Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the United States affecting nearly 20 percent of adults each year. Unfortunately, drinking and anxiety often go hand in hand. This could be due to the temporary relief alcohol provides to those suffering from symptoms of anxiety which often leads many to question, “Does alcohol help anxiety?” The short answer is no, long-term alcohol use is not helpful to those suffering from any mental illness. The better question is, “Can alcohol cause anxiety?” Depending on the level of drinking, this just might be the case.
How to Describe Anxiety
An anxiety disorder is far more than the nervousness you feel before taking a test or giving a speech. Rather, it is a diagnosable mental illness that can seriously impair a person’s life. There are several types of anxiety disorders. Ultimately, anxiety triggers and symptoms will depend on the type of anxiety that a person experiences.
The main types of anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
In general, symptoms of anxiety disorders include things like an intense fear of what bad things might happen. This fear manifests both mentally and physically (sweating, increased heart rate, etc.). Fortunately, anxiety disorders are treatable. However, most people experiencing anxiety do not seek help. Rather, they often lean on substances like drugs or alcohol to ease symptoms.
Anxiety and Substance Abuse
Alcohol abuse is common among those with anxiety-driven mental illness. In fact, up to 40 percent of those suffering from panic disorders also struggle with alcoholism. However, the relationship between anxiety and alcohol is not always straightforward. In many cases, it can be difficult to determine whether alcoholic tendencies are a result of the anxiety disorder or vice versa. In other words, can anxiety cause alcoholism, or can alcohol cause anxiety? Ultimately, connections can be made between both scenarios.
Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism
Alcohol is a widely available, socially acceptable, legal drug. This makes it an easy option for combating anxiety. In this way, habitually using substances for relief from mental illness is a common approach to coping rather than seeking professional help. However, this type of self-medication can actually trigger anxiety or worsen existing symptoms. This is due to the way that alcohol interacts with the brain’s chemistry. Over time, the brain may come to expect alcohol, and alcohol addiction may develop.
It is important to emphasize that not everyone who experiences anxiety disorders will go on to abuse substances. However, it is not unusual for these conditions to co-occur.
Alcohol-induced anxiety can occur in people who do not have anxiety disorders. The anxiety can be short-lived or may last several days after drinking. Also termed, “hangxiety,” this condition usually occurs after heavy alcohol use is stopped. For example, the days after a weekend of binge drinking may result in elevated anxiety. This is from the residual chemical reaction in the brain from consuming excess alcohol. Because alcohol is a depressant, the body counteracts the drug by producing more neurochemicals that stimulate the central nervous system. Therefore, when alcohol use is stopped, the body is left with too many excitatory chemicals and no depressant effect. Elevated anxiety is the result. Usually, this subsides within a few days. However, more continual disorders could develop if alcohol is used chronically.
Can Alcohol Cause Anxiety Disorders?
There is a connection between chronic alcohol abuse and anxiety disorders. In the same way that “hangxiety” can cause short-term anxiety symptoms, long-term alcohol abuse can cause lasting changes in the brain. These changes contribute to anxiety and panic disorders. Fortunately, these changes in the brain are only associated with chronic, heavy drinking. Moderate and light drinking does not seem to have the same lasting effect.
Aside from worsening mental ailments, chronic alcohol use can lead to addiction. When these two types of disorders co-occur, it’s called dual diagnosis.
Treatment for Anxiety and Alcohol Addiction in South Florida
There are many treatment options for both anxiety disorders and alcohol addiction. If necessary, treatment will start with alcohol detox. Following detox, the type of program will depend on the severity of symptoms and patient preference. In any case, therapeutic sessions combined with medication are a common first approach.
At Port St. Lucie Hospital in South Florida, we understand the relationship between alcohol anxiety. Our mental health and addiction treatment facility offers both an adult mental health treatment program and a dual diagnosis program to address any co-occurring problems with substance abuse. In addition, we also offer the following services:
- Crisis Care Services (Emergency Services)
- Medical Detox
- Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
- Senior Adult Mental Health Program
If you’re in need of mental health or addiction services, you can contact Port St. Lucie Hospital at 772-408-5871. Alternatively, you can use our confidential online contact form. Whichever way you choose to reach out, we can help you start recovering today.