Skip to main content

The Link Between Alcohol Abuse and Anxiety

Anxiety is among the most common mental health disorders in the United States. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), “[anxiety disorders] affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives.” Many people rely on self-medicating with drugs and alcohol to cope. Thus, there is a connection between substance abuse and anxiety.

At Harmony Place, we understand that addiction to alcohol often occurs as a result of underlying mental health symptoms. Due to the high prevalence of anxiety in the US, our treatment center in Los Angeles, California, provides dual-diagnosis treatment for those with co-occurring addiction and anxiety.

Self-Medicating Anxiety with Alcohol

Self-medicating symptoms of anxiety with alcohol can lead to several negative outcomes. For one thing, a person can develop a substance use disorder (SUD) following excessive and chronic use. At the same time, their anxiety symptoms never get better as they are masking these issues with alcohol.

Engaging in drinking for anxiety is a maladaptive coping mechanism for many people. Often, people with anxiety start with a drink or two just to “take the edge off.” And, as the alcohol lowers their inhibitions, doubts, and worries, they continue drinking as a way of managing anxiety triggers.

Thus, the cycle of addiction begins. The person finds a quick solution to managing uncomfortable feelings. Unfortunately, their tolerance for alcohol will increase. So, they begin consuming more for the same effects. There are various types of anxiety disorders, like generalized, panic attacks, or specific phobias. However, social anxiety is the type that often leads to people drinking alcohol to cope.

Social Anxiety and Alcoholism

Social anxiety is a specific type of anxiety disorder. A person with social anxiety disorder feels triggered by everyday social situations. These can include varying degrees of discomfort in different situations. For instance, a person could feel more symptoms while in unfamiliar and loud environments than they would at school or work. However, the person generally feels some level of discomfort in most social interactions. 

Symptoms of social anxiety can include the following:

  • Feeling excessively self-conscious
  • Worried about being embarrassed
  • Fear of being judged harshly by others
  • Overly critical of self after social interactions
  • Avoiding any social situations that trigger anxiety
  • Physical symptoms, like profuse sweating, trouble breathing, or difficulty speaking

Since many social activities, like holiday parties, dates, concerts, or sporting events, include alcohol, some people with social anxiety disorder drink to feel normal or at ease. Thus, there is a connection between social anxiety and alcohol abuse as an unhealthy coping strategy.

Anxiety as a Result of Alcoholism

On the other hand, some people feel anxiety from alcohol abuse. For example, drinking can cause a person to act in ways they normally wouldn’t. They might do or say something while intoxicated that would otherwise embarrass them. As a result, they feel anxiety as they might need to explain themselves to those affected by their behavior while drinking.

In addition, after a night of drinking, a person is likely to feel physical symptoms, like a headache or fatigue, known as a hangover. To add, as a depressant, alcohol disrupts the balance of the brain’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. These physical and mental symptoms could cause a feeling of dread and discomfort that leads to anxiety. People with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) often begin drinking again to numb themselves to this discomfort.

Anxiety During Alcohol Withdrawal

The first step of alcohol addiction treatment is known as detox. During detox, clients stop taking substances entirely. When a person is dependent on substances, they will go through withdrawal during detox. 

Withdrawal is the period where a client’s body and mind readjust to no longer having alcohol. However, since they are dependent on alcohol to feel “normal,” they will have withdrawal symptoms throughout detox. These symptoms can range in severity from mild discomfort to dangerous or even deadly.

Alcohol withdrawal is among the most dangerous, especially for those who have been addicted long-term. Anxiety can result in excessive worry about the process of withdrawal itself. As a result, many people avoid treatment altogether.

On the other hand, anxiety could surface when a client has used drinking to cope with symptoms. Without alcohol masking their anxiety symptoms, they could feel a resurgence of their anxiety during withdrawal. Thus, dual-diagnosis treatment centers can help clients heal from co-occurring alcohol abuse and anxiety. That way, they learn healthy ways to cope without resorting to alcohol.

Find Treatment for Alcoholism and Anxiety Today

Anxiety can cause excessive worry and discomfort for those with the disorder. Some people treat their symptoms by drinking or using other drugs. While substance misuse could mask their symptoms, they could develop an addiction in the process. After that, they will have more problems than if they had dealt with their anxiety from the start.

At Harmony Place in Los Angeles, California, however, we understand the temptation that people feel when they want an easy fix for untreated mental health disorders. We know that facing problems head-on and going through treatment isn’t easy—but it is worth it.

Contact us today to begin our dual-diagnosis treatment program for anxiety and addiction.