It’s not unusual for people to use alcohol to alleviate anxiety. However, the relationship between anxiety and alcohol use disorder can become a dangerous, self-perpetuating cycle. Scientific research reveals how habitual drinking amplifies symptoms of anxiety or vice versa. Outside of the medical community, the internet is flooded with information and forums discussing how quitting alcohol cured my anxiety. We decided to explore more on this topic and, exactly, what happens with anxiety after drinking alcohol.
Every human being experiences emotions. Some are great. Some really suck. But all are normal and natural. Intense emotions, however, can trigger crippling fear and worry that can manifest into complex disorders that present themselves as anxiety, depression, and a number of other mental health complexities. Anxiety continues to be one of the most common and pervasive mental disorders affecting nearly 40 million people in the United States. They are real, serious medical conditions just like heart disease or diabetes. Unfortunately, the majority of sufferers don’t receive needed treatment – only about 39% do – leaving a gap in care that forces many into dangerous self-medicating practices.
In the absence of medication and treatment, alcohol seems to be among the most widely used substances. But what happens with anxiety after drinking alcohol? Are the effects positive or largely negative? Indeed, many report that self-medicating with alcohol to help cure anxiety, particularly social anxiety, seems to work. But what’s really happening in the brain?
Where Does Anxiety Start?
It’s the question everyone is asking. Certainly, anxiety seems to have increased in recent years. Whether the upward trend is real or imagined, there is no question that anxiety cripples millions of American’s every year. Anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness. It might cause you to sweat, feel restless and tense, and have a rapid heartbeat. It can be a normal reaction to stress. However, the frequency of anxiety episodes can impact wellbeing. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, and relationships.
A Clinical Psychology Review study cites a cultural shift toward extrinsic goals as the leading contributor to anxiety prevalence. The view suggests that motivations are drifting away from the community and onto the individual. In a society where materialism is paramount, there is more opportunity for stronger negative emotions to fester. Is social media a culprit? What about the pressure and stresses of work? Experts agree that anxiety doesn’t derive from the same place, nor does it affect everyone the same.
The truth is that a variety of factors play a role in mental health. These quick facts reveal the reality of society norms today as it related to anxiety:
- According to the National Institute of Health, social isolation and loneliness are predictive of future mental health problems. In 1960, roughly seven percent of adults lived alone, but by 2017, that figure was well over 30%.
- Social media impacts sleep and mental health. Those who frequent a high number of social platforms reported lower self-esteem and high levels of anxiety and depression.
- Although studies remain inconclusive, some key figures suggest that higher rates of mass media consumption correlate with the uptick of anxiety disorders. Measuring this correlation is complex, though.
- A study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology concludes that stressful life events are significantly associated with anxiety symptoms.
In summary, anxiety derives from a variety of areas. Understanding anxiety and how it functions provides an opportunity to explore different treatment options. As it stands today, one in five individuals with anxiety report using alcohol to cope simply because they’re not received the necessary treatment. Why, then, are so many prone to using alcohol to manage anxiety? Undoubtedly, the thousands of posts on how “quitting alcohol cured my anxiety” would suggest this is counterproductive and even damaging.
What is Anxiety?
It’s commonly known that alcohol is a depressant, but the truth about how alcohol affects someone who suffers from anxiety is not often discussed. Before we explore the validity of how quitting alcohol cured my anxiety, let’s examine anxiety in general.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America asserts that the term “anxiety disorder” refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme worry and fear and includes:
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are also closely related to anxiety.
The Brain and Anxiety
Anxiety disorders can happen at any stage of life, but they usually begin by middle age. Women are more likely to have an anxiety disorder than men, says the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The mechanism of anxiety within the brain is complex but essential to understand when exploring how alcohol can negatively impact and even deter the effective management of extreme emotions.
The process can happen as follows: when feeling anxious, the body goes on alert, prompting the brain to prepare itself for flight or fight mode. In an attempt to help fight overwhelming anxiousness, the brain floods the central nervous system with adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones tell the body that something scary is about to happen. Their role is simply to help the person cope with danger. In a non-anxious brain, when the threat is gone, the sympathetic part of your nervous system works to calm the brain and physical body. An anxiety disorder disrupts this calming cycle and, instead, triggers the release of more stress hormones. The resulting process can cause long-term damage, especially if self-medicating with alcohol.
Some quick facts on anxiety and the brain:
- Anxiety disorder incorporates a spectrum from mild, moderate, and severe
- The disorder can make your brain hyperactive to perceived threats
- It’s difficult for the brain to reason with an anxiety disorder
- Anxiety can train the brain to hold onto negative memories
Anxiety After Drinking Alcohol
Here is a paradox to consider: I consume alcohol to cope with my anxiety, but discovered later that quitting alcohol cured my anxiety. These thoughts are penned and shared across the internet, forums, and even social media. What exactly is happening with anxiety after drinking alcohol?
