Anxiety may cause alcohol-related problems, finds study

It is a common perception that alcohol can help reduce stress and alleviate symptoms of anxiety, such as excessive worry and anticipation of fear. However, some researchers consider it a vicious cycle in which the person craves for alcohol to relieve the anxiety developed from the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol abstinence.

According to a study published in UpToDate.com, anxiety-related disorders are likely to elevate the risk of developing substance use disorders (SUDs). At the same time, they may also affect the treatment outcome of SUDs. Conversely, SUDs may have a negative impact on the treatment outcomes for alcohol use disorders (AUDs). Probably, that is the reason why stress and anxiety are often associated with alcohol cravings and consumption, and subsequent development of AUD.

Prior researches surrounding causal effect of anxiety in causing alcohol-related problems have reported inconsistent results. Researchers have differed in their opinion in suggesting unique relation between stress and anxiety, and alcohol consumption and AUDs. To clear the air around the role of anxiety in causing alcohol-related problems, researchers at the Research Society on Alcoholism analyzed the implications of “differences in self-reported levels of anxiety, anxiety sensitivity, and perceived stress on the frequency and intensity of drinking, alcohol craving during early withdrawal, and alcohol craving and stress reactivity.”

Role of anxiety response in causing alcohol problems

The study published in the journal Alcoholism in March 2017, was conducted on 87 people with AUDs comprising 70 males and 17 females. The researchers used three distinct parameters to assess anxiety, anxiety sensitivity and perceived stress. Results were assessed based on beck anxiety inventory (BAI), the anxiety sensitivity index-3 (ASI-3) and the perceived stress scale (PSS). 30 participants also underwent alcohol abstinence in a clinical setting and measures of alcohol craving were collected twice daily. On the fourth day, after undergoing public speaking/math challenge tests, measures of cortisol and alcohol craving were taken.

The results suggested a higher likelihood of developing alcohol-related problems in heavy drinkers who were vulnerable to anxiety rather than in heavy drinkers with perceived stress. Contrary to other alcohol-related studies that used the terms anxiety, anxiety sensitivity and stress interchangeably, this study treated three terms independently, owing to their characteristic association with drinking, craving and response to stress in people with AUDs.

Treating comorbid anxiety and AUD

Consequences of comorbid mental health problems are more devastating as there is an increased likelihood of one condition being left undiagnosed and subsequently, untreated. As a result, sometimes, patients’ condition may not improve despite following the treatment regime for one condition. Therefore, it is imperative to undergo proper analysis to rule out the possibilities of any other underlying problem of if it exists, to seek the right treatment addressing both the problems simultaneously. An integrated approach in the form of a single, comprehensive program can improve treatment outcomes and facilitate faster recovery. It clearly depends upon the severity of the condition and patient’s needs.

If you know someone who is suffering from a co-occurring disorder, it’s time to consult a medical expert and seek the best solution. If you are looking for more information on dual diagnosis rehab centers, you can contact the representatives of the Dual Diagnosis Helpline. You can even chat online with an expert or call our 24/7 helpline number 855-981-6047 to locate state-of-the-art dual diagnosis facilities near you.

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