a feeling of disorientation, and dizziness caused by a drop in your blood sugar.

According to Dr. Gupta, these are all symptoms that anxious people usually know that will happen during an anxiety attack. So there’s a chance that if you are hyperaware of the mentioned changes in your mood and physiology while you are drunk could add to your anxiety.

Does the Drunk Chicken Come Before the Anxiety Egg

If this rings a bell, remembering the said tendency can aid you to feel more comfortable the next time you’ll have a drink with your friends. If you get feelings of uncertainty or discomfort linked with mood shifts, bear with it and remind yourself that it’s most likely just because you are drinking. You could even get drunk if that’s your objective.

In some cases though, there could be more powerful forces involved like social anxiety. That would make it more difficult to overcome. When you’re drunk or have been drinking, you may tend to feel your social anxiety symptoms are increased or you could start overthinking about everything that you do. This is all because of self-focused attention from alcohol myopia.

According to Dr. Joshua P. Smith, alcohol myopia is a terminology for alcohol induced shortsightedness. This means that alcohol limits your focus to only what you are seeing in front of you and hinders you from seeing the big picture.

He also said that alcohol myopia is also responsible for the stupid mistakes that people make when they are drunk or have been drinking.

When you’re drunk, you will probably make mistakes in speaking or do embarrassing things. Even though these mistakes may not make you panic when you’re sober, just the thought of doing them can make you very anxious when you’re drunk. This is because it will be more difficult for you to think beyond what was happening during that moment.

Are You Drinking Alcohol to Cope with Your Anxiety?

Drinking alcohol to cope with your anxiety is not a good idea. Along the way, your psychological dependence on it can produce more anxiety. The more you drink to lessen the anxiety, the more anxious you feel, so you drink more and more and just get drunk most of the time.

This could turn into an alcohol use disorder if left uncontrolled. If you think you need to drink to feel less anxious, discuss your habits with your doctor or a mental health professional. They will help you determine the reasons for these feelings and develop healthier strategies that you can do to cope and deal with these feelings.

If you think you basically have a hold on your drinking habits but may get overwhelmed when you need to drink at social functions, plan before you start drinking. Imagine putting yourself in circumstances that reduce your chances of problems. You don’t have to miss the party.

Just give yourself permission to take a walk instead of having another drink, or have a glass of water in between drinks of alcohol, or tag along with friends whom you trust and feel comfortable with.

And for those who are not really into drinking, you don’t have to do it just because everyone is doing it, much more so if it makes you anxious. You can avoid getting drunk while you avoid feeling more anxious.

Submitted by Dr. Richard Honaker:

Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.

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