If you have ever had a drink or two to reduce your anxiety, you are not alone. Many people turn to alcohol to relax and take the edge off. While having a glass of wine or a cocktail might deliver that desired effect, anxiety and alcohol do not always mesh well. On the contrary, alcohol can contribute to anxiety, and can make you feel worse instead of better. So, take some time to understand the relationship between anxiety and alcohol in your life. Encore Health Group is here to help you with any questions you may have.
Anxiety, Alcohol, and Your Nervous System
Alcohol is a depressant that affects the central nervous system in a number of ways. First, alcohol initially delivers a sensation or relaxation because it slows down brain activity. The cerebrum, the largest part of the brain, also depresses when you drink. As a result, you will have lowered inhibitions, poor judgment, and worsened vision, speech, and movement. Overuse of alcohol can lead to even more ill effects, including the following:
- Memory loss
- Liver damage
- Brain damage
Similarly, anxiety also affects your nervous system. Specifically, when you are anxious, your brain releases stress hormones and chemicals. For example, even an imagined threat can cause your body to go into “fight or flight” mode and release adrenaline. Adrenaline results in a number of physical effects, including:
- Faster heartbeat
- Increased sweating
- Rapid breathing
- Increased blood pressure
- Sharper senses like sight and hearing
- Improved alertness
During an anxious moment, your body also releases stress hormones like cortisol. When released frequently, these stress hormones can lead to headaches and dizziness. Ongoing anxiety can even lead to chronic depression.
A Link Between Anxiety and Alcohol
Anxiety and alcohol both impact the central nervous system. Therefore, when an anxious person drinks, the function of the central nervous system can change. Even more, anxious individuals who drink regularly may experience more pronounced effects. Understanding this link is important if you live with anxiety and drink alcohol.
That relaxation that you may feel after a glass of wine or bottle of beer can quickly change as you continue to drink. That is, excessive alcohol consumption can result in heightened anxiety, not a relaxed state. This change in mindset occurs for a number of reasons.
First, if you drink frequently, your body will build up a tolerance for alcohol. Now, it may take three glasses of wine to deliver the same effect as one. As your blood alcohol content (BAC) increases, you enjoy that relaxed, de-stressed feeling. However, once you stop drinking and your blood alcohol content falls back to zero, you might notice that your stress and anxiety levels increase. In fact, you might even notice that you are more anxious than normal once the alcohol wears off.
If you notice that your anxiety is worse in the hour or day after you drink, alcohol may actually be worsening your anxiety. In this case, using alcohol as a coping mechanism or as a way to reduce anxious thoughts can backfire. As a result, individuals with anxiety disorders should tread carefully when drinking, especially if they are drinking to reduce anxious feelings.
Treatment for Alcohol Abuse
If you are using alcohol as a way to treat an anxiety disorder, consider seeking help. Anxiety and alcohol can lead to a variety of negative mental and physical side effects. Even more, withdrawal from alcohol can also trigger anxious moments, which is why this process should be managed by a trained professional. Individual or group therapy can help you reduce your dependence on alcohol and get on the road to recovery. Contact Encore Health Group to schedule an appointment today to learn more about alcohol and anxiety.