For a long time, alcohol has been called “liquid courage.” Some people like it as a go to solution when faced with a situation that triggers nerves or fear, and many people do find, at least initially, that taking a drink of alcohol after a stressful day or drinking before a social situation can reduce some feelings of anxiety.
Unfortunately, alcohol is far from the effective anxiety treatment that it may initially seem when you begin drinking. Regular alcohol consumption can in fact make your anxiety worse. This is how the science behind anxiety can affect you and why it is more effective to manage anxiety instead of attempting to numb it with alcohol.
How Anxiety and Alcohol Interact for Negative Results
When you experience anxiety, whether it is generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, social anxiety, or another condition, you often have a range of mental and physical symptoms, including racing thoughts, rapid heartbeat, and tensing of muscles.
Drinking alcohol will often initially have the opposite effect on your body as alcohol slows down the central nervous system. This is how you get the feeling of being more relaxed while drinking and this may help a person to get through stressful situations, such as being able to participate more in social gatherings or minimize ongoing feelings of anxiety.
While the immediate results of drinking alcohol, especially early on, can seem like a good solution to symptoms of anxiety, several long term effects could possibly make your symptoms of anxiety worse:
- Dependency – If you begin to drink alcohol anytime you are stressed or anxious, you can get to a point where your brain believes that you cannot get through the experience without alcohol, causing worse symptoms than you previously experienced.
- Lessened Numbing Effect – As your body begins to build a tolerance to alcohol, each drink will begin to do less for you over time. This means that you will have to increase your consumption to get the same effect that originally helped.
- Changing Brain Chemicals – Alcohol alters the number of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, in your brain. In the short term, this can cause more severe anxiety in the hours after alcohol leaves your system. The long term health effects of alcohol on brain activity can also make recovering from a trauma difficult and extensive drinking has a higher correlation to the development of anxiety or physical challenges.
- Altered Sleep – Alcohol can impact your sleep routines, preventing you from getting deep sleep during the night which can, in turn, cause you to be less equipped to handle stressful situations throughout the day. Alcohol can also keep you from getting the nutrients you need because calories from alcohol are empty. This leads to an overall decline in health that hurts your mental and physical well being.
The reliance on alcohol as a means of mitigating your anxiety can additionally lead to alcohol use disorder and require you to deal with addiction as well as anxiety.
Rather than attempting to overcome anxiety with alcohol and risk forming a dependence on it, a therapeutic approach to dealing with anxiety is a better option. A psychiatrist in Dallas at Aware Behavioral Health can help you deal with a range of anxiety struggles, including OCD, PTSD, and generalized anxiety.
Through medication assisted treatment, we can reduce the effects of anxiety in a way that is safer and more effective than alcohol consumption. We can also provide more lasting solutions with skill building and talk therapy that will help you reduce your overall anxiety and make you better able to cope with situations. If you have found yourself turning to alcohol when feeling stressed or anxious, contact Aware Behavioral Health to start working with a Dallas psychiatrist.