alcohol and anxiety

Alcohol and Anxiety

Many women feel like they consume alcohol in a way that directly impacts their anxiety levels. It can be tough to determine how alcohol is affecting your mood and overall well-being, especially when anxiety is already a complex issue.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and therefore can have an effect on anxiety disorders. Alcohol may help to reduce anxiety in the short-term, but can actually worsen anxiety in the long-term. People with anxiety disorders should be cautious about drinking alcohol, as it can exacerbate their symptoms.


Alcohol and anxiety have a complex relationship. Anxiety disorders are more common among people with alcoholism, and those who are alcoholics are more likely to have anxiety. We don’t completely understand which comes first or why, but the relationship is strong.

In fact if you have alcoholism, or you have an anxiety disorder, you are 3 x as likely as anyone else to have the other (Himle 1999). This means alcoholism and anxiety disorders are comorbid, or occur together. Between 22 percent and 69 percent of alcohol-dependent patients have comorbid anxiety disorders (Roberts 1999).

If you took statistics, or any research class, you know that correlation or co morbidity does not tell us much about causality. The question of which came first is important for treatment.  Therapists and other treatment providers to understand the relationship between alcohol and anxiety in each particular client.

Alcohol and anxiety: Is anxiety caused by alcohol use?


There is research that suggests anxiety in people who have alcohol dependence may actually only occur during intoxication. So consuming alcohol can actually cause anxiety ( even though you would think of the opposite). Other research suggests that alcohol dependent people experience anxiety during withdrawal, and detox that they wouldn’t normally experience if they were not dealing with the addiction. One they successfully stop using alcohol the anxiety symptoms go away. So this suggests that some people may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when they don’t really have it. In these cases its actually a feature of discontinuing alcohol use. Additionally, people who are experiencing this kind of anxiety would not respond to treatment in the same way as someone who had a primary anxiety disorder.

More about alcohol AFTER Drinking 

Alcohol and depression


Alcohol and anxiety: Do different forms of anxiety have higher rates of co morbidity with alcoholism?


Social anxiety is closely related to alcoholism. For example, if you have ever had a drink, you know that it relaxes you. If you have anxiety in social situations, alcohol can help you relax and feel better. However, this is not a good solution because alcohol just makes the original problem worse. In fact, research among people with social anxiety disorder shows that when they consume alcohol and are studied, their actual symptoms of social anxiety do not go down(Himle 1999).On the other hand , specific phobias, don’t seem to be strongly correlated with alcoholism at all.


Alcohol and anxiety: What if I use alcohol to deal with anxiety?


Using alcohol to cope with anxiety is not a good idea. This is because alcohol is a type of avoidance. Avoidance is a coping skill that we have talked about before on this website. When you use alcohol to control your anxiety, you are usually using the best example of avoidance. This can often start with the first drink. Take the example below.

A teenage with some mild social anxiety may be so nervous she doesn’t think she can get through the experience, so she has a drink and her anxiety goes away almost  immediately. Had this girl went to the party and not used alcohol to control her anxiety what would have happened? She would have learned she could survive this experience,and that the feeling goes away. Instead of learning from this experience she learned to use alcohol instead. Learning is very powerful when it comes to anxiety.


Alcohol and anxiety:Is this a bad thing? Doesn’t everyone do this to some extent?


This may or may not be very significant in this girls life, depending on the severity of her anxiety, the genetic loading in her family for alcoholism and her family life etc. The risk with alcohol is that it provides an immediate effect of relaxation. It may be possible this girl will choose avoidance rather than experiencing her emotions in the future. Alcohol is a powerful form of avoidance.

Is alcohol a problem for your anxiety?

If you are wondering about your own relationship with alcohol and anxiety, here are three things you can do to find out.

1. Pay attention to how anxious you feel before, during and after drinking.

If for example, you are trying to stop drinking but become anxious in situations and then begin drinking again, you may want to resist the urge to drink in anxiety provoking situations several times so that you can learn your anxiety will subside on its own.

If you drink alcohol and then feel anxious, it might be because of the alcohol. If you drink too much, it can be hard to figure out what is causing your anxiety. For example, if you drink, get depressed, and then feel anxious, your anxiety might be caused by the drinking. If you find yourself needing alcohol to relax in social situations more and more, or if alcohol is causing you to make choices that have a negative effect on your life, it might be worth exploring the relationship between anxiety and alcohol.

The relationship may be even more complex. For example, if you drink several glasses of wine at a party, you may be hungrier that usual because of your blood sugar levels. Then you may make poor food choices and feel anxiety about weight gain. In this case, the anxiety is still caused by the alcohol.

2. Keep a journal

It’s normal to feel anxiety from time to time. Anxiety is our body’s way of responding to stress. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including work, school, or family pressures. For some people, anxiety can be so debilitating that it interferes with their ability to live a normal life. If you’re struggling with anxiety, you may find that alcohol use makes your symptoms worse. In fact, journaling can be a helpful way to increase your awareness of the actual relationship between your anxiety and alcohol use. By journaling, you can track your patterns of alcohol use and anxiety symptoms. Thiscan help you to identify any triggers and make changes to your lifestyle or habits that may help to reduce your anxiety. If you’re journaling about your anxiety and alcohol use, be sure to be honest with yourself. Don’t try to bottle up your feelings or downplay the severity of your symptoms. The goal is to gain a better understanding of your own mental health so that you can find ways to manage your anxiety in a healthy way.

3. Start to engage in some non alcohol activities and see if your anxiety decreases.

Obviously, in our society, alcohol is an acceptable social lubricant. Many events revolve around food alcohol and clearly the fact that it relaxes people adds to the fun. It may be that you are engaging in alot of activities where alcohol is available, and if you remove this temptation, you may notice you are drinking less, and your anxiety decrease.

Alcohol is also a substance that can be abused, and it can be easy to drink too much alcohol without realizing the impact on your mood.


Key Points:

Many people with anxiety have alcohol issues or with alcohol issues have anxiety.

In order to understand your  relationship between anxiety and alcohol use, it is first important to start  paying attention to how your anxiety manifests itself in relation to alcohol. Secondly, keeping a journal can help you track your progress and see any patterns that may emerge. Finally, engaging in non-alcohol activities will help you observe your true anxiety levels free from alcohol use. After doing these three things, see how your anxiety is impacted. If you notice that alcohol use is a pattern for you, seek help if necessary.

Whether or not it is a problem  depends on several factors. Every person is different.

There are many benefits to reducing your alcohol intake, including improved mental health and decreased anxiety. If you are struggling to cut back on alcohol, there are many resources available to help you, including support groups and counseling. Reducing your alcohol consumption can be a difficult process, but it is worth the effort in order to improve your mental health and wellbeing.


Himle, Joseph A., Abelson, James L., Haghightgou, Hedieh, Hill, Elizabeth M., Nesse, Randolph M., Curtis, George C.Effect of Alcohol on Social Phobic Anxiety Am J Psychiatry 1999 156: 1237-1243

Kushner, Matt G., Sher, Kenneth J., Erickson, Darin J.Prospective Analysis of the Relation Between DSM-III Anxiety Disorders and Alcohol Use DisordersAm J Psychiatry 1999 156: 723-732

Roberts, Mimi C., Emsley, Robin A., Pienaar, Willem P., Stein, Dan J.Anxiety Disorders Among Abstinent Alcohol-Dependent PatientsPsychiatr Serv 1999 50: 1359-1361

Schuckit, Marc A., Hesselbrock, VictorAlcohol Dependence and Anxiety Disorders: What Is the Relationship?Focus 2004 2: 440-453


Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.

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