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Alcohol and Anxiety: Understanding The Connection and Finding Relief

Alcohol and Anxiety: Understanding The Connection and Finding Relief

What To Know

  • This is known as The Seesaw Effect of Glutamate and GABA, and is a core part of what drives anxiety higher and higher the more we continue to depend on alcohol addiction.
  • Although this isn't an in the moment technique, creating good sleep habits such as limiting screens at night can be a simple step in improving your sleep, which will result in less anxiety the next day.

Do you ever find yourself after a big night, amidst a gut-wrenching hangover that your anxiety skyrockets?

If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, you may be well aware of the negative impacts chronic drinking can have. Heck, you’ve stumbled across this article, so I’m pretty sure there’s some curiosity about your relationship with alcohol too.

Did you know though, that alcohol is a significant contributor to everyday anxiety? Even in people that may not even have a drinking problem.

In this article, we’ll unpack and explore the connection between alcohol and anxiety and provide tips for finding relief.

Understanding The Connection Between Alcohol and Anxiety

Alcohol is a depressant to the central nervous system, which means that it slows nerve activity, increasing GABA, a neurotransmitter responsible for rest and relaxation.

Unfortunately, when we stop drinking the following day, our GABA levels drop and our Glutamate neurotransmitter levels rise, which can bring on feelings of stress, anxiety and irritability.

This is known as The Seesaw Effect of Glutamate and GABA, and is a core part of what drives anxiety higher and higher the more we continue to depend on alcohol addiction.

High Glutamate levels tend to cause physical symptoms such as tremors, excessive sweating and rapid heartbeat. Often at times, these symptoms become noticeable to others, exacerbating our anxiety.

Chronic drinking also impacts our sleep and disrupts normal sleeping patterns (Hu et al., 2020), this often results in fatigue and further adds to the anxiety we feel.

This is often why sleep can be an important factor in getting sober, I write a fairly extensive article on Some of the Best & Simple Natural Sleep Aids here.

Let’s do a quick recap of this Alcohol and Anxiety connection:

  • Alcohol interferes with neurotransmitters: Primary, alcohol impacts the balance of neurotransmitters in our brain, especially GABA and Glutamate.
  • Alcohol affects our sleep patterns: Poor sleep is a major cause of a lot of chronic illnesses, and getting poor sleep will often result in fatigue and anxiety even without alcohol.
  • Alcohol manifests physical symptoms: When our glutamate is too high, we tend to present with tremors, and excessive sweating, something that may exacerbate our anxiety.

Finding Relief from Alcohol-Related Anxiety

You may be thinking, it’s all well and good knowing how Alcohol affects anxiety, but how do we find relief or ways to manage it?

The number one way is to obviously quit drinking, although it can be difficult if you’re not sure if you have an alcohol addiction. I would recommend starting here.

Of course, there are tips to diffuse anxiety in the moment, here are some quick and simple ones below:

  • Practice Relaxation Techniques: Using techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can be a great start in diffusing anxiety. Techniques such as the 4-7-8 Breathing by Dr Andrew Weill is very effective and recommended.
  • Create Good Sleep Habits: Although this isn’t an in the moment technique, creating good sleep habits such as limiting screens at night can be a simple step in improving your sleep, which will result in less anxiety the next day.
  • Avoid Stimulants: On high anxiety days, it’s always best to avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, nicotine, or high-stimulant supplements and beverages. These will drastically exacerbate anxiety symptoms, making it harder to dial those anxious feelings back.

Please note that if you find it difficult to cope with alcohol and anxiety, it’s important to seek professional help. Although it can be hard at first, a trained professional can often better help you to develop coping strategies and provide that additional support.

The Takeaway

Alcohol addiction and anxiety can be a vicious cycle, with one exacerbating the other. However, by understanding the connection between alcohol and anxiety and taking steps to find relief, you can start to break that cycle.

Dealing with anxiety is never easy, and quitting alcohol isn’t any better. If you’re struggling with alcohol, and not sure if you have an alcohol addiction, I encourage you to read The Hallmarks of Addictive Behaviour.

Remember, it’s one step at a time, and seeking professional help should always be an option if you need that support in transitioning into sobriety..

If you have any feedback regarding this article, reach out. Help Clarity reach more people and quit addiction by following us on Instagram, it’s also the perfect place to message us and ask questions!

References

  • Hu, N., Ma, Y., He, J., Zhu, L., & Cao, S. (2020). Alcohol consumption and incidence of sleep disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 217, 108259. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.108259

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