Does Alcohol Cause Anxiety?

When a person indulges in a night of drinking alcohol excessively, they may experience happy feelings. For a few hours, they feel as if they can forget their problems and have fun. What they often fail to plan for involves what has been termed “hangxiety”. Once a person has sobered up, anxiety often crops up to replace the pleasurable feelings brought on by excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol anxiety often weaves its way into the experiences of someone with an addiction to alcohol.

Hangovers Aren’t Just About Physical Symptoms

When most people think about the damage a hangover does, the usual after-effects come to mind. Common hangover symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and feeling shaky. What a lot of people overlook relates to alcohol anxiety. 

Anxiety related to alcohol use earned the nickname “hangxiety”. This happens for a variety of reasons. When a person consumes a lot of alcohol, they are introducing dopamine to the pleasure center of the brain. A person feels pleasure, euphoria, relaxation, and an ability to forget their troubles. These benefits all dissipate once the person sobers up.

Experiencing the crash effect of returning to their previous psychological setpoint can cause anxiety. For those who do not struggle with an addiction to alcohol, they can combat this anxiety. They can drink smaller amounts of alcohol and consume it less often. For people who deal with alcoholism, this option proves difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish. 

People Often Drink to Relieve Anxiety

Often people begin to drink excessively in an attempt to address the anxiety that already exists in their lives. People who struggle with mental illness issues such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks often apply alcohol like an emotional bandage. People with social anxiety often employ this same approach in order to relieve anxiety during social situations. They become stuck in a cycle of trying to relieve anxiety with alcohol, only to experience alcohol anxiety when they are not drinking.

This phenomenon also comes into play with other mental health illnesses. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) released a study related to the co-morbidity of alcoholism and mental health. They found that among people who abuse alcohol, anxiety and mood disorders also occur in the following amounts: 

  • Anxiety Disorders: 29.1%
  • Bipolar Disorder: 0.3%
  • Major Depressive Disorder: 11.3%
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): 5.6%
  • Schizophrenia: 9.7%

Within the population of those diagnosed with alcohol dependence, nearly 37% also had anxiety disorders.

The NIAAA further states that although people who have an alcohol use disorder often have co-occurring mental health issues, many do not receive treatment addressing both conditions. Many residential programs and detoxification facilities include treatment for both addiction and mental health as part of their curriculum. This increases the likelihood that alcohol anxiety, among other mental health and addiction-related conditions, will be addressed.

Other Factors That Can Contribute to Alcohol-Related Anxiety

While some reasons that alcohol and anxiety often go hand-in-hand can be quite evident, some are less obvious. Here are some factors for a person to consider:

  • Dehydration: Drinking a lot of alcohol tends to cause people to urinate more often. They also often do not drink enough water during a bout of heavy drinking. These two events can create dehydration in a person, which in turn can lead to feelings of anxiety.
  • Medication Interactions: A person who takes medication and also drinks alcohol may experience negative results. This includes prescription medications for anxiety. They may be less effective when consumed with alcohol, making anxiety levels higher.
  • Sleep Patterns: Drinking alcohol can impact a person’s sleep. They may sleep too much or too little, as well as have a reduced quality to their slumber. All of this can promote anxiety.

What to Do if Alcohol and Anxiety Are Present In Your Life

If a person finds that they are experiencing alcohol anxiety, such as a pattern of hangxiety, they need to discuss this with a treatment professional. The same advice is true for those who deal with an anxiety-related mental health issue and attempt to use alcohol to combat the symptoms. A doctor or licensed counselor can help a patient determine a clear plan for treatment. This may include talk therapy, outpatient treatment, residential treatment, or entering a sober living house. 

Prescription medications may also be recommended to help combat feelings of anxiety. Other options exist for using holistic approaches to control anxiety. These include herbal medicines, aromatherapy, massage therapy, and acupuncture.  

Many treatment plans now incorporate Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in order to help relieve anxiety and issues related to trauma. EMDR involves a trained therapist directing their patients to focus on external stimuli. The stimuli commonly involve lateral eye movements, hand-tapping, and audio stimulation. This helps a patient to relieve trauma-based stress by reshaping past events and thought processes into new, more positive associations. 

Alcohol and Anxiety Treatment in California

If an addiction to alcohol and high anxiety levels have impacted your life, we know how to help. California Behavioral Health treats substance use disorder, including alcohol addiction, and co-occurring mental health conditions. We offer a variety of programs that are tailor-made to meet your individual needs. Contact us today here to get started on changing your life.


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