Anxiety can often feel inescapable. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health challenge in the United States, affecting more than 18 percent of adults. These disorders can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, and life experiences.
Possible causes of anxiety
Stressful life events, such as losing a job or going through a divorce, can trigger anxiety. Other risk factors for anxiety include depression, alcohol abuse, and chronic medical conditions.
People often turn to alcohol to relieve anxiety, but drinking alcohol can actually make anxiety worse. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows down the brain and body. This can lead to feelings of relaxation and calmness, but it can also cause drowsiness, slowed reflexes, and impaired judgment.
Alcohol withdrawal can cause anxiety. People who drink regularly may find that they need to drink more and more to avoid uncomfortable symptoms surfacing. Because of this, it's important for people who are struggling with anxiety to cut back on their drinking to avoid a build-up of emotions that can cause anxiety.
People with anxiety are more likely to start drinking alcohol at a young age. They may start drinking alcohol as a way to self-medicate their symptoms. Early intervention can help.
Most people are aware that drinking alcohol can cause some short-term effects like feeling relaxed or sleepy. What many people don't realize is that alcohol also has a significant impact on the body's hormone levels.
When you drink alcohol, your body releases a surge of feel-good hormones, including dopamine and serotonin. This may explain why you feel more relaxed after a few drinks. However, this sudden release of hormones sets off alarms in the body, causing it to release another hormone called dynorphin in response.
Dynorphin is known as the "stress hormone" because it helps to regulate the body's response to stress. Over time, the body gets used to the misbalanced hormones caused by heavy drinking, and it becomes increasingly difficult to feel joy or pleasure without alcohol.
When you drink alcohol, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine, which gives you a sense of pleasure. However, your brain also releases dynorphin in order to calm things down. Over time, your body becomes tolerant to the effects of dynorphin, and as a result, you need to drink more and more alcohol to get the same calming effect.
Numbness and consumption
The more alcohol you consume, the more likely you are to 'feel numb' to activities that used to make you happy. Human bodies are intelligent and quickly build up a tolerance for alcohol, which means the drinker doesn't 'lose control' or get drunk as quickly. Those with anxiety will not achieve the same relief they once did without increasing consumption.
It's no secret that alcohol can have a negative impact on your mood. But did you know that the more you drink, the more pronounced those effects can be? Your brain soon gets used to the artificially stimulated hormones that alcohol releases, and every successive drink after the first leads to the drinker feeling even more down.
Endorphins don't work as well and you never rise to the same level you were at just one drink ago. Each subsequent drink brings you lower and lower until you fall well below the baseline of happiness you started with.
Cutting back on drinking can be difficult, but it's important to be honest with yourself about why you're doing it. For many people, drinking is a way to cope with stress or anxiety. If you're drinking more than you used to, it could be a sign that you're using alcohol to numb emotions or escape from reality. It's also important to be aware of the consequences of heavy drinking.
Tips to cut back on drinking
-Set limits for yourself and stick to them
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones
- Avoid trigger situations where you're likely to drink too much
- Find new hobbies and activities that don't involve drinking
Even small changes in your drinking habits can make a big difference in your overall mood and health.
For some people, cutting back on their alcohol consumption may have little to no effect on the pleasure they experience while drinking. However, for others, quitting alcohol altogether for a time could lead to an increase in the pleasure they feel when drinking.
Quitting alcohol can lead to increased sensitization of the brain's reward system. This means that when you do drink, you may feel a greater sense of pleasure than you did before you quit.
In the United States, nearly one in six adults struggle with drinking. But there is hope.
The Reframe app can help you develop healthier drinking habits, and in turn, improve your mental health. Cutting back on drinking can help your brain feel pleasure again. With Reframe, you have everything you need to get started – evidence-backed tips, tracking tools, and community support.
Download the Reframe app today! It’s free to download on the App Store and Google Play.