Anxiety disorders and alcohol use disorder (AUD) often occur together. Using alcohol “to take the edge off” is a common approach for those experiencing situational anxiety. In the realm of science, it’s known as the “tension reduction hypothesis.” Basically, the theory suggests that alcohol can be used to self-medicate and defend the brain against anxiety symptoms.
Initially, drinking alcohol may help someone to relax. It can definitely make social situations more comfortable to deal with, and problems seem less daunting.
The initial effects of alcohol include:
- Improved mood
- Reduced anxiety
- Fewer inhibitions
- Boost in self-confidence
However, positive feelings are usually short-lived and carry risks. These risks may become yet another source of anxiety-riddled fears. For one, alcohol can seriously undermine a person’s logic and reasoning, leading many to engage in precarious and even dangerous situations. It opens up to the possibility of things going awry, sparking the onset of fight or flight responses, which is the signature of anxiety played on a loop.
Also, alcohol is a depressant which affects your brain’s natural level of happiness chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. This means that although you’ll feel an initial ‘boost’ the night before, the next day you will be deficient in these same chemicals, which may lead to feeling anxious, down or depressed.
A person with an anxiety disorder is three times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder. Similarly, studies indicate that AUDs are more prevalent in people with specific mental health conditions like agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. You might drink to relax, but it actually has the opposite effect. Anxiety-related emotions and fears are heightened with continued alcohol consumption. Alternatively, alcohol use disorder can trigger an anxiety disorder.
The Reality of Alcohol & Anxiety Attacks
Quitting alcohol can cure anxiety. This approach is not difficult to perceive.
Alcohol lowers levels of serotonin, or what’s commonly referred to as the happiness hormone. Decreased levels are associated with increased anxiety. Further, the body will eventually build up a tolerance to alcohol, making it less effective for producing calming and relaxing effects. Additionally, ongoing alcohol use entails a different set of health issues and complications.
“Alcohol acts as a sedative, so it can help you feel more at ease in the short term. When you drink alcohol, it disrupts the balance of chemicals and processes in the brain. The effects and relief of lowered inhibition and increased confidence eventually wear off.” – Dr. Sarah Jarvis, Drinkaware Medical Advisor
A study from the National Institute of Health found that 20% of those with social anxiety have an alcohol abuse problem. Further, a 2014 study by the University of Missouri-Columbia found that drinking alcohol disrupts the body’s sleep homeostasis or sleep regulator. Sleep issues can trigger the onset of anxiety, as well.
Quitting Alcohol Cured My Anxiety
Science suggests finding alternative ways to relax and socialize away from alcohol. For example, heading out for brunch instead of dinner, an exercise class, or spending time outside. These types of activities can significantly lower symptoms and increase happy hormones in the body.
Generally, it’s recommended to monitor symptoms of co-occurring anxiety and alcohol use disorder. If you or someone you love are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s critical to identify treatment needs and ongoing therapy. Symptoms can include:
- Feeling nervous or irritable
- Having a sense of imminent danger or panic
- Noticing an increase in heart rate
- Hyperventilating or sweating or shaking
- Feeling constantly tired
- Experiencing an erratic sleep pattern
- Being unable to concentrate
Also, signs of AUD include:
- Experiencing a strong urge or need to drink
- Experiencing blackouts
- Drinking too to experience relaxation during highly stressful moments
- Alcohol interfering with work or home life
- Skipping activities that were enjoyable drink
- Being in dangerous situations under the influence
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms that include anxiety
It’s true. Quitting alcohol, over time, can alleviate intense episodes of anxiety. It can also reduce the possibility of long-term anxiety disorders. Treatment options are available to address dual diagnosis care.
Treatment for Dual Diagnosis
People can usually manage all types of anxiety successfully by using a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and therapy rather than alcohol. Overall, quitting alcohol can cure anxiety, especially if addressed early on. Habitual alcohol use and continued abuse, on the other hand, may require addiction treatment and rehabilitation.
The outlook with those who suffer from AUD is a little more complicated. AUD is a chronic condition that includes a variety of factors and effects. In most cases, dual diagnosis care provides the most support for addressing anxiety and AUD effectively.(Video) Does Alcohol Cause Depression & Anxiety - Is alcohol making you depressed?
If you’re suffering from addiction to alcohol and anxiety, it can be hard to find the right help. Many people view AUD as a more immediate danger. However, without treating the underlying anxiety, the chances of relapse increase. Reaching out to a dual diagnosis treatment center can help clarify how to address both co-occurring disorders.
