Your heart is racing; it feels like it is going to pound right out of your chest. You stopped sleeping much a while ago; it does not help to just lay in bed awake at night so you are up pacing around. And the worry, it feels like the worry is so overwhelming that it will kill you. This is what millions of American’s go through on a regular basis when dealing with anxiety disorders. An estimated 40 million people in the U.S. have a diagnosable anxiety disorder, from panic attacks, to phobias, to PTSD (ADAA, n.d.). But what happens when alcohol is added to this?
Why Do People With Anxiety Disorders Abuse Alcohol?
Alcohol is often used by people with anxiety disorders as a way of calming down, or ignoring the problem. It is one of the leading disorders, when combined with alcohol or other substance use (Smith & Randall, 2012). The problems arise when people begin to realize that alcohol does not cure the problem, it merely masks it for a every shrinking period of time, and by the time this realization happens, it is already too late. The realization then comes at the cost of having a full-blown substance use disorder that may require professional treatment to combat. In the end, people with an anxiety disorder are more likely to have, or develop, an addiction, and an estimate 21.9% of people with anxiety disorders, or 8.76 million people, will suffer from both an anxiety disorder and an alcohol dependence (Smith & Randall, 2012).
Understanding Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are a classification of disorders that goes beyond normal day to day worry or stress. Everyone feels anxiety or uncertainty in life; it would be odder if a person did not. But it becomes a disorder when it becomes ongoing, recurrent, and starts to interfere with day to day living. This is when the anxiety does not go away, when there is no relief in the normal ways that a person copes with distress. People experiencing anxiety disorders or diagnosable symptoms know that what they are thinking and how they are reacting is irrational. Telling them that will not be additional information. It is not someone just overreacting; it is someone who has experienced trauma or likely has a brain that is processing information poorly or causing spikes in anxiety for no real reason.
Dual Diagnosis: Alcohol and Anxiety Disorders
With so many people suffering from a dual diagnosis of an anxiety disorder and alcohol dependence, what is the connection between the two? The answer goes back into how quick and effective alcohol is, and how easy it is for people to obtain and use, especially in social situations, as well as how it changes behavioral patterns and brain chemistry. The big picture of alcohol and anxiety is that in the long run, drinking to help fight anxiety does more harm than good.
Alcohol is in a class of substances called depressants, which means they dampen or depress the central nervous system (Healthline, 2015). All responses by the body will likely be slower, and be harder to accomplish normal day to day tasks. It also weakens the strengths of emotions, so depression, sadness and anxiety will not feel as strong then as well. Thinking, remembering, focus, and the ability to form new memories will be lessened also.
Reading that, it seems pretty clear why someone would drink to cope with something, stress, depression, anxiety, but what’s not clear yet is why it is actually detrimental to a person’s health and well-being. The main reason why it is so bad, is the main reason why it is so often used, that it is quick and easy. Being so quick and easy, it prevents the person, both physically and mentally from learning how to cope with stress or anxiety (Hein, 2011). They simply do not have to learn it, and thus don’t learn it. While there are many healthy ways to manage unpleasant emotions and stressful events, alcohol becomes associated with the quick and easy way out of them, while the other ways to manage the feelings take a little time and practice. Unfortunately, the quick and easy way becomes more broadly generalized as a coping skill, when it only started out as helping the person out while, for example out at a party, to calm the nerves and socialize more. This becomes used more and more as a crutch, and then becomes the go to for managing after a fight with their spouse, to drinking when feeling the slightest bit off. Alcohol becomes a habit and spirals down into an addiction because it is used as a coping skill that it was not meant to be.
Another unfortunate consequence of using alcohol as a coping skill, like some with anxiety do, is that it becomes a true physical addiction. As it gets used more often, then it becomes less and less effective, and it takes more and more to get the same effect the individual used to have. The body becomes acclimated to it and develops a tolerance, in other words, and soon a person will be drinking just to fight off the effects of not drinking, it becomes so physically necessary to the body. This also puts the body at risk for other physical and mental damage as well. People with chronic alcohol use suffer from (Freeman, 2011): cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, gastritis, nerve damage, early dementia and other brain damage, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease to name a few problems caused by chronic drinking.
Getting Help For Anxiety Disorders and Addiction
Without alcohol interfering, the possibilities are actually numerous, as to ways to cope with anxiety. While talking to a doctor or therapist about it may be helpful, and medication may be necessary as well, it is not always the case. Learning basic self-care techniques will go a long way to reducing anxiety, and eliminating the need to use alcohol as a crutch. Doing things like simple prayer or meditation, slow deep breathing, using distraction techniques like doing mental math when anxiety is present, eating a more balanced diet, exercising to each person’s ability, cutting back on caffeine, and getting enough sleep will actually go a long way to improving mood, health, and eliminating anxiety. If anxiety or alcohol is ruining your life, and has gotten out of control, please reach out for help. It is available, and anxiety and alcohol dependence are very treatable.
For More Information Related to “Motivational Interviewing For Alcohol Abuse Treatment” Be Sure To Check Out These Additional Resources From AlcoholTreatment.net:
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Understanding the Facts of Anxiety and Depression. Retrieved from https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety
Freeman, D. (2011). 12 Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/features/12-health-risks-of-chronic-heavy-drinking#3
Healthline.com. (2015). Understanding Alcohol and Anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol-and-anxiety#overview1
Hein, B.A. (2011). Alcohol and Anxiety: Not as Helpful as You Think. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/negative-effects-alcohol-anxiety/
Smith, J. P., & Randall, C. L. (2012). Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorders: Comorbidity and Treatment Considerations. Alcohol Research : Current Reviews, 34(4), 414–431. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860396/