What is the relationship between alcohol and anxiety?
If you ask most people they will say that drinking alcohol helps them to overcome anxiety. If you suffer any kind a social anxiety or phobia, it probably does feel as though alcohol can help you to relax, and enjoy social situations. But the problem with mixing alcohol and anxiety, is that it wears off after a while, and we need to drink more and more alcohol to achieve the same effect. Until you can no longer remember why you are even at the social event… All jokes aside, even if you don’t drink to blackout, using alcohol to overcome anxiety can certainly become a habit.
What is anxiety?
We are all familiar with the feelings of stress and anxiety. When we fell under pressure to pay the bills, or when we have to speak in public. There is stress when we have an examination, or we get stressed about our jobs. It is difficult to avoid stress, because we seem to be surrounded by anxiety in our busy lives. Normal levels of anxiety are exactly that – normal and part of everyday life. But when anxiety becomes extreme, or when we suffer from attacks of severe anxiety, then it can be difficult to feel normal. In fact, anxiety attacks can be debilitating, and cause greater health issues. If you suffer from severe anxiety, we recommend that you consult with a medical professional. We strongly recommend that you shouldn’t try to self medicate anxiety by drinking alcohol, but we will come back to that in more detail.
What is the difference between fear and anxiety?
Before we go too far, it is worth pointing out that not everything that causes stress and anxiety is bad. We generally discuss fear and anxiety as one and the same. But this is not true. Fear is a normal and natural emotion that can save us from danger. For example, when we touch a hot object, or when we are about to bump into something – we flinch. Completely without conscious thought, we flinch to avoid the burn or the bump, and to avoid the pain. Imagine you are driving in your car, and a car cuts across in front of you. Before you have time to think about it, your subconscious brain takes control of your body and reactions.
Your body floods with adrenaline due to the presence of danger, and your muscles tense with instant anticipation. With almost primal instinct, a series of intense reactions in your body cause a reflex reaction to hit the brakes, swerve to dodge the obstruction, beep the horn, curse out loud, and whatever else you do in shock! Sometimes we do all of those things at the same time! And the reason we do that is because of our involuntary reaction to fear and the presence of danger. This is an example of how fear is a necessary emotion to save us from danger.
Fear is a good thing, but anxiety is a worry
So what is the difference between fear and anxiety? Our reaction to fear is to take action to prevent clear and imminent danger. Anxiety on the other hand is simply worrying about something that may or may happen. It is the fear of something that we imagine could happen. Anxiety is a destructive build up of imaginary fears, that may never eventuate. Anxiety is simply the fear of something that may happen in the future. Do you realize that most of the things that make us feel anxious never happen? But worrying about future events is what increases our levels of anxiety, and worrying about things never seems to solve anything.
What happens when we mix alcohol and anxiety?
There is a common misconception that drinking alcohol can help to reduce anxiety. You know what it is like, when you get home from a busy day at work. You feel tired, stressed, and strung out over all of the drama that occurred throughout the day. Most people look forward to pouring a glass of something alcoholic and sitting down to relax. In the short term, it may be effective to forget all of those worries and anxieties for a while. But when we use alcohol to help our anxiety, it only postpones the emotional pain. Alcohol helps us to forget our stress, but it doesn’t cure it. When we wake up in the morning, we often find that our suppressed feelings and emotions just come straight back. Alcohol never cures our anxiety, it just postpones the problem.
Why do we drink alcohol when we feel anxiety?
The problem with alcohol is that we form a habit around drinking. It is natural to feel tired at the end of a long day. But alcohol can’t fix that- sleep does! It is normal to feel stressed after a busy day. But why do we choose alcohol to relax instead of going for a walk, or play with the kids? We drink alcohol to relax because it is a habit. Whenever we feel tired or stressed, our brain remembers that alcohol made the anxiety go away, and out of habit, we reach for another glass of alcohol. If we continue to use alcohol for anxiety, we become used to suppressing our feelings and emotions. We postpone and hide those emotions until we can suppress them no longer. Or we become addicted to alcohol.
Did you ever think that alcohol causes anxiety?
This is one of those chicken or the egg questions – which one came first? Do we need alcohol to overcome anxiety, or does alcohol cause anxiety? The problem is different for everyone, but sometimes we need to face up the possibility that anxiety causes us to drink alcohol. We think that alcohol makes the anxiety go away, but it never really solves the problem. We might reduce the anxiety for a short while, but before long, we start feeling anxious again. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, we can even feel anxiety about getting our next drink.
Ultimate irony – worrying about alcohol and anxiety
Isn’t that just the ultimate irony, when we drink to relax, but we find that alcohol and anxiety do not mix. Drinking can become a real problem when we find that the worse our anxiety becomes, the more we need to drink alcohol.
So what can we do about alcohol and anxiety?
We need to step out of denial in order to understand the problem with alcohol and anxiety. We cannot continue to suppress those painful emotions and hidden feelings. We need to be aware of what is causing our anxiety, and make the lifestyle changes to reduce stress. But this is not easy when we also have problems with alcohol and anxiety thrown into the mix.
We have to start somewhere
Take action to deal with those problems with alcohol and anxiety. We have a proven method for help to stop drinking and to find a better focus for your life. Click here to learn how to love being alcohol free.
Also published on Medium.