AspenRidge Treatment Options
Quitting alcohol cured my anxiety – does it work? Science confirms that abstaining from alcohol use can drastically reduce or eliminate symptoms of anxiety. However, for long-term care, it’s vital to seek experienced help from licensed clinicians with a track record for tackling AUD and anxiety together.
Anxiety disorders can develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events. There are several standard approaches for effectively treating anxiety and other similar mental health conditions, including ongoing therapy, medication, trauma-based therapy, etc. However, when approaching dual diagnosis care, it’s essential to select a program that is licensed and experienced in addressing co-occurring disorders.
AspenRidge takes a comprehensive and tailored approach to address both anxiety disorders and alcohol use disorder. Our first step is to evaluate client needs based on historical information such as how long anxiety has been an issue, potential sources, and triggers of anxiety, in addition to addressing alcohol or other substance abuse. Through our various customizable programs, clients can discover sobriety as well as the tools needed to help effectively manage the symptoms of anxiety long-term while remaining sober.
It’s important to note that both conditions are treatable. A few of our program offerings include:
- Partial Hospitalization Day Program
- Day Intensive Outpatient Program
- Outpatient Program
- Online REACH Program
Our wide range of services includes group and individual counseling, addiction therapy, trauma therapy, psychiatric services, and life skills development and aid. If you’re ready to speak with an addiction specialist for free, contact us directly 24/7 at our helpline at 855-306-3110.
Plans are flexible and geared to providing expert services utilizing our continuum care model.
Will my anxiety improve if I stop drinking? ›
For many, anxiety levels can improve within three weeks without drinking. For those experiencing post-acute withdrawal syndrome (or 'PAWS'), it may take more time. This is because PAWS symptoms often include longer-lasting anxiety and irritability as the brain recovers from the negative effects of alcohol.When I drink alcohol my anxiety goes away? ›
There's some truth to the idea that alcohol can reduce stress. Alcohol is a sedative and a depressant that affects the central nervous system. At first, drinking can reduce fears and take your mind off of your troubles. It can help you feel less shy, give you a boost in mood, and make you feel generally relaxed.How long after quitting drinking does anxiety improve? ›
It's common to feel anxious or cranky. Your mood should get better within 3 to 6 weeks. Tell your doctor if it doesn't. You may need treatment for long-term symptoms or an undiagnosed mental health condition.Why do I feel so good after quitting alcohol? ›
A Starting Point for Mental Health and Healing
Over time, alcohol actually reduces levels of serotonin in your brain according to Tempest board member, Ruby Mehta, LCSW. When you quit alcohol, your body a chance to increase serotonin without depletion, so you may actually feel happier over time.
“Anxiety is a common feeling when people drink too much,” says Elizabeth Bulat, M.D., a substance abuse specialist at Henry Ford Health. “And for people who are already prone to depression and anxiety, alcohol can worsen symptoms of those conditions.”Why does alcohol make you anxious? ›
Alcohol is a depressant which affects your brain's natural level of happiness chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. This means that although you'll feel an initial 'boost' the night before, the next day you will be deficient in these same chemicals, which may lead to feeling anxious, down or depressed.What calms your anxiety? ›
Find relaxation or meditation apps that appeal to you and give them try. Just breathe: Inhale and exhale slowly, evenly, and deeply for several breaths. Change your position: “Whatever you're doing, do the opposite,” Kissen says. “If you're hunched over with worry, stand up and take a Wonder Woman pose.What to drink to calm nerves? ›
- Apple cider vinegar.
- Understand your anxiety and triggers. The first thing you can do is try to understand what it is that makes you anxious and why. ...
- Practice mindfulness. ...
- Exercise. ...
- Try to think positively. ...
- Get support.
Generally, though, it may take up to two weeks for the brain's chemistry to return to normal after experiencing extended periods of alcoholic blackout.
Do dopamine levels return to normal after quitting alcohol? ›
Both excessively high and abnormally low levels of dopamine can have adverse effects, but over time your brain will begin to normalize dopamine levels as well as your brain's response to the chemical without the intrusion of alcohol.What happens if you don't drink alcohol for 2 months? ›
After 2 Months Of Not Drinking Alcohol
You will sleep better (and deeper) again. Your sleep quality would start to normalize. Alcohol often seems to help you in falling asleep, but it actually disrupts sleep, causing a “false sleep feeling” and waking up exhausted.
Overall benefits of three weeks without alcohol
Clear skin. More energy. Improved gym performance. Reduced anxiety and improved mood.
