Alcohol acts as a sedative that affects the central nervous system. It can make you feel more relaxed and may make it easier to deal with stress. However, while it may seem beneficial for calming your nerves, drinking can mask anxiety problems, and when done frequently it can result in addiction.
Alcohol: The Anxiety Reliever
Often referred to as liquid courage, alcohol can help you fit in when you’re in uncomfortable situations, make it easy to be outgoing and help eliminate worries temporarily. Alcohol numbs the senses enough to prevent you from feeling natural fear, which makes it easy to go against your normal instincts. In spite of the nickname, alcohol doesn’t actually make you courageous; it simply makes it easier to cope.
Medical Effects of Alcohol
If you drink too much, on a single occasion or over time, you can suffer from serious health issues. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol interferes with brain function. The disruptions in brain waves can make it difficult to think clearly and move with coordination.
Excessive alcohol use destroys the heart, often causing problems like cardiomyopathy, or the stretching of the heart muscle. It can lead to arrhythmias, stroke and high blood pressure. Frequent heavy drinking can lead to liver inflammation and health risks like fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis of the liver. In the pancreas, drinking can lead to pancreatitis, which interferes with proper digestion.
Studies have shown a direct relation between drinking and several types of cancer, including head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. Also, drinking can weaken your immune system and put you at greater risk for diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Why Is it Called the Nerve Calmer?
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is another inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain that delivers a relaxing effect on the nerves. It helps an individual with impulse control, appetite, sleep and pain relief and helps create a positive mood. Alcohol helps stimulate the activity of GABA to deliver a sedative effect. In smaller amounts, alcohol can have a relaxing effect, but in higher doses, it may result in slurred speech, poor judgment, slow reflexes, and a staggering gait.
Dangers of Self-Medicating Anxiety with Alcohol
Drinking alcohol may seem like a good way to alleviate stress, but it eventually causes more harm than good. When you first start drinking, alcohol reduces stress and takes your mind off your troubles. Also, when you start drinking regularly, the body develops a tolerance, which can make anxiety and stress even more difficult to cope with. Eventually, you may drink more to obtain the same results, leading to addiction.
Why Drinking to Calm Your Nerves May Make Things Worse
Serotonin is a chemical and neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and social behaviors, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory, temperature regulation, and sexual desire. It also affects the cardiovascular system, muscles, and endocrine system. Although it is manufactured in the brain, the majority of serotonin is found in the digestive tract and blood platelets.
There are approximately 40 million brain cells that are affected both directly and indirectly by serotonin. Low levels of serotonin have been directly linked to depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, panic attacks, and anger. Because alcohol alters the serotonin levels and other neurotransmitters in the brain, drinking may actually worsen anxiety over time.
Also, it’s important to remember that because alcohol disrupts normal sleep patterns, the sleep-deprived brain is less adept at shutting down during an anxiety attack or when negative thoughts move in. Less time is spent in each stage of sleep, which can leave you sluggish and tired the next day and also affect how well you respond to stressful situations.
The average social drinker has a few drinks and may experience a loss of control, while the chronic drinker consumes a few drinks, feels a false sense of control and continues drinking.
Link Between Anxiety Disorders and Alcoholism
Anxiety and alcohol abuse are often connected. People drink to relax, and chronic drinking causes anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 20 percent of people with anxiety suffer from some type of alcohol dependence or frequently abuse alcohol.
How You Can Stop Using Alcohol for Anxiety
Alcohol replaces your brain’s need to learn to cope with stress on its own, so quitting alcohol can also cause anxiety. As a result, many people tend to continue drinking. Alcohol’s effects last long after the withdrawal symptoms, which is why many alcoholics do best in treatment recovery situations.
There are many strategies alcoholics can use to deal with anxiety and depression the correct way and overcome the addiction.
- Choose Your Support Network. Surround yourself with family and friends who support your decision to quit drinking. Choose people you feel comfortable sharing thoughts and feelings with when you’re feeling stressed and want to turn to alcohol or other substances.
- Look for Alternative Coping Mechanisms. Alcohol often makes individuals turn away from hobbies and everyday interests. Revisit pastimes you used to enjoy or pick up a new hobby you’ve always wanted to try. Take an art class, learn yoga, start jogging or practice deep breathing exercises whenever stress seems to take its toll.
- Stay Active. Whether you get involved in your new hobby or work extra hours, staying active keeps your mind busy and gives you less time to focus on negative feelings and stress.
- Sign Up for Rehabilitation. At FHE Health, we can provide you with the tools you need to get help for your alcohol addiction. Whether you choose inpatient or outpatient treatment, we provide assistance from medical professionals to get you through every step of the recovery process.
- Join a Support Group. Aside from support from family and friends, group support is an excellent way to talk with others who have been through similar circumstances. For some, it can be helpful to hear others’ experiences and to see how they coped and learned to move forward.
- Schedule Medical Appointments. In recovery, you’re likely to receive appointments with counselors and your physician. Keep all appointments, even when you feel you’re doing better. Your doctor can alter your medications when needed if you feel like you’re starting to lose control.
If you or someone you love needs more information on substance abuse recovery, contact one of our caring counselors at FHE Health at (844) 299-0618. Our team members are on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer any questions you have about treatment and recovery.