Alcohol and Anxiety Don’t Mix
When I would get stressed out and anxious, there were a variety of coping mechanisms that I’d frequently turn to in hopes of calming my nerves. In most cases, these coping mechanisms, unfortunately, take the form of harmful activities such as over-eating, indulging in alcohol or drugs, and overall neglecting my wellness.
But despite the common aphorism of having a drink “to take the edge off,” the truth is that alcohol and anxiety don’t mix. It wasn’t a healthy way for me to relax and de-stress and it was only serving as a means to run away from my problems. So the next time you’re tempted to have a beer or cocktail when feeling stressed, remember these common dangers of using alcohol as a way to manage your anxiety.
Alcohol is addictive.
Even though alcohol is more permissible and prevalent in today’s social circles than drugs, it is also addictive. At first, I thought I could just settle down with one beer a day, but it would quickly escalate to four or even six. There are many scientific factors involved in the way that alcohol affects the brain and body, but one of the primary responses has to do with the chemical messenger, dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the body that is released when we feel pleasure. This chemical is also released into the body when we eat, sleep, do physical activities, and drink alcohol. According to WebMD.com, drinking alcohol triggers “the release of naturally occurring feel-good opioids known as endorphins in two key brain regions associated with reward processing.” This is why after a drink or two, we feel relaxed, sociable, and even brave. I know I enjoyed that feeling, which is part of the reason I liked to drink.
Due to this biological process, the brain then interprets drinking alcohol as a pleasurable experience.
Where this becomes problematic for the body is over time, through excessive consumption of alcohol, the brain’s dopamine transporter and receptor sites become worn down, which inhibits their functioning. This means to feel the same amount of pleasure, we need to drink more and more to receive the same “high,” which leads to higher and higher consumption levels.
Alcohol may cause you to make decisions you’ll later regret.
If you’re choosing to drink in response to anxiety, it is likely because there is some greater problem or situation that’s causing you stress. However, turning to alcohol as a response to anxiety can actually be extremely detrimental. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and clouds judgment, which may lead you to make decisions that you’ll later regret when the effects of the alcohol have worn off.
Furthermore, using alcohol as a way to manage your anxiety may lead to overly risky and dangerous behavior – the drastic shift from feeling stressed out to feeling completely relaxed may spur rash decisions.
I had a friend I’d hang out with since high school and I’d often ask him to go drinking with me. Every now and then he would agree, but after a while, he wouldn’t answer my messages. I could tell he was getting annoyed by was constant desire to go drinking. One day, I ended up getting drunk and left him a nasty message patronizing him for not wanting to drink with me. He responded pretty quickly and I just unloaded on him. I insulted him, called him nasty things, and hit him where I knew it hurt most. At that point, I had lost a good friend.
Drinking alcohol is a form of procrastination.
Although alcohol may cause temporary feelings of euphoria or pleasure, they won’t last. Often, when we turn to alcohol to manage anxiety, it’s because we’re dreading the idea of dealing with the thing that’s making us anxious. By the time the alcohol has worn off, your body is coming off the high from its endorphins, which will leave you feeling lower than if you hadn’t had a drink in the first place.
Instead of turning to alcohol to manage anxiety, make the difficult, but ultimately more rewarding decision to confront the problem head-on. When we put off our problems, we make them worse, and then we create more anxiety for ourselves. It becomes a vicious cycle that can be avoided by eliminating alcohol from your stress-coping methods.
A better option for managing anxiety is to get some exercise, go for a walk outside, or have a conversation with a friend or loved one. I realized if I simply talked with a family member about some of the things I was worried about, I’d feel a lot better. I also took up yoga as a form of stress release. These activities can also trigger the release of dopamine, but instead of feeling sluggish and low after doing them, you’ll feel energized and empowered to tackle your problems.