Across the month, your body is likely to have benefitted greatly from giving up alcohol. Better hydration and improved sleep will have increased your productivity and daily wellbeing. Your liver, stomach and skin will also have benefitted from not dealing with alcohol.What happens after 2 weeks of no alcohol? ›
Now that you've been off alcohol for nearly two weeks, you may notice that you're thirstier. It's not that you need more fluids than normal, just that you're more in tune with just how much you do need. Stay hydrated – it's a big help for one of the lovely effects that may be coming up in week four…Does wine help with anxiety? ›
Wine depresses the central nervous system which means that your senses slow down, including your thought processes. So, if you're mind has been racing all day thinking about all the things you have to do then a glass of wine can help to alleviate your stress, worry and anxiety by decreasing such feelings.Why do I feel normal when I drink? ›
In the brain, it begins to interact with brain chemicals related to your mood and energy levels. Alcohol can mimic a chemical that slows your brain messaging down. It can also limit another chemical that can speed you up. In small amounts, the alcohol can make you feel calm, confident, and relaxed.Is Whiskey good for anxiety? ›
You've probably headed to the bar after a bad week at work to try to erase your troubles, but you may not know that a shot of whiskey can actually help you relax. The barbiturate effect of the alcohol can reduce stress, and also has sedative properties to help you sleep if you're experiencing anxiety.How long does alcohol induced depression last? ›
The actual duration of alcohol-induced depression can greatly vary. Depressive symptoms that are associated with alcohol-induced depression have been shown to significantly improve after an individual has abstained from alcohol for a certain period. It is typically 3-4 weeks in a variety of cases.How long does it take to get used to being sober? ›
Getting sober can be physically and emotionally uncomfortable, especially during the withdrawal period. Most withdrawal symptoms improve within a few days or weeks. But for some people, protracted withdrawal can continue for months. By 1 year of sobriety, most people feel better.
What happens when you stop drinking everyday? ›
Symptoms/outcomes you may see
Onset of withdrawal symptoms which may include hand tremors, retching, excessive sweating, restlessness and anxiety. Withdrawal symptoms continue. Alcohol cravings, reduced energy and feeling low or depressed are common.
We know that most drinkers with depression will start to feel better within a few weeks of cutting out alcohol. So, it is usually best to tackle the alcohol first, and then deal with the depression afterwards if it has not lifted after a few weeks.
It takes at least two weeks for the brain to return to normal after drinking. Therefore, this is when the alcohol recovery timeline begins. It is less able to suppress a desire to drink until the brain has recovered. The reason for this is that alcohol has harmed the brain's cognitive function.Do dopamine levels return to normal after quitting alcohol? ›
Both excessively high and abnormally low levels of dopamine can have adverse effects, but over time your brain will begin to normalize dopamine levels as well as your brain's response to the chemical without the intrusion of alcohol.What happens to your body after 1 month of no alcohol? ›
Your physical health isn't all that can benefit from going dry for a month. Research shows the effects of no alcohol on mental health may be positive as well. Within just a month of going dry, you may find yourself feeling happier, less anxious, more clear-headed, and ready to take on the day.What does 3 weeks without alcohol do to your body? ›
Overall benefits of three weeks without alcohol
Clear skin. More energy. Improved gym performance. Reduced anxiety and improved mood.
After two weeks off alcohol, you will continue to reap the benefits of better sleep and hydration. As alcohol is an irritant to the stomach lining, after a fortnight you will also see a reduction in symptoms such as reflux where the stomach acid burns your throat.What can I drink instead of alcohol? ›
- Soda and fresh lime. Proof that simple is still the best.
- Berries in iced water. This summery drink will keep you refreshed and revitalised.
- Kombucha. ...
- Virgin bloody Mary. ...
- Virgin Mojito. ...
- Half soda/half cranberry juice and muddled lime. ...
- Soda and fresh fruit. ...
- Find New Hang Outs. That doesn't necessarily mean an establishment that doesn't serve alcohol, but someplace where you can redefine fun for yourself. ...
- Fill Your New Fun Hangouts With Supportive Friends. ...
- Redefine Fun For Yourself. ...
- Mock It Up. ...
- Find Healthy Ways to Destress.
By 4-8 weeks after quitting, your gut will start to level out. Your sleep-quality will improve. Though we may fall asleep faster when we drink, our brains actually increase alpha wave patterns, which cause our brains to be more active than they should be while we sleep.
How long does alcohol induced depression last? ›
The actual duration of alcohol-induced depression can greatly vary. Depressive symptoms that are associated with alcohol-induced depression have been shown to significantly improve after an individual has abstained from alcohol for a certain period. It is typically 3-4 weeks in a variety of cases.