In this Tips and Hacks series, we’re talking about the relationship between alcohol and anxiety – one of the most common issues that our Daybreak members talk about. Often it is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario – what came first, and the answer is fascinating and complex. So, let’s get started.
Social Anxiety: One big factor for many people’s drinking is social anxiety – since alcohol blocks the anxiety chemical glutamate as well as lowers inhibitions and temporarily boosts mood, it can feel like a magic bullet for those social situations where we are feeling worried about fitting in or talking to new people. Many people with social anxiety will describe finding it hard to stop at one or two drinks in these situations, since they are relying on alcohol to help them relax. Unfortunately, we know that once we drink a certain amount, we then do risk being judged or making big mistakes – since the responsible part of our brain is offline.
Stress & Trauma: Research into the association between stress, trauma and issues with alcohol tells us that people who’ve been through traumatic or stressful experiences in the past – or who are currently stressed – are much more vulnerable to the mood-altering effects of alcohol and other drugs. Many people with chronic stress or anxiety regularly feel flat, scattered or distressed and so something that reliably puts this on pause can be really compelling. Many people will continue to use alcohol even when they are aware it is actually making things worse in their lives because it is the only thing they feel helps with those strong emotions.
Hangxiety: So far we’ve talked about how anxiety and stress predispose us to drinking but it goes the other way too! You might have woken up after a night of drinking feeling quite anxious and on edge – this is because alcohol blocks the chemical, glutamate, in our brain, which is responsible for anxiety. When we go to sleep and our brain works to restore the balance of brain chemistry, it recognises that there is a shortage of glutamate – and so works to produce more. This means that we often wake up with a surplus of glutamate in our brain after drinking and have to live with ‘hangxiety’ the following day – biological anxiety that makes it really hard to focus or enjoy our day. Those with existing anxiety disorders might find this particularly uncomfortable, as you can imagine.
Withdrawal: Finally, one more way that alcohol and anxiety interact. For many people who are physically or psychologically dependent on alcohol, withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety. For those who are physically dependent, they may start to feel physically anxious when alcohol is wearing off in their system and for those who are psychologically dependent, they may feel anxious around the time that they would normally drink.
So if some of these points have resonated with you, what next? Well, the good news is that being aware of the relationship between anxiety and alcohol use is a big part of the puzzle. It will be useful for you to trace back what seemed to come first – anxiety or alcohol – and look at the changes that you’re willing to make. It is highly recommended that you get the help of your GP or a mental health professional for this, as they can talk through what to do first. The important thing to remember is that the two are often connected and getting some support for one of these things often results in changes in the other – which can only be a good thing!
I hope you’ve found these tips useful. If you’re thinking it is time to make some changes with your relationship with alcohol, I’d recommend you visit the Daybreak app. You can get the help and support you need from a community of people with similar goals to you, as well as help with getting more support if you need it.
Changing your relationship with alcohol doesn’t have to be drastic or involve huge changes to your lifestyle – it is more about figuring out what is going to work for you.
Next time on Tips and Hacks, we’ll be talking about how stress and anxiety impacts alcohol use.
20 CommentsAdd a comment
Thank you for this excellent explanation of the relationship between anxiety and alcohol.
Thanks for explaining a recent experience I had with a hangover or “hangxieity”. It was like being mentally paralysed. I was robotic and couldn’t enjoy what is a usually enjoyable day.
A good explanation for the downs after having the proverbial happy hour to decompress. Unfortunately this becomes the norm, and then the battle begins over and over day after day… Its great to be free and experience life!
Well that explains a lot! I’ve had issues with anxiety for many years. Now that I’ve stopped drinking (46 days and counting) my anxiety is almost nonexistent! I’ve been waking up feeling amazing & haven’t had a single panic attack . I’d never made the connection before.
Well done to you
This is very true. I suffer badly from anxiety. I also usually drink most days to ‘deal’ with this and it is the first thing I turn to in any stressful situation. Not large amounts at a time but very regularly. Since stopping completely only 2 weeks ago, my anxiety has dropped by half. I’m genuinely amazed at the difference it has made.
Well written. Concise, on-point, and factual. A refreshing change from the information I usually find written by MD’s, PSYC’s or Academics. Factual and concise. Thank you, from a reader in the United States.
Great insights i didn’t realise such a thing as social anxiety existed but you nailed it that is me all over. My wife always says why do you need to drink when my family members come over and then you get stupid. I am going to make changes
Thank you – spot on
Such a clear description. Now doing Febfast and feel fantastic. I truly have had this problem since my late teens. Now in early 50’s. Disappointed and sad I let such a negative lack of control and understanding of the link between anxiety and alcohol consume the best years of my life. I will do all I can to improve the future.
Yes, this describes my problem exactly.
I had constant anxiety for years, but I didn’t actually realise it. I just thought it was normal! Once I quit drinking I found an amazing calmness I had never experienced before.
I have been alcohol free for 7 months now and I am finding that when I get anxious Im still craving the alcohol to deal with it. Just observing these feelings as I thought my anxiety was better in general until recently. Been a tough week. Thanks for the blog, right words at the right time.
I haven’t had a drink in 2 weeks. Because I’ve been a habitual drinker most of my long life, I realise it’s high time to stop. The first week I was very anxious and couldn’t sleep properly. Now about the time of day, evening I would normally drink, I still feel anxious but need to stay off booze! I gained weight drinking during Covid lockdown and developed a tummy, which I have never had. That’s incentive enough not to drink. Also, I exercise a lot, always have and love to keep fit.
I do need some support though!
Thank you for sharing Sarah! It sounds like it’s a tough time for you right now and we want you to know that there is support available.
Check out our Daybreak app to connect with others who may be going through a similar experience or reach out to a health professional such as GP. Lifeline is also available for support 24/7 on 13 11 14.
Take care, The HSM Team.
Thank you, it finally makes sense to me. I have experienced all of these and are currently getting some professional help with it 👍🏽
I have been alcohol free for 2 and a half years now, and it is the best choice I ever made. I suffer from anxiety and depression. I have strong memories of hangxiety episodes that were extremely upsetting, quite frightening in their intensity. Thoughts of “Why did I say that?””Why did I do that?””How will everyone be thinking of me today?”,just walking backwards and forwards, saying “Oh, my God, Oh my God!” over and over. I never ever want to experience that again. And, without alcohol, I never will.
I hope you’ve found these tips useful
Thanks. I quit for 10 and a half years and thought I could face a glitch with the old medicine… I have easily returned to old behaviours in new circumstances. Violence , fueled by rage …unhealed rage….
I am aware , but the grab on two or three bottles of wine a night….bloody addiction. I want out and then… I don’t. Thanks for the …not medical, but chemical explanations. My intellect requires this to sink in