How Alcohol Can Increase Anxiety and Panic Attacks

There’s no doubt about it, alcohol alters cognitive ability.

Temporarily boosting serotonin levels (the happy hormone).

Otherwise, why would people drink it?

While low levels of alcohol can lower inflammation in some people.

For many, drinking one glass can lead to a seemingly unstoppable domino effect.

This can have deleterious effects on overall health, both mental and physical.

As well as impacting loved ones.

There have been multiple recent studies carried out to find out how the pandemic has impacted anxiety disorder.

While other studies have found a rapid acceleration of alcoholic liver disease during the first year of the pandemic. 

Understanding the bidirectional relationship between alcohol and anxiety has never been more important. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the relationship between anxiety and alcohol and what you can do about it. 

Can Alcohol Cause Anxiety & Panic Attacks?

Alcohol alters your mood in a variety of ways by changing brain activity. Alcohol also causes dehydration and affects blood sugar levels which can cause nervousness and shaking.  While a glass of wine can be enjoyed by some, heavy drinking can increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder in many people. Making stress harder to deal with. 

Interestingly, it can take more than two weeks for your brain to return to “normal.” Meaning that those who have trouble giving up alcohol need more than two weeks to begin recovery. During the first two weeks, the urge to drink can be powerful. Drinking alcohol can induce panic attacks and develop into a vicious cycle thats hard to break.

What is Anxiety/ Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorder is a cascade of excessive feelings of uncontrollable worry, unease, or fear. Understandably, anxiety is on the rise with the prevalence of seemingly unending global issues like the pandemic and the rapidly changing workplace. Therefore, it’s a good idea to understand what anxiety disorder is, and how it differs from generalised stress. 

Feeling anxious when studying for an exam or during a stressful life event is normal. The difference is that people who suffer from anxiety disorder have on-going fears and worries and feel anxious every day.  General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is the most common type of anxiety. Alcohol can change the levels of serotonin in the brain, making you feel anxious after the alcohol wears off. Worsening the symptoms of anxiety disorder. 

The 8 Main Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is connected to many conditions such as panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder. 40 million adults suffer from some form of anxiety. Alcohol or substance use in people with social anxiety disorder is common as alcohol lowers your inhibitions, making social interactions easier in the short term. Here are the main symptoms of anxiety disorder to look out for:

  • Trouble Concentrating
  • Tense muscles
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Trembling or Sweating
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat/ breathing

Ever Heard of Hangxiety?

The question remains, what comes first anxiety disorder or alcohol abuse? Tricky question. Many people drink to soothe anxiety and on the flip side, alcohol can also trigger anxiety. The connection between anxiety and alcohol use disorder (AUD) is common. So much so that “hangover anxiety” has its own name: hangxiety

People who suffer from social anxiety disorder(SAD)  can feel the need to drink to be sociable. Thats because shyness can be a symptom of SAD. This can lead to alcohol use disorder. Drinking to reduce shyness, only to find that you feel more anxious the day after drinking can lead to the impulse to drink more, snowballing into an ongoing issue. 

6 Main Types of Anxiety Disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) classifies anxiety disorders into these six groups:

  • General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Social Anxiety disorder (SAD)

Substance or Medication Induced Anxiety

Not experiencing anxiety prior to substance use means that people may be diagnosed with substance-induced anxiety. While intoxicated or during periods of withdrawal from alcohol or drugs, a person can experience substance or medication-induced anxiety disorder. Addiction and anxiety often happen together and have a bidirectional relationship. Drinking alcohol can trigger anxiety and should be avoided by people who suffer from anxiety disorder. 

However, people with anxiety disorder often drink alcohol to relax in an attempt to temporarily ease symptoms. It’s common for people to unwind with alcohol to relax and release stress in their lives. This approach can trigger substance-induced anxiety or cause anxiety disorder in some people. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) – 20% of people with a social anxiety disorder (SAD) suffer from alcohol dependence.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) classifies anxiety disorders into these six groups:

  • General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Social Anxiety disorder (SAD)

Substance or Medication Induced Anxiety

Not experiencing anxiety prior to substance use means that people may be diagnosed with substance-induced anxiety. While intoxicated or during periods of withdrawal from alcohol or drugs, a person can experience substance or medication-induced anxiety disorder. Addiction and anxiety often happen together and have a bidirectional relationship. Drinking alcohol can trigger anxiety and should be avoided by people who suffer from anxiety disorder. 

However, people with anxiety disorder often drink alcohol to relax in an attempt to temporarily ease symptoms. It’s common for people to unwind with alcohol to relax and release stress in their lives. This approach can trigger substance-induced anxiety or cause anxiety disorder in some people. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) – 20% of people with a social anxiety disorder (SAD) suffer from alcohol dependence.

The Bottom Line

Anxiety and alcohol can create a vicious cycle that’s hard to break. With alcohol temporarily reducing anxiety, only to slam on the breaks and throw people into a panic attack the next day. Many people can drink a few glasses of alcohol with no problems. Yet the worrying increase of a quarter to 31.2% of people drinking during the pandemic could be connected to anxiety. As we’ve learned the connetion beteen alcohol and anxiety is clear. Therefore, taking time to cleanse an detox can allow your body time to reset and live life to its fullest.