When people suffer from anxiety, they often use alcohol to help themselves relax. While it may seem logical that a beer or glass of wine can help calm the nerves, it may actually do the opposite.
Self-medicating with alcohol does not address the problem. It increases the risk of alcohol abuse if a person repeatedly turns to it in order to cope. Studies have found that people who are prone to anxiety disorders are more vulnerable to substance abuse.
In a 2011 study, researchers found that 13 percent of the 34,653 Americans surveyed had used alcohol or drugs to reduce their anxiety about a situation. People in the study who had diagnosed anxiety disorders were 2-5 times more likely to develop a problem within three years. If someone you know is suffering from alcohol abuse, and you're searching for substance abuse treatment centers in Raleigh NC, call Legacy Freedom today for help.
Alcohol and Anxiety
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety can be caused by life stresses such as work, family or finances. It can also arise for some people when they are put in social situations. It occurs when someone is in a situation that makes them uncomfortable or ill at ease. It can make the person suffering from it worry excessively and can also lead to panic attacks, which can cause increased heart rate and shortness of breath.
Many people have experienced a situation that causes anxiety, but when someone has an anxiety disorder, they have difficulty dealing with these feelings. They may have intrusive thoughts and worry excessively. It can be about one particular thing or multiple things going on in the person’s life. Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness and an increased heart rate.
Reaching for a drink when feeling anxious can have immediate effects that seem to ease the problem. When someone drinks, the good effects are felt immediately, such as a sense of euphoria and decreased inhibitions. This can ease feelings of anxiety. For someone who suffers from social anxiety, a drink or two can help him or her relax and enjoy being in a social situation.
However, alcohol also affects the body in less positive ways. It increases insulin secretion, which causes low blood sugar. It also keeps the body from being able to regulate blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar can cause dizziness, weakness, confusion and nervousness. These symptoms are similar to symptoms of anxiety. Those effects can trigger a real episode of anxiety.
How Alcohol Affects the Body
Alcohol also changes the serotonin levels in the brain. This chemical is responsible for stabilizing mood. There are studies showing that too little serotonin can cause depression and anxiety, but other studies that claim that too much can cause anxiety. In either case, the fact that alcohol and drugs alter the levels of serotonin should cause concern for anyone who already has problems with anxiety.
The effects of alcohol on serotonin doesn’t just occur while a person is drinking; it can last up to a day after drinking and may play a part in “anxiety hangovers” that many people have after a night of drinking. Alcohol is a depressant, and while it may make you feel good while you’re drinking, it can leave you in a state of mild withdrawal the next day. Someone experiencing an anxiety hangover may have the standard hangover symptoms – headache, nausea, fatigue, thirst, but he or she may also feel depressed or anxious.
If someone is already dealing with anxiety problems or depression, drinking can heighten the symptoms. Someone who drinks regularly may find that he or she needs more alcohol in order to feel the same effects. This can lead to alcohol dependence. The negative effects of long-term alcohol abuse can aggravate anxiety. If you're searching for substance abuse treatment centers in Raleigh NC to treat alcohol problems, call Legacy Freedom.
Studies have shown that the effects of long term, heavy drinking can cause higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone is handy in a flight or fight situation, where it helps the body respond to a dire situation. It can give you a heightened sense of awareness and help you focus on the task at hand until it is resolved. However, it should return to a regular level after the situation has passed. For some people, their cortisol levels stay elevated, so they are constantly in that state of mind.
When cortisol levels are elevated, it suppresses other functions, such as digestion and the immune system. It can also increases a person’s risk of depression and other mental illnesses.
Drinking also depletes B6, the vitamin that helps a person cope with stress. Chronic drinking can reduce the levels of the GABA-benzodiazepine receptor in the central nervous system, which is supposed to help calm the mind and body. If levels become low, then anxiety can increase.
The bottom line is that alcohol is not a cure for anxiety. It may help in a short-term situation, but it is not a solution, and it can lead to alcohol dependence, which will only worsen symptoms. Signs of alcohol dependence include drinking heavily four or more days a week, having five or more alcoholic drinks in one day, having to drink at all social events and inability to stop drinking once started.
Other Ways to Ease Anxiety
If you suffer from anxiety, there are alternatives to alcohol. Using alcohol to ease anxiety only suppresses the problem briefly. In the long run, it can exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety. If you feel that your anxiety and/or your drinking is keeping you from living a normal life, it is best to seek help from a professional. There are several forms of anxiety that are considered medical disorders. They are treatable through behavioral therapy and medication.
If your anxiety is mild, there are things you can try that may help ease the symptoms so that you won’t feel compelled to reach for a drink.
1. Exercise releases hormones that increase mood and promote relaxation. You’ll feel better immediately and the long term effects are much better for you than having a drink. You may experience sore muscles the next day, but you won’t have a hangover.
2. Writing down what you’re thinking can help with excessive worrying and can help your mind relax. You may also be able to work out the problems causing you stress.
3. Talking with a friend or loved one can relieve stress and help get some of those worries out of your head. The conversation doesn’t have to be just about your problems, though. Hearing funny stories or jokes can help, too.
4. Do something nice for someone else because it will take your mind off your worries and may help you see things in a different light.
5. If you suffer from social anxiety, try the “fake it ‘til you make it” technique. Tell yourself you’re confident and chatty and don’t need alcohol to boost your self-esteem.
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