“Alcohol and anxiety – a vicious circle. “

Updated: Apr 17, 2019

The morning after jitters explained.


If you already suffer from anxiety, you might find that a couple of drinks helps you to relax.

In fact, alcohol can make an anxious person feel worse. The scary thing is the cycle is subtle and tolerance building, meaning you are likely to become psychologically and physically dependant on alcohol :

You drink alcohol You initially feel calm as the alcohol affects the brain You feel anxiety as a symptom of alcohol withdrawal as your body processes the alcohol You may want to drink again to try to relieve your anxiety

Wanting to drink again, only starts the process from the beginning. As the initial calm feeling fades you can feel anxious again as the effects wear off.

Remember the more alcohol you drink, the greater your tolerance will be. Over time you may need to drink more alcohol to feel the same effects. Over-time this may negatively affect your mental health.


Cyclical drinking…


- 8 a.m “ I feel dreadful, I am absolutely not drinking again today”

- 12p.m “I might just have a couple after work , but I’m not drinking like I did last night”

- 7p.m “ I feel fine now Ive had a drink and I won’t feel too bad in the morning, and anyway morning is miles away”

- 8a.m “God I feel awful and anxious and sick.” Repeat.


If you suffer from anxiety a drink will ’take the edge off’ and ease tense situations, even something as innocuous as a hard day from work. Soon the bottle of wine at home becomes the reward for the hard day at work.

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One bottle of 13.5% wine is 10 units - this is equal to a 1/3rd of a 75cl bottle of Vodka or Gin


In the case of anxiety the cruelest trick alcohol pulls is to be super effective at removing it, but then to impose added anxiety as a natural byproduct of the withdrawal process.


“The morning after the night before, a sense of jitteriness, the beer fears, a feeling of dread and foreboding, much, much, worse than anxiety alone could cause”



So why do we get anxious, especially after heavier bouts of drinking ?

When we drink we ‘numb’ our central nervous system, it slows down.

This is why we can’t drink and drive , our reaction times slow as the nervous system is not firing at full speed. To combat this dulling our body tries to compensate and ‘turns up the volume’, only slightly in lighter drinking, but for those who become physically dependant their bodies are struggling hard against the high intake of a depressant.


Now imagine the body withdrawing from alcohol overnight.


As you sleep your body is processing alcohol and removing its numbing, slowing effects. As you wake, or come to, your body starts to suffer from withdrawal. Remember the body has ’turned up the volume’ ? In the morning the volume is still cranked up but the numbing effect is disappearing.


This is where that increased anxiety is coming from. The body is hyper, and at a state of readiness when it no longer needs to be - but it will take time for the two to stabilise. For the non dependant drinker this can happen quickly, if the drinking is stopped, but for the dependant drinker this withdrawal process, the shakes or Delirium Tremens and associated hallucinations, is one of the most dangerous drug withdrawal processes. People can die in alcohol withdrawal unless they are medicated. Even then the sufferer will experience very unpleasant levels of anxiety.


Be aware of the alcohol anxiety trap. Alcohol is a seductive solution to short term anxiety,

'Alcohol is a class A drug, that just happens to be legal."

but comes with chronic and inevitable side effects, ones that are easier to avoid now rather than later.


Drink Aware has some very useful pointers for managing your drinking.

https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-and-anxiety/


I have suffered with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) since my early teens, and, to this day, alcohol is the speediest most complete, medication I have ever taken to combat it. It was also the worst.

There is a fatal flaw - if alcohol was to be licensed as a pharmaceutical to treat anxiety, it would never have made it past the first set of clinical trails.

With a high chance of dependance (especially in those seeking solace from anxiety and other mental health issues ) and a countereffective increase of anxiety in withdrawal/ alcohol would have fallen at he first hurdle.


Alcohol is a Class A drug that just happens to be legal in the UK and is the Western worlds drug of choice for relaxation, but it is open to abuse, with huge consequences to the user, and those around them. Use with care and it is still a great social lubricant.

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