Anxiety is a normal part of everyone’s life. We all experience the sense of nervousness or unease that comes with facing an uncertain situation. However, those who suffer from anxiety disorders experience prolonged debilitating symptoms that interfere with daily life.
Alcohol can seem like an easy way to turn off the symptoms of anxiety, because of alcohol’s nature as a depressant. Alcohol’s relaxant properties can trick sufferers of anxiety by temporarily lowering their inhibitions. Unfortunately, the relief is short-lived, and using alcohol as a crutch can often lead to greater anxiety symptoms over time.
When anxiety exceeds the normal boundaries and becomes a daily factor in a patient’s life, it is classified as a disorder. Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental disorders in the United States, affecting nearly 40 million people each year. It is estimated that only about one-third of sufferers seek treatment. Some forms of anxiety disorder include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – GAD is extreme worry that affects patients’ daily life. Patients may worry about work, personal health, and social situations. Severe cases can interfere with the ability to work or attend school.
- Panic disorder – This condition is characterized by sudden unexpected panic attacks. Attacks may include heart palpitations, intense sweating, and shaking. Severe attacks may be mistaken for a heart attack.
- Social anxiety disorder – This condition was previously known as social phobia. It is identified by extreme anxiety over being judged or rejected in a social situation.
- Separation anxiety – When people worry excessively that something will happen to a loved one in their absence, they avoid separation entirely. Physical symptoms might even occur upon separation.
Alcohol for Anxiety
Alcohol promotes relaxation. It also increases confidence, and is legal and widely accepted in many social situations. Alcohol may seem like the perfect way for a person suffering from anxiety to self-medicate, however, the relaxing effects of alcohol do not last and anxiety symptoms tend to worses with regular consumption of alcohol. This create a vicious cycle that can leave patients suffering from increased anxiety and alcohol abuse.
When alcohol wears off it affects the body in many ways. These symptoms may cause extreme distress in someone who already suffers from anxiety. The following symptoms can occur in someone with an anxiety disorder who regularly self-medicates with alcohol (note: these symptoms in and of themselves often lead to an increase in anxiety):
- Nausea and dizziness – These symptoms may seem like a potential health problem to a person with an anxiety disorder, causing an increase in anxiety.
- Increased heart rate – While it is likely caused by the dehydrating effects of alcohol, fast heart rate can induce panic in those who suffer from panic attacks.
- Insomnia – a lack of sleep has been proven to increase anxiety.
- PTSD – Continued heavy drinking can cause an effect on the brain that mimics post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is common for alcohol and anxiety to go hand in hand. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that 20 percent of people with social anxiety disorder also suffer from alcohol abuse. Since the conditions are codependent and co-occuring, it is important to treat alcohol and anxiety disorders together.
Choosing a program that treats dual conditions is important for true recovery. Many types of prescriptions used to treat anxiety can lead to addiction. Doctors may combine less addictive medicines with other measures to tackle both conditions. Therapy is often an effective treatment for both anxiety and alcohol abuse.
Anxiety disorders of all types can be effectively treated. Getting help is the first step. Anxiety disorders are diagnosable medical conditions, and help is available if you or someone you love suffers from an anxiety disorder.
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