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Alcohol Abuse and Anxiety

Dr. Anna Pickering

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anna Pickering

April 3, 2019

Alcohol abuse and anxiety can become a vicious cycle when they occur at the same time. This is partly because drinking excessive alcohol can cause anxiety, yet so many consume alcohol to alleviate their anxiety. So the relationship between the two frequently presents a dilemma.

It is somewhat common for a person to develop co-occurring disorders (dual diagnosis) of alcohol use and anxiety. A co-occurring disorder is when both a mental disorder as well as a substance use disorder are present.

What You Need To Know About Anxiety Disorder And Alcohol Abuse

There are around 18 million Americans who suffer from an alcohol use disorder. In other words, these people drink enough alcohol to cause distress or harm in their own or a loved one’s life. Someone with an alcohol use disorder may experience cravings, loss of control of their intake, physical dependence, and tolerance when they consume it regularly.

Alcohol abuse can also result in financial, relationship, physical or mental health issues. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are both types of alcohol use disorder. They co-occur with anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress. Maybe you know a person suffering from an alcohol use disorder. They may be relatively normal people, except when it comes to drinking. And even then, you might not realize that their drinking has become a problem.

Most people experience a normal amount of anxiety at certain times in their life. Whether it’s giving a speech, taking a test, or walking down a dark alley; these are all healthy situations to feel anxious or fearful. For someone suffering from an anxiety disorder, the fear doesn’t go away and can actually get worse over time.

Oftentimes those suffering from anxiety disorders will experience problems with job or school performance, sleep patterns, and relationships. Some of the different types of anxiety include:

  • panic disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • phobias
  • generalized anxiety disorder

In any case, it’s vitally important for someone to treat both the mental condition and substance abuse to overcome a co-occurring disorder. Not treating both issues can result in relapse or worsened mental conditions.

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How Are Alcohol Abuse And Anxiety Disorders Related?

It isn’t always clear which came first—the anxiety disorder or a alcohol use disorder. For the most part, substance use disorders and anxiety happen independently, but people are different. They have different reasons for turning to alcohol, and therefore there is no one way around understanding it. In some cases anxiety is caused by alcohol abuse, while other times a person may try to cope with anxiety by binge drinking, or abusing alcohol.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “those with anxiety disorders may find that alcohol or other substances can make their anxiety symptoms worse. And they are two to three times more likely to have an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives than the general population.”

They go on to state that “about 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder such as depression have an alcohol or other substance use disorder, and about 20 percent of those with an alcohol or substance use disorder also have an anxiety or mood disorder.”

Alcohol abuse is the habitual misuse of alcohol, and it can become difficult to control for a lot of people. But for a person who drinks moderately, a glass of wine, or a beer here and there isn’t a problem. Alcohol often becomes a serious problem when it’s the only form of relief from stressors, pain, mental problems, or trauma.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms And Anxiety

Alcohol addiction happens for an assortment of reasons, but the most common—a person likes the way alcohol makes them feel. For many people alcohol allows them to escape their normal life for a little while, and all of the stress and anxiety that comes with it. Alcohol may allow a person to feel like they’re someone else for a night. What happens to so many people is they build up a tolerance, and then unknowingly become physically dependent.

When a moderate drinker stops drinking alcohol, they very well might experience a little dehydration, they may even experience a hangover the next morning. They might have a headache, or even sleep in. The more often a person drinks excessively, the more likely they will experience symptoms of withdrawal when they stop.

Alcohol withdrawal often includes anxiety, depression, nausea, irritability, restlessness, shaking, and nightmares. Some people may experience sweating, clammy skin, loss of appetite, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations, or delirium tremens.

Do I Have Co-Occurring Disorders?

It can be hard to decide if you or a loved one is experiencing an anxiety, or an alcohol use disorder. Sometimes the best way to find out is to talk to someone with experience. It can be pretty hard to live in constant fear with an uncertainty of what’s going on with you. All you’re trying to do is cope life. For some people, the answer is provided by caring professionals who understand addiction.

Alcohol and anxiety are similar in that they can limit what a person is capable of doing with their life. From the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, here are some questions to help you determine if you or a loved one is suffering from an alcohol use disorder:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

It’s tragic when people become powerless over alcohol, and the uncertainty of what will happen when you stop is only the beginning. There are professionals who understand how your body reacts to alcohol and can help guide you or your loved one through the process of detoxifying and overcoming the power of alcohol.

Help and Support: Start Your Treatment and Recovery Journey Today

The addiction specialists at can guide you into the best dual diagnosis treatment based on your needs. Contact us today to learn more about a holistic treatment program that can help you get free from alcohol abuse and anxiety.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America - Understand the Facts: Substance Use Disorders

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol Use Disorder

National Institute of Mental Health - Anxiety Disorders

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorders

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Alcohol Withdrawal

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