Can Alcohol Make My Anxiety Worse?

Updated on 3/8/2023

Those who live with an anxiety disorder have an added challenge in managing the stress of daily life. Anxiety causes fears, often irrational, to affect not only how you view life, but your ability to function on a daily basis. This blog addresses what it’s like to have an anxiety disorder and explores the way it not only lives in your head, but creates physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems and even physical pain. 

Without knowing how to treat the anxiety, or being unwilling or unable to seek the proper psychiatric care, some attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Can alcohol make anxiety worse?

What Is it Like to Have an Anxiety Disorder?

Have you ever been in a situation where you were terrified for your safety? Imagine feeling like that about things that seem innocuous to others and feeling like that often. That is what it is like to have anxiety. The physical symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Excess worrying or feeling a sense of impending doom
  • Rapid breathing or heart rate
  • Feeling tense, nervous or restless
  • Sweating or trembling
  • Weakness or weariness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Avoidance of anxiety triggers

Experiencing these symptoms can interfere with daily life. Anxiety symptoms may be limited, or they can escalate to panic attacks or the inability to move or get out of bed. Because a lot of anxiety is based on everyday events and situations, most people don’t talk about their symptoms and often suffer alone.

What Happens When You Drink Alcohol Every Day

While it is customary in many cultures to have a glass of wine or a beer every day with dinner, alcohol is still an addictive substance. For many people, having a second drink or a third, or going out with friends after dinner and drinking more can become problematic. Because alcohol also impairs your judgment, social drinking can turn to excessive drinking very quickly. Drinking alcohol every day can lead to alcohol addiction.

Even for those who do not drink every day or drink only on the weekends, binge drinking can also lead to chronic alcoholism. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is defined as consuming enough alcohol to bring your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent. That is typically five or more drinks within two hours for males or four or more in the same time frame for females. In addition to the risks to your immediate and long-term health and safety, when you binge drink even once a month, you can become addicted to alcohol.

The Connection Between Alcohol and Anxiety

Having anxiety has been shown to increase the risk of developing chronic alcoholism. Conversely, drinking alcohol every day also increases your risk of developing anxiety. In one study from 2019, Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, research showed that up to 50% of those in treatment for alcohol addiction also met the criteria for one or more anxiety disorders. Whether the anxiety was pre-existing or if it developed because of excessive alcohol consumption, both disorders are intrinsically linked and should also be treated together for the best success.

What Are the Risks of Self-Medicating?

If you have anxiety, what happens when you drink alcohol every day is called self-medicating. Drinking becomes a coping mechanism to try to escape the symptoms of anxiety. Self-medicating can lead to chronic alcoholism or at least an alcohol dependency. According to the same study cited above, those with anxiety who drink to cope with their anxiety are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence within three years than those who did not drink.

When you have an anxiety disorder and you develop an addiction to alcohol, now you have two disorders, which are often referred to as co-occurring disorders. Rarely do you even get the relief you sought when using alcohol to self-medicate. Instead of finding relief for your anxiety symptoms, now you have a whole new set of symptoms to deal with.

What Are the Consequences of Self-Medicating for Anxiety?

In addition to the increased risks of developing chronic alcoholism when self-medicating, drinking can actually worsen your anxiety symptoms. A study released this year found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, self-medicating with alcohol has increased. As alcohol use increased, so did the symptoms of anxiety disorders.

Another consequence that was discovered in this study was that drinking alcohol can lead to more anger and aggressive behaviors and that those who drank to self-medicate had significantly higher levels of verbal and physical aggression. Acting upon that anger and aggression can further complicate your life in terms of your job and your relationships and may lead to problems with the law. Treating your alcohol addiction and anxiety should be a priority.

DiscoveryMD specializes in the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders. We help remove barriers to treatment by providing the quality and accessibility to care you need. Contact us to learn more about beginning your treatment process for drug or alcohol addiction. It is time to begin your new life. 

Call for a Confidential Consultation(888) 526-3066
Call Now Button