Alcohol Abuse and Anxiety

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • People with anxiety disorders have a higher risk of abusing alcohol. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, those with anxiety are two to three times more likely to have problems with alcohol (or other substances), than the general public.


    Alcohol has long been seen as a way to relax. People may have a glass of wine after a long day or have a few drinks socially to feel more comfortable. But this may backfire on those individuals with anxiety. Using alcohol can increase or worsen symptoms of anxiety. Alcohol use can also trigger panic attacks.


    The use of alcohol by people with anxiety can cause a vicious cycle. They may use alcohol to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. In actuality, this may cause an increase in anxiety symptoms, causing them to drink more. Withdrawal from alcohol has also been shown to exacberate anxiety symptoms.

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    It was previously thought that alcohol use was a cause of anxiety and that if the substance abuse was treated, the anxiety would disappear. However, it is now thought that these are two separate conditions, existing simultaneously and independent of one another. In other words, treating anxiety will not necessarily have any impact on alcohol abuse and treating alcohol abuse will not necessarily improve anxiety. Both conditions must be treated for improvement to take place.


    The good news is both anxiety and substance abuse are treatable conditions. Many experts believe that both conditions should be treated at the same time for the best results. People with both anxiety and substance abuse problems should consult a therapist or doctor familiar with both conditions. If not, a team of professionals should be utilized in order to address both issues.


    One concern in treating a person with both anxiety and substance abuse issues is that there is an increased risk of abuse of medication. Therefore, some medical professionals will steer away from treating someone with both anxiety and substance abuse with medications. In addition, many medications used to treat anxiety may not be as effective if used in conjunction with alcohol. Some doctors, however, believe the use of SSRI antidepressants can be used for individuals with both anxiety and substance abuse.


    Other treatment options can include:


    • Psychotherapy, both individual and group
    • Self help and support groups
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy


    Treatment options should be thoroughly discussed with a medical provider to determine which method would be best for an individual.




    Anxiety Disorders and Alcohol Abuse, Date Unknown, Anxiety Disorders Association of America


    Researchers Shed Light on Anxiety and Alcohol Intake, 2005, Oct 3, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Published On: October 02, 2008