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Alcohol and its impact on anxiety

Did you know that having that drink might be fuelling your anxiety?

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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Alcohol is a depressant which means that it slows your body down. Your breathing and heart rate slow down and you may feel more relaxed at first. You may also notice a difference in your mood both in the short term and long term.

Many people drink alcohol to help them cope with emotions or situations that they would otherwise find difficult to manage. You may find social situations difficult and therefore use alcohol as a way to help you relax. However, this could in fact be making your anxiety symptoms worse, as alcohol can give a false sense of confidence.

Alcohol messes with your brain chemistry

Some people may feel it natural to deal with anxiety or stress by having a beer or a glass of wine. But this can in fact make your anxiety worse. Taking a drink won’t always have the same effect you’re after. While a beer may help you relax at first, in the long run it can contribute to feelings of depression and make anxiety harder to deal with.  You may feel more anxious after the alcohol wears off. This is because alcohol changes the serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain. It is important to remember that if you are in your teens or your twenties, areas of your brain are still developing and you are more likely to experience the negative effects of alcohol. If you already have a mental health problem, then drinking alcohol can make it worse. If you are taking any prescribed medication for anxiety or low mood, it is important that you avoid taking alcohol as it can prevent them from working.

Drinking alcohol can lead to you feeling worse

Overconsumption of alcohol can lead to anxiety the next day as well as a hangover. Hangovers aren’t just there to make life miserable. They’re your body’s way of trying to get rid of all the crap you drank the night before. So headaches, sick stomachs and feelings of anxiety and depression are just some of the possible hangover symptoms. Alcohol is a big part of Irish culture so it can be difficult to avoid completely, but as with anything moderation is key.

Drinking alcohol regularly increases your tolerance

Tolerance of alcohol increases with use, so that a person needs increasing amounts of alcohol to decrease their anxiety. This basically means that the more you drink, the more you need to drink to get the same effects.

Alcohol is linked to suicide

Although there are many factors associated with suicide, there has been research that shows that alcohol consumption is a significant influence on the suicide rate of young men in particular.In Ireland, where alcohol consumption levels are high and binge drinking is common, alcohol is a factor in more than half of all completed suicides and over one third of cases of deliberate self-harm.

Sometimes it can be hard to see how alcohol is really affecting you until you look a little closer at your habits.

  • How often are you using alcohol?
  • Can you have a good time without alcohol?
  • Are you using alcohol as a way to relax or cope with a social situation?
  • If you have noticed a change in how you feel and cope with your daily life, it’s important to ask why. Your use of alcohol could be affecting you more than you think.

Minimising the risks

Try alternative ways to deal with stress that won’t negatively impact on your health. Try some exercise, go to a gym or go for a walk. Read a book or try out an adult colouring book. Talk to someone. Whatever it is, try it out!

  • Keep track of what you’re drinking and avoid drinking more than the recommended daily allowance. For Men that is 17 units spread out over the course of a week, with at least two to three days alcohol free. For Women it is 11 units spread out over the course of a week, with at least two to three days alcohol free.
  • For example, a unit of alcohol is a half pint of beer, a pub measure of spirits, or a small glass of wine. For more information on alcohol and its impact on the body check out our article here
  • To read more about the impact of alcohol on your mental health check out Alcohol Action Ireland's website
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Published April 19th, 2016
Last updated October 20th, 2017
Tags anxiety know anxiety alcohol
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