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How Alcohol Consumption Can Exacerbate Anxiety Symptoms
Alcohol and Mental Health

How Alcohol Consumption Can Exacerbate Anxiety Symptoms

Published:
July 8, 2024
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8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 8, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 8, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 8, 2024
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8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 8, 2024
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8 min read

Alcohol consumption is often seen as a way to unwind and relax, with many people reaching for a drink after a long day to ease their mind. However, this seemingly harmless habit can have profound implications for mental health, particularly in relation to anxiety. Understanding the intricate relationship between alcohol and anxiety is crucial for anyone looking to build healthier drinking habits and improve their overall well-being.

The Link Between Alcohol and Anxiety

Short-term Relief, Long-term Consequences

How Alcohol Consumption Can Exacerbate Anxiety Symptoms

When you consume alcohol, it temporarily increases the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as GABA, dopamine, and serotonin. These chemicals are associated with feelings of relaxation and happiness. This is why alcohol can initially make you feel calm and less anxious. However, these effects are short-lived. As the alcohol leaves your system, the production of these neurotransmitters is impaired, leading to increased anxiety, irritability, and even depression.

According to an article on the Reframe App, alcohol can perpetuate and worsen anxiety in the long run. This is because the temporary relief it provides keeps us reaching for another drink, creating a vicious cycle that's hard to break.

Hangxiety: The Morning After

The term "hangxiety" describes the increased feelings of anxiety that often accompany a hangover. This phenomenon is not just about feeling guilty or regretful about the previous night's actions. It involves real changes in brain chemistry and can leave you feeling anxious, irritable, and even panicked. The Reframe App also discusses how alcohol can act as a trigger for anxiety and panic attacks, particularly as its pleasurable effects subside.

Alcohol Withdrawal and Anxiety

For those who drink heavily or regularly, withdrawal symptoms can be a significant source of anxiety. Alcohol withdrawal is a serious condition that can include symptoms like tremors, sweating, and severe anxiety. These symptoms can make it extremely difficult to cut back or quit drinking, perpetuating a cycle of dependence and anxiety. The Reframe App highlights that people dependent on alcohol may find themselves drinking to counteract these sensations, making it even harder to break free from the cycle.

The Impact of Alcohol on Sleep and Anxiety

Disrupted Sleep Patterns

Alcohol can severely disrupt your sleep patterns, leading to poorer sleep quality and increased anxiety. While a nightcap might help you fall asleep faster, it interferes with the deeper stages of sleep, leaving you feeling unrefreshed the next morning. Poor sleep, in turn, exacerbates anxiety symptoms, creating yet another vicious cycle. According to Dr. Vinall, a board-certified psychiatrist, sleep disruptions caused by alcohol can worsen anxiety symptoms, making it harder to cope with daily stressors.

Increased Risk of Panic Attacks

Alcohol can also increase the risk of panic attacks. These sudden, intense episodes of anxiety can be terrifying and debilitating. The Reframe App explains that alcohol impacts serotonin levels, which help regulate mood. When these levels drop, the risk of panic attacks increases, particularly in those already prone to anxiety.

Long-term Effects of Alcohol on Anxiety

Developing Dependence

Long-term alcohol use can lead to the development of alcohol dependence, which is closely linked to anxiety disorders. People who start drinking at a young age are particularly susceptible to becoming dependent on alcohol, which can have dangerous consequences. The Reframe App mentions that teens often turn to alcohol to self-medicate for anxiety, leading to risky behaviors and long-term addiction.

Chronic Anxiety

Chronic alcohol use can lead to ongoing anxiety issues that are difficult to manage. This is because alcohol affects the brain's ability to produce neurotransmitters that regulate mood. Over time, this can lead to a state of chronic anxiety, where the individual feels anxious even when they are not drinking. This condition can be incredibly challenging to treat, requiring professional intervention and long-term therapy.

Breaking the Cycle

Reducing Alcohol Intake

One of the most effective ways to manage anxiety is to reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption. This can be easier said than done, particularly for those who have developed a dependence on alcohol. However, cutting back gradually and seeking professional help can make a significant difference. The Reframe App suggests starting with small, manageable goals, such as decreasing your intake by 10% each week.

Seeking Professional Help

For those struggling with both anxiety and alcohol dependence, professional help is crucial. Qualified healthcare providers can offer individualized treatment plans that take into account your specific needs and circumstances. These plans may include therapy, support groups, lifestyle changes, and sometimes medication to help manage both anxiety and alcohol dependence.

Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Developing healthy coping mechanisms is essential for managing anxiety without relying on alcohol. This might include regular exercise, mindfulness practices, and engaging in hobbies that you enjoy. The Reframe App emphasizes the importance of finding non-alcoholic ways to unwind and manage stress, such as learning new mocktail recipes or participating in community support forums.

Conclusion

Understanding how alcohol can exacerbate anxiety symptoms is crucial for anyone looking to build healthier drinking habits. While alcohol can provide temporary relief, its long-term effects can be far more damaging, perpetuating a cycle of anxiety and dependence. By reducing alcohol intake, seeking professional help, and developing healthy coping mechanisms, you can take significant steps toward improving your mental health and overall well-being.

Moderate Your Drinking Effectively

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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