Alcohol and Anxiety: The Link Between the Two

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What, exactly, are the links between alcohol and anxiety? Anxiety is a natural, and in some cases healthy, human emotion. Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety at some point in their lives. Anxiety arises from various causes, including events, people, or situations leading to worry, concern, or discomfort about what the future (minutes, hours, or days) may hold. There are many examples of day-to-day events that can cause anxiety. These may include going to a job interview, starting a new job, moving to a new town, getting married, buying a house, having a baby, and several others. Typically, feelings of anxiety subside soon after the concerning event is over. 


However, in other cases, feelings of intense anxiety can turn to terror and become overwhelming, leading to panic attacks. When someone has an anxiety disorder, they experience persistent, overwhelming, and excessive feelings of fear and worry about everyday circumstances. Usually, their anxiety symptoms are impossible to control and out of proportion to the danger that may occur. But, powerful anxious symptoms can lead someone to actively avoid people, places, or events that may cause anxious feelings.


Some people try to dull the feelings of anxiety through self-medication. When they experience worry, fear, or even panic, they reach for alcohol to achieve a sense of calm and relaxation. Unfortunately, using alcohol to manage anxiety symptoms leads to additional problems, including the physical and psychological impacts of a substance use disorder or alcohol addiction.


When you have both anxiety and an alcohol use disorder, you have what is referred to as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. This means you struggle with symptoms from both conditions, and it is important to seek care in an environment where you can learn to understand and manage all of your symptoms as part of one comprehensive treatment program. 


The most effective dual diagnosis treatment programs consist of a series of interventions, including assessment, detox, therapeutic interventions, and aftercare planning. At a dual diagnosis treatment program, you will learn more about how mental health and alcohol use disorder symptoms overlap while practicing the most effective ways to manage both conditions. 


What is Anxiety?

When you have anxiety, you live with persistent worry and fear that often dramatically impact your daily life. For many people, anxiety symptoms begin as early as childhood and continue into adulthood. Several types of anxiety disorders are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Examples include phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorders. Some people may experience symptoms of multiple anxiety disorders. Regardless of the symptoms you experience, it is essential to seek professional help at a treatment center, so you safely overcome anxiety and leave treatment with the tools and skills necessary to cope with triggers without turning to substances.


What Causes Anxiety?

Research has not provided a single risk factor or cause that increases one’s risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Studies suggest it is likely a combination of several factors unique to the person, including environmental and genetic elements. Some studies indicate anxiety disorders have a genetic connection because some families have multiple individuals with anxiety disorders across different generations. Research shows that you are at a greater risk of developing anxiety if you have a first-degree relative with an anxiety disorder. 


Anxiety often arises out of social or environmental situations. Some research shows you may be at a higher risk for developing an anxiety disorder if you experienced a traumatic or stressful event. Examples of such events may include violence, abuse, prolonged illness, or a natural disaster that may lead to the development of anxiety. 


Data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) shows anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health conditions in the nation. Data shows that up to 19% of the adult population (over age eighteen) has anxiety. Like addiction, anxiety disorders are treatable, yet few of those who could benefit from treatment ever seek or receive the help they need. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA) estimates that less than 37% of people with an anxiety disorder get treatment. 


About Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction (also referred to as alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder) is a disease characterized by one’s inability to reduce or stop drinking alcohol. Someone with an alcohol addiction will continue to drink alcohol despite knowing their addiction leads to harmful physical and emotional consequences. The disease of addiction affects the brain. Long-term challenges with alcohol will lead to functional and structural changes in the brain, some of which may be permanent even after you stop drinking.  


Alcohol use disorders are a challenge faced by many Americans from all demographics. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration suggests that thousands of adolescents and teens (ages 12-17) have an alcohol use disorder or “alcoholism.” Statistics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted in 2019 indicate more than fourteen million adults over eighteen and another 414,000 adolescents and teens (ages twelve to seventeen) had an alcohol use disorder the previous year. 


A Look At The Link Between Alcohol and Anxiety

Depending on the severity of anxiety symptoms, people often turn to a range of self-medication options to help them relax. One such option is alcohol. Unfortunately, chronic alcohol abuse can lead to various mental health conditions, including new or worsening anxiety symptoms. In fact, studies have proven that someone struggling with an alcohol and anxiety disorder can also have difficulties recovering from trauma which can lead to other anxiety disorders. 


When you drink alcohol, it increases the levels of certain neurotransmitters in your body. Two specific neurotransmitters impacted by alcohol use include serotonin and dopamine. Although the increase in the levels of these chemicals provides a short-term sense of increased happiness and relaxation, it can eventually lead to increased anxiety once the effects of alcohol wear off. This is sometimes referred to as alcohol-induced anxiety, and its symptoms can last for hours after your last drink. 


Alcohol-induced anxiety is not uncommon. Many people use alcohol to cope with symptoms of other anxiety disorders, such as panic disorders, social anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests approximately 7% of Americans have alcohol-induced anxiety. Using alcohol to reduce or manage the severity of mental health symptoms is not without potential dangers. 


Social anxiety disorders are another type of anxiety that frequently contribute to alcohol use. The same report from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes that approximately 20% of people who experience symptoms of social anxiety also have an alcohol use disorder. People who have social anxiety struggle to feel comfortable in social settings. Alcohol often helps to reduce feelings of discomfort and increase social capabilities.


Another challenge related to alcohol and anxiety occurs after a night of drinking. Most people who drink to excess will experience a hangover the following morning. Unfortunately, the symptoms of a hangover, such as dizziness, nausea, headache, low blood sugar, and dehydration, may also worsen anxiety symptoms. 


The safest and most effective way to address co-occurring anxiety and alcohol use disorders is to seek help at a treatment center specializing in dual diagnosis addiction treatment. At a dual-diagnosis treatment program, providers skilled in addressing the unique nature of dual diagnosis treatment will help you understand your symptoms and learn healthier, safer ways to manage triggers. Not all treatment programs are equipped to manage dual diagnosis, so it is important to seek help from a treatment center where the staff is trained to address these treatment needs. 


What Is A Dual Diagnosis Condition?

When you have a mental health condition like anxiety and an alcohol use disorder, it is called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Some statistics show up to half of the people with a mental illness also experience symptoms related to a substance use disorder. Also, statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) indicated more than 8.5 million adults (or 4% of the population) over the age of eighteen had a dual diagnosis in 2017. Dual diagnosis conditions such as anxiety and alcohol addiction share many overlapping symptoms. The best opportunity for lasting recovery is choosing a treatment program like The Hills in Los Angeles, where dual diagnosis treatment is available. 


In a dual diagnosis treatment program in Los Angeles, your treatment team will work with you to develop a therapy plan that addresses all areas of your physical and psychological health. Using a variety of comprehensive, evidence-based therapy models, you will learn how to examine and change the thoughts and behaviors that have led to harmful behaviors, such as using alcohol to self-medicate. Another significant benefit to choosing a luxury dual-diagnosis treatment program in Los Angeles is learning how to identify triggers.


When you have anxiety, simple day-to-day situations or obligations can be triggering. Understanding how to manage triggering places, people, or events without alcohol is vital to recovery from anxiety and alcohol use disorders. Learning about and how to use healthy coping strategies to handle triggers is also integral to ongoing recovery and relapse prevention. 


If you or a loved one has a dual diagnosis like anxiety and an alcohol use disorder, seeking dual diagnosis treatment is an essential part of your recovery journey. Not all addiction treatment programs (or mental health programs) are designed to treat dual diagnosis conditions. Therefore, it is vital to find one where an individualized program will meet your treatment needs. 


If you or a loved one live with the daily challenges of managing addiction and anxiety symptoms, today is the best day to reach out for help. Contact a member of our admissions team at The Hills in Los Angeles to learn more about dual diagnosis treatment at our luxury California treatment center.

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