Can Alcohol Cause Anxiety?

After a stressful day at work, it can be tempting to pour yourself a glass of wine or crack open a beer. The relaxing effects of alcohol can be felt just 10 minutes after finishing a drink, making it a quick way to relieve tension. Likewise, if you’re uncomfortable in social situations, you may turn to alcohol to relieve some of the anxiety you feel in large groups of people. The more drinks you have, the higher your blood alcohol content (BAC) rises, increasing the feeling of relaxation.

However, the use of alcohol to soothe anxiety often backfires. While alcohol may temporarily make you feel at ease, it can increase feelings of anxiety within a few hours of consumption. In fact, prolonged drinking can actually cause anxiety in some instances. This is called substance induced anxiety.

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What is substance induced anxiety?

Substance induced anxiety is an anxiety disorder caused by consuming alcohol, drugs, or medication. The diagnosis is reserved for individuals who did not experienced symptoms of anxiety before the use of alcohol was thought to be responsible. In some cases, anxiety occurs spontaneously while a person is drinking. It can also coincide with a hangover, or the withdrawal period.

How does alcohol contribute to anxiety?

Alcohol can cause rebound anxiety

In addition to causing anxiety, alcohol can also make the symptoms of an existing anxiety disorder worse. Alcohol binds GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) receptors, the principal inhibitory receptors in the brain. While it temporarily dampens feelings of anxiety, it’s only temporary. Whatever anxiety you have quieted can come back full force or even worse when you sober up.

Alcohol boosts serotonin levels

Alcohol temporarily boosts levels of serotonin in the brain. A surge of this “feel good” chemical can make you feel happy and relaxed and encourage you to keep drinking. However, too much serotonin has been linked to feelings of panic, agitation, and anxiety.

Alcohol leads to a dopamine crash

In addition to a boost of serotonin, alcohol releases a rush of dopamine to the reward center in your brain. This is the same thing that happens when you win big at the casino or spend time with your romantic partner. When your dopamine levels come back down, it can negatively impact your mood and anxiety levels.

Alcohol lowers blood sugar levels

When you drink alcohol, your body responds by boosting insulin secretion. As insulin floods your bloodstream, it decreases your blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and nausea, all of which can trigger an anxiety attack.

Alcohol disrupts your sleep

Alcohol decreases the amount of time you spend in REM. This is significant, because REM is the restorative part of the sleep cycle you need to feel rested. Research has shown that even acute sleep deprivation increases symptoms of anxiety and depression.


Get help with your alcohol addiction and anxiety disorder at Alvarado Parkway Institute

At first, self-medicating with alcohol can feel like the perfect solution to quieting your anxiety. In reality, alcohol is only a temporary fix that can make your anxiety worse. What’s more, you’ll start needing to drink more and more in order to feel the relaxing effects of alcohol over time. If you’re suffering from anxiety and have become dependent on alcohol to cope with the symptoms, help is available.

At Alvarado Parkway Institute, we combine mental health care with addictive disorder treatment to provide the comprehensive services you need to achieve a full recovery. Our dual diagnosis treatment program is tailored to the individual and includes a combination of therapy, relapse prevention education, pharmacological support, and counseling to help you achieve health and stability. Call us today at (619) 485-1432, and we’ll help get you on the road to living your best life.