When you deal with anxiety, unwinding at the end of the day can seem like climbing a mountain backward. In short, it can be very difficult.
Plus, if you’re like many people in the throes of an anxiety battle, you may have a habit of ignoring symptoms until the day is done. When you finally have a chance to slow down and attempt to recap your day, the anxiety rushes in—making your chances of relaxing nearly impossible.
For some, the natural tendency is to reach for a tall glass of something to help take the edge off. Yet, reaching for an alcoholic beverage could be incredibly problematic and even counterproductive. Here’s why alcohol and anxiety don’t mix.
The Tolerance Effect
First, it’s important to acknowledge that our bodies have a way of evolving and adapting to our environment.
What this means is that your body will get used to drinking an alcoholic beverage every evening to help you unwind. It’s not uncommon to develop a tolerance for the amount of alcohol you consume, pushing you to require more and more as the tolerance builds.
This effect can lead to other types of dependency, such as:
• Needing a drink to get you started in the morning
• Drinking at family gatherings
• Drinking four or more days each week
• Having five or more drinks a day
• Inability to stop drinking
Additionally, struggling with social anxiety may cause you to depend on drinks for social occasions. This particular layer of dependency compounds current issues even further.
How Alcohol Can Make Anxiety Worse
It might seem like alcohol would be the perfect segue to an anxiety-free mind since it helps to relax most people. Under the surface, though, alcohol and anxiety just don’t get along very well.
If you struggle with anxiety, it’s important to know the underlying facts about alcohol and how your body responds to it.
Shortly after alcohol enters your bloodstream, it begins to impact your nervous system. Also, it causes your brain to produce more neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.
As you may know, serotonin contributes to feelings of happiness while dopamine plays a large role in reward-motivated behavior. The initial feelings might seem nice at first, but they don’t last long.
More and more alcohol is required to keep feeling this initial positive buzz afloat. Sadly, the up and down created by this chemical imbalance is essentially an anxiety roller coaster ride—possibly lasting for days.
Blood Alcohol Level
Thanks to the aforementioned neurotransmitters, it’s true that you may very well feel a sense of relaxation after an alcoholic beverage. You can also attribute this feeling to your blood alcohol content (BAC).
When your BAC levels rise, it often helps you to feel excited and hopeful. Conversely, as your BAC level falls, your positive feelings frequently spiral down with it. Naturally, the lower your BAC level, the more prone you are to anxiety and depression.
Furthermore, it’s possible (and common) to feel more anxious dealing with the rise and fall of your BAC, similar to the chemical imbalance mentioned previously.
Aftermath of Alcohol
A hangover is your body’s way of working too hard to rid itself of the toxins from alcohol. Ultimately, your body perceives alcohol as a poison and works overtime to clean it out of your system.
For many reasons, this makes you dehydrated, bloated, and bleary-eyed after drinking what your body considers to be too much alcohol. Furthermore, you can attribute the notorious hangover headache to the expanded blood vessels in your body. And the nausea is simply your stomach evicting unwanted acid and toxins.
Also, because it was focused on processing alcohol, your liver doesn’t release enough sugar into your blood, bringing on a weak and shaky feeling. Unsurprisingly, this particularly unstable sensation parallels the insecurity anxiety typically provides—doubling the impact.
Lastly, alcohol and anxiety don’t mix because of the added layer of complication alcohol creates.
Consuming alcohol changes your brain activity, making it more difficult to recover from traumatic events. This often leads to dependency, as mentioned before, but the trouble doesn’t stop there.
The complication is that to stop drinking cold turkey is often more harmful than helpful. So, if you’ve depended on alcohol to keep the positive feelings flowing, it will all come to a screeching halt when you stop drinking.
Alcohol withdrawal makes anxiety symptoms significantly more impactful. Which, in turn, makes recovering from anxiety that much more difficult.
Take the first step…
If you struggle with anxiety, and you’re ready to start resolving those issues, I would like to help.
Please contact me via phone or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Linda K. Laffey, MFT