As witnessing anxiety on an important occasion is an integral part of life, occasional anxiety is widely accepted as an aberration and not a disease. However, when it causes so much of distress that it interferes with one’s ability to lead a normal life, then it is considered a serious mental illness.
There are different types of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social phobia or social anxiety disorder (SAD), specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder.
According to the National Institute of Mental health (NIMH), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) has highlighted that anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million adults in the age group 18 and above. This translates to roughly 18 percent of the population.
Usually, people with anxiety disorders drink excessively to cope with or escape from the symptoms. Though people start drinking for self-medication purposes, it soon transforms into increased dependence and eventually into an addiction.
Unwinding with alcohol more dangerous than imagined
Having a drink might seem like a good idea to ease anxiety as it can help in bolstering confidence, uplifting mood and making one feel generally relaxed. Being a sedative and a depressant, alcohol’s effects can be similar to those of antianxiety medications. Therefore, people are advised to drink in moderation. But, what does the concept of “moderation” mean? The term has different connotations for different people, depending on distinguishing factors like gender, age, race, experience, etc.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights that “moderate drinking” typically refers to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. In addition, older adults need to limit their intake to one glass of alcoholic beverage per day due to their capacity to metabolize alcohol at a faster rate.
Once an individual starts to build tolerance toward the de-stressing effects of alcohol, it can make him or her incapable of coping with anxiety and stress through the natural process. So, “unwinding with alcohol” may do more harm than good due to the contraction of the brain tissues, destruction of the brain cells and depression of the central nervous system (CNS).
Reverse is true: Alcohol-induced anxiety
When the blood alcohol content (BAC) levels rise, it causes the transitory feeling of elation and excitement. As drinking would initially seem to reduce fears and take one’s mind off the pressing matters at hand, many people turn to alcohol during trying and stressful times.
Once the BAC level becomes normal, the feeling of irritability, depression and anxiety take over one’s mind. Thus, drinking can make a person more anxious than before, particularly once the BAC level becomes normal.
In the first place, the symptoms of anxiety push individuals toward alcohol abuse. Paradoxically, it is also possible for an individual to develop anxiety disorders because of alcohol abuse. Therefore, people should count their drinks to avoid devastating health problems. Alcohol can cause a range of psychotic symptoms, such as anxiety, panic attacks, concentration problems, etc., during the phase of dependence and withdrawal from alcohol.
Alcohol affects the brain chemistry by lowering the level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for a range of cognitive functions like mood, memory, sleep, etc. The lower levels of serotonin cause poor sleep, mood swings and poor memory that lead to anxiety, which can last for several hours or even a complete day after drinking.
In a study done by Thomas Kash, Ph.D., assistant professor, pharmacology, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, it was deduced that heavy drinking rewires the circuits in the brain in such a way that it becomes increasingly difficult for an alcoholic to recover from a traumatic experience. Hence, heavy drinking can become an impediment in the path of recovery from trauma, which can put people at a greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder like PTSD.
Alcohol not a treatment for anxiety
The risks associated with alcohol consumption always outweigh its benefits because alcohol affects each individual differently, depending on his or her tolerance level, anxious or aggressive tendencies, presence of mental disorders, etc.
If you need help from a mental health professional for anxiety disorders and alcohol dependence, contact the Dual Diagnosis Helpline. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-981-6047 or chat online to get details about the finest dual diagnosis programs.