Anxiety and Alcohol

By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited: December 18, 2020 | 4 Sources

alcohol and anxiety

You're feeling seriously stressed and anxious after a BAD day at work. Your secretary forgot to notify your boss about taking time off from work, and he has scheduled a very important meeting for the day you were supposed to be sunning yourself on the beach. It can't be changed. You're going to lose the deposit on the hotel rooms and, worst of all, you've got to tell your wife and kids that there's no holiday this year.

How about a nice, warming drink to alleviate those feelings, drown them out?

Since time immemorial, people have come to rely on alcohol in order to relieve anxiety and/or stress. If you find yourself reaching for alcohol to help you cope with anxiety, it may be a sign of a bigger problem.

The reason why people turn to alcohol is still a subject of many a study.

When asked why they drink, many say they drink for social reasons, to make conversation easier, alcohol makes them feel relaxed, they can put their problems to the back of their minds and other negative feelings disappear (for a time).

Why are people so fascinated and attracted to alcohol?