Anxiety can take many forms. For some, it’s a feeling of nervousness sparked by a person, a place or a thing. For others, it’s an undertow of worry caused by an unresolved event from the past. For still others, it’s a constant presence brought about by something they just can’t name. All of these people might be desperate for relief, and alcohol might seem like a perfect solution.
According to a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry, alcohol abuse is common in people who have anxiety. In fact, 13 percent of people who had consumed alcohol in the previous year did so in order to reduce their feelings of anxiety or fear. While people like this might think that they’re doing something useful to manage their mental health, they could be doing long-term damage.
Making Anxiety Worse
Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it slows electrical activity inside the brain. An anxious person might feel just a little more soothed and a bit more at ease after a hit of alcohol, and that drink might make them feel as though they can handle almost any situation without sliding into dysfunction.
Unfortunately, alcohol works like a panacea here. It doesn’t help the person to really deal with the dysfunction that is causing those feelings of nervousness and worry. Instead, it simply masks those feelings and makes the person feel better. That illusory feeling of healing can be transient, and when the alcohol wears off and the nervousness comes roaring back, the person might feel the need to drink yet again. In time, the person might be both psychologically and physically addicted to alcohol, and the anxiety might be just as bad or worse than it was when the cycle started.
When a person like this tries to stop drinking, anxiety levels can grow yet more severe. A brain addicted to alcohol reacts with panic when the drug isn’t available, and electrical activity can run wild. People like this might develop all sorts of terrible, anxiety-related symptoms, including:
In extreme cases, people like this might even develop seizures due to the withdrawal process. A return to drinking might seem reasonable, in order to make that cycle stop.
Proper Treatment Protocols
People with an alcohol abuse disorder often need help from a structured treatment program, so they can withdraw from the drug without experiencing life-threatening complications. A cold-turkey withdrawal from alcohol is never a good idea, simply because the risk of long-term damage is just too high. A supervised and medicated withdrawal period is a better option.
When that withdrawal process is complete, therapy can begin. An article in the journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment suggests that the treatments should be tailored to the type of anxiety the person has. Someone who has anxious feelings in relation to a specific object might benefit from therapies in which they’re slowly reintroduced to that object in a controlled environment, for example, while someone with generalized anxiety might benefit from more straightforward Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
All Foundations Recovery Network programs tailor treatment approaches in this way, delivering real help to people who need it most. If you’d like to find a qualified program that can help your family, please call.
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton