Kate's Blog

How Does Alcohol Affect Anxiety?

If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety, you’ll know the feeling of relief that comes from opening a bottle at the end of the day.

As you sit there, glass in hand, it can really seem as if alcohol helps you unwind. It seems as if booze is melting that anxiety and tension away.

But what if that wasn’t really the case? What if alcohol is actually making your anxiety WORSE overall… or perhaps even creating it to begin with? 😮

Let’s talk about this important topic.

Key points:

Studies show that consuming alcohol regularly can significantly worsen stress and anxiety levels. While you might feel temporary relief from a drink, that same drink is actually going to set you up for more anxiety the next day… and the next.

This is because alcohol uses up and reduces the number of neurotransmitters in our brains, but we need a certain level to ward off anxiety and depression. In turn, this can make you want to drink more to relieve those difficult feelings.

In one study, mice were trained to associate a specific sound with getting a mild electric shock. After a while, researchers stopped giving them the electric shock to see whether the mice could learn to hear the sound and not be scared that something bad was going to happen. They also gave some of these mice doses of alcohol.

The mice who weren’t exposed to alcohol were able to learn that they didn’t need to fear the sound any more, because nothing bad was happening. However, the mice who were given alcohol continued to be scared of the sound, long after the shocks had ended. This tallies with other research that shows that your brain, under the influence of alcohol, struggles to overcome anxiety.

I’ve worked with a lot of women over the years who would say they’re anxious people. That that’s just who they are. However, when we dig into it a bit, we start to see that actually, they’ve been struggling with anxiety for decades AND they’ve been drinking for decades too. So the two things have gone hand in hand.

It might feel daunting to quit drinking right now because you’re wondering how you’ll handle your anxiety, but what I’m trying to show you here is that if you stop drinking, you might well find that your anxiety eases off anyway. That’s certainly what I experienced and so many of my clients report this too.

If you only ever stop drinking from Monday to Friday each week, you don’t actually give yourself enough time to find out what’s going to happen with your anxiety. It takes time for your brain and body to adjust and recover. You need to stop for at least six weeks to give yourself time to discover what your anxiety looks like in sobriety.

If it’s been a while since you took a six-week break from drinking – this is your sign to do so. Remember, we change and grow all the time. Don’t let yourself be consumed by the old story that you’re just an anxious person and can’t cope without alcohol. I know you can do this.

Hi, I'm Kate

I founded The Sober School to show you there’s another way out of your shame that doesn’t involve AA or rehab. 

Comments

12 Responses

  1. I haven’t drunk anything for about 5 days. The first few days I had nightmares couldn’t sleep at all. By the 4 day the nightmares went away and I was able to sleep a little more. I’m now on day six I woke up with a headache I’m guessing because my body was used to drinking so much. Also in the first days I was experiencing panic attacks in my sleep which caused my heart to race and night sweats. I only had a few night sweats as time progressed, but I do feel so much better.

    1. Well done getting 5 days under your belt! The first few days are always the hardest which is why you don’t want to keep repeating them over and over again by going back to drinking. It will get easier and better the further away from your last drink you get, so keep going Courtney. Have a listen to my free pep talk if you feel a craving coming on, you’ll thank yourself in the morning 🙂 https://thesoberschool.com/pep-talk

  2. I’ve definitely noticed the rebound effect of increased anxiety and depression while drinking.

    Earlier this year, I went alcohol free (AF) on my own. I had not built up the resources or tools that I needed to maintain sobriety. Then when I experienced several high-stress events, I ended up relapsing.

    During the relapse, I experienced intensified anxiety that was much worse than anything I had before drinking. I was drinking heavily at the same time each day, followed by frightening symptoms a few hours after my body processed the alcohol, such as breaking out in hives and difficulty breathing.

    Since starting the Getting Unstuck course and recommitting to being AF, I have noticed a major improvement in both the anxiety and the depression. The first week was the most challenging with the cravings, but these diminished a lot by the second week. I am also noticing continued improvement with more time spent AF. For those considering going AF, it truly is worth it!

    1. You’re doing great Angie and reaping the benefits of an alcohol-free and anxiety-free lifestyle – keep going! ❤️

  3. Loved this article. I have suffered with anxiety for years and always turned to alcohol to take the edge off. I have been alcohol free for 22 months and it’s best thing I have done for my mental and physical health. Love your blogs and hearing from others. It’s not always easy but my life is so much better than before.

    1. Congratulations Nonnie! Being alcohol-free for 22 months is an awesome accomplishment, and you have every right to feel proud in all aspects! Life may not be completely perfect, but it’s definitely a thousand times more fulfilling without alcohol. 🙂

  4. This is so true! I didn’t even realise I was experiencing low level anxiety all the time until I removed alcohol (4 years ago now) and the anxiety disappeared. I feel so calm (mostly!) It’s a revelation!

    1. Exactly Hillary, making the connection between low level anxiety and drinking is often a game changer for many women. The perceived cure is actually the poison!

  5. Hi Kate, and new friends, I have had a few ‘issues’ in my life and as a result, had some great counceling sessions which helped enormously. I am certain that drinking only made my problems worse and ‘undid’ a lot of the good things I learnt about myself. I stopped drinking 15th Dec last year (yay) and life is good. However I want to tell people that I am going to book more counceling sessions as I’m able to see things more clearly now and I will be able to look at my past problems in a different and more positive way. I’m so excited to find my old ‘brave’ self is still alive and kicking. To hell with the booze, I don’t need any more props. love you Kate. x

    1. Many women I’ve worked with tell me that counselling is a different experience when alcohol is out of the picture. Embrace your brave self as she’s what is truly in your heart. ❤️

  6. Thank you for your insights. While I have done enough research and drinking wine to know this is true, I have not done a “proper” abstinence time of at least six weeks to see if my anxiety decreases. I appreciate getting this message today that encourages me to try!

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