Humans have been brewing up and consuming alcohol in some form or another for thousands of years. It’s safe to say very many of us enjoy and some even seem to require its psychoactive properties. Today it is a comparatively inexpensive commodity and we’re spoilt for choice as to flavors, strengths and novelty value. As a drug, we have embraced it more fully than anything else. It is legal, it is interwoven with social and business-related activities and it is frequently used in times of celebration. But it is also used as a means of self-medication and it’s this to which my post now focuses.
After a busy or stressful day it’s a common enough thing to meet with friends at the bar or go home and pour a drink. There’s nothing wrong with this of course but if the motive for drinking is to reduce stress on a regular, i.e. daily basis, then problems are beginning to stack up. Part of the problem lies with the fact that alcohol is an addictive drug and as with all addictive drugs more is required over the longer term in order to achieve the desired effect. So, in a typical scenario of low mood, stress, irritation or anger, the downing of a glass of alcohol can make our problems recede in a fairly rapid and pleasant fashion. Symptoms of stress and anxiety can literally disappear in minutes.
It’s easy to see why so many people with anxiety-related issues find a drink of alcohol is so appealing. In fact anxiety sufferers are around three times more likely to turn to alcohol or some other form of substance abuse. What many may not realize is just how short-lived an effect it is. Every time alcohol leaves your system your symptoms become just a touch worse. Over time it becomes more tempting and more necessary to open another bottle, or to refill your glass. Anxiety levels slowly begin to rise and alcohol is not far behind. This is the start of alcohol dependency and a vicious cycle.
What starts off as an easy and effective way to provide temporary relief from anxiety can lead to a point where alcohol itself is inducing anxiety. There are several other outcomes of self-medicating with alcohol and none of them are good. Alcohol is a toxin, so your mental and physical faculties will be negatively affected. Attempts to withdraw from consuming alcohol can itself cause anxiety because you are effectively attempting to remove yourself from an addictive substance. In battling both withdrawal symptoms and increased anxiety the temptation to drink more alcohol increases.
The message for longer-term anxiety sufferers is very simple. Don’t use alcohol as a means to control your anxiety. Of all the possible alternatives in the treatment of anxiety, alcohol is probably the worst and the most damaging and will certainly never provide a solution.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.