Alcohol and Anxiety: Understanding These Co-occurring Conditions

Anxiety and alcohol can be independent conditions, but in many cases, they co-occur together in the same person. This co-occurrence is referred to as a dual diagnosis and complicates both conditions. Since both conditions cause a long list of unhealthy and dangerous side effects, the combination can be especially detrimental to one’s health and wellbeing.

To properly treat anxiety and alcohol dependence, a professional treatment program should be completed to understand the evolution of the conditions and address both simultaneously. Sana Lake Recovery Center offers treatment plans for a dual diagnosis that will address the individual as a whole.

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol is considered the most common drug consumed in the country. Since the substance is legal and unregulated, alcohol is commonly consumed in social situations and events. When individuals consume alcohol in moderation, it may not cause much damage to an individual’s health. But when individuals abuse this substance, the results can be life-threatening. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), safe drinking consists of no more than one drink per day for women, and two per day for men. When kept at this threshold, alcohol can have a calming and relaxing effect on the body and mind. Once this threshold is surpassed, however, negative effects will begin to take place. Some of the side effects of too much alcohol or alcohol dependence include: 

  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Distorted vision and hearing
  • Impaired cognition 

Alcohol falls into the category of a depressant, meaning it lowers the body’s natural stimulants and leads to both the body and the mind slowing down. This can make the mood relatively low, thinking can be more difficult, and motivation is often decreased.  

Developing Alcohol Dependence

Over time the body becomes dependent on alcohol for normal function and going too long without it will lead to withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawals are extremely unpleasant and can be dangerous if not under the supervision of medical professionals. Some symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Tremor
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Hallucinations 
  • Insomnia 
  • Fever

Since Alcohol can cause such severe and body-altering side effects, professional treatment needs to be sought to fully detox and rehabilitate the individual. 

Since Alcohol can cause such severe and body-altering side effects, professional treatment needs to be sought to fully detox and rehabilitate the individual. 

Anxiety Disorder

Prolonged periods of anxiety have a massive effect on the wellbeing of individuals. When the body is constantly under the impression that something is wrong, the normal function becomes impaired. It can become difficult to focus on anything other than anxiety. Often the symptoms lead people to lack the desire to socialize, eat well, move their bodies, or live out their daily routine. 

Anxiety comes in many different shapes and sizes, but some of the common side effects include:

  • excessive, ongoing worry and tension
  • an unrealistic view of problems
  • irritability
  • muscle tension
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • sweating
  • difficulty concentrating
  • nausea
  • the need to go to the bathroom frequently
  • fidgeting
  • trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Feeling like you’re going to die
  • numbness in hands and feet
  • difficulty swallowing
  • bouts of difficulty breathing
  • trembling
  • twitching
  • hot flashes
  • rashes

A malfunction in the way the brain processes information is actually what causes anxiety. So while the symptoms are caused by mental thinking patterns, they are very real, which can be quite scary. The chronic stress of worry can take so much energy that the individual feels they have no way of feeling better. 

Individuals with severe anxiety often try to find a coping mechanism, and usually, these methods are not healthy. Putting a bandaid on your anxiety, or temporarily numbing it will likely cause it to come back even stronger. For this reason, addressing the root of your anxiety and getting professional help is the best course of action. 

Alcohol and Anxiety: The Statistics

It’s estimated that close to 40 million Americans suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder. Of those 40 million, 1 in 5 will at some point use alcohol to cope with their anxiety. Additionally, close to 20 % of people who have a diagnosed alcohol use disorder also have a co-occurring anxiety disorder. 

These statistics only relate to the reported findings, and experts suggest in reality they could be even higher. 

How Do Alcohol and Anxiety Affect One Another?

Whether or not the anxiety or alcohol use disorder came first is going to differ from person to person. Regardless of the origin, each condition affects the other in very negative ways. 

Anxiety causes the individual to lose control of their function in a stimulating way. The heart rate increases, the blood pumps harder, the brain goes into hyperactive mode. Alcohol has the opposite effect and slows down each of the systems. 

For this reason, individuals often use alcohol as a way to self medicate for anxiety. It can temporarily relieve the stress on the body and mind that comes from long term anxiety. This method of coping however makes it more difficult to deal with anxiety again once the effect of alcohol wears off. 

This can cause anxiety symptoms to increase, leading to even more desire to cope with alcohol. The vicious cycle will continue to grow and produce unwanted side effects until the individual seeks treatment. 

On the other side of the relationship is the instance where alcohol use leads to anxiety. Most people who use alcohol excessively do so in both quantity and frequency of drinking. Heavy intoxication causes people to make poor decisions and behave in ways they wouldn’t while sober. These social interactions or “drunk mistakes” can cause negative feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment which may lead to anxiety. 

Alcohol Dependence and Co-Occurring Anxiety: Can You Treat Them Separately?  

Researchers consider anxiety to be chronic and disabling mental illness. Since the condition causes symptoms almost all of the time, it takes a massive toll on anyone suffering from its effects. If there is a co-occurrence of alcohol use disorder, professionals should approach the individual with a dual diagnosis and assess the co-occurring conditions simultaneously. Treating one without the other will leave the individual with remaining symptoms. 

Treating Co-Occurring Alcohol and Anxiety Disorders

Dual diagnosis treatment for anxiety and alcohol use disorder should include treatments that address both the mental and physical effects of both conditions. Treatment will be individualized for each member here at Sana Lake Recovery Center. But each individual’s journey will likely include: 

  • Detox for Alcoholism 
  • Depression/Anxiety medications
  • Talk Therapy (CBT, ACT therapy)
  • Nutritional Therapy
  • Meditation & Yoga
  • Behavioral Modification Therapy
  • Relapse Prevention 

Anxiety medications are not always best and some may even have concern for further addiction habits if prescribed. In some cases, however, they can prove to be very useful.

Counseling sessions with a licensed psychiatrist or therapist can enable members to address both mental illness and substance addiction. Understanding the root causes of their development will enable them to change old thinking and behavior patterns.

Additionally, unresolved childhood trauma, insecurities, genetics, and effects from past experiences can be a major factor in the development of both conditions. Licensed therapists will walk you through overcoming these instances as well. 

Holistic approaches should be a part of everyone’s treatment plan.  Acupuncture, meditation, and creative therapies can all help individuals to understand themselves and their triggers. Addressing addiction and mental illness by looking at the individual as a whole will result in a more thorough recovery. 

Whichever treatment route you decide to take, you must work with professionals who know what they’re doing. Co-occurring conditions are very complex and need to be treated by people with experience in treating dual diagnosis. 

Treatment at Sana Lake 

If you or a loved one is suffering from co-occurring anxiety and alcohol use disorder, it’s important you get professional help to treat both. Our medically trained professionals understand the complexity of a dual diagnosis, are passionate about helping clients understand the root of their diagnosis and working together to bring you back to a healthy state. 

For more information about treatment for co-occurring conditions, you can contact us today or call us at (636) 707-2097. Let our team here at Sana Lake Recovery Center help you to gain the freedom and peace you truly deserve!

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860396/

https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder/social-anxiety-and-alcohol-abuse

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MDDavid Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.