Anxiety and Alcohol

17 Aug


A vivid memory comes to mind when I think of anxiety and alcohol.

It’s 2006 and I’m supposed to go to a dance class with my (now ex) wife. I hate this and I have a horrible, horrible anxiety about having to dance with total strangers, but I do it anyway. I took 4 shots of vodka before the class in order to calm my nerves. 4 shots.

What the hell, right?

Side note: When I later told my therapist this, he gave me a prescription for klonopin for the next class. Ha!

So I can definitely count myself in with those who have intentionally used alcohol in order to alleviate anxiety.

Question: Did it work?

That’s the thing: no.

And that might leads me to topic of this blog post that looks an anxiety, alcohol, and how the two interact with one another. So sit back, grab a beer, relax, and feel free to comment at the end with your own story.

. . .

Did you know…

Roughly 20% of people with social anxiety disorders also abuse alcohol or suffer from alcohol dependence.

That’s a pretty damn big number. (Source)

Alcohol and Relaxation

Wise man once said: drink and be merry.

Ah, yes, drinking to feel good goes together like peanut butter and jelly. But why does this happen when we drink beer, and not say, juice?

Alcohol has the magical effect of acting quickly on our central nervous system, producting a relaxing effect, increasing social ability, and reducing inhibition. This happens because of the way alcohol interacts with something in our heads called GABA. There’s more to it than that obviously but it’s not terribly interesting. (Click here for a longer explanation.)

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Aside from the obvious problems associated with excessive drinking – you know, like getting fat, ruining your liver, and dying – drinking to reduce anxiety can have a sickeningly ironic effect on certain types of anxiety disorders.

Here it is:

Long term drinking can fuck up the ability of your body to properly regulate those GABA neurotransmitters. And, when that happens, your body cannot kick in like it should to reduce anxiety… this means you’ve fucked up the natural biological mechanisms that allow your body to reduce anxiety. This is not good.

At that point, further drinking doesn’t help either.

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

Honestly, you probably had a hunch that this was the case. But I’d be surprised if you knew this.

A recenty study about anxiety and alcohol paints a clearer picture with the problem of self medicating with alcohol (or other drugs) to reduce anxiety.

A few of the study’s findings over a 3 year period include:

  • 13% of the roughly 35,000 people in the study admitted to drinking alcohol to deal with anxiety.
  • Drinking for anxiety increases the risk of alcoholism (no big shock there but…)
  • Those in the study with a diagnosed anxiety disorder who self medicated (with alcohol or other drugs – like Klonopin or Xanax), were up to five times more likely to have develop a drug or alcohol problem over the course of the study. That’s pretty shitty.
  • It also uncovered some interesting results for those in the study who stated they had anxiety symptoms but didn’t have a diagnosed disorder. For those in this group who self medicated themselves for anxiety, they were more likely to end with a diagnosed disorder after 3 years versus those who didn’t self medicate. That’s pretty horrifying because think of all the people who are doing this to themselves!

Getting Help for Anxiety

Not to sound trite, but if this articles hit home with you then you know the answer: you should see a doctor. A therapist. A psychologist. Anxiety is treatable and if we’re talking off the record, I’d also like to suggest things like yoga, running, practicing alpha meditation, and positive visualization to reduce anxiety, but who am I – I’m not giving out any professional medical here. 😉

You Might Also Be Interested In:

    • Anyone find Alcohol Makes You Feel Better? – This is a post on a social anxiety support forum. The responses are interesting. Many, many people with social anxiety here clearly say that drink to relieve there anxiety, with other members sounding the alarm that this is not healthy.

    • ETG Alcohol Testing – Basic information on EtG tests for alcohol and how they work.
    • Probation Alcohol Testing – A look at how probation alcohol testing is conducted and what a person can expect when having to submit urine for alcohol tests per their probation orders.
    • How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Urine? – A close look at how the body metabolizes alcohol and how testing is done to find evidence of it in the urine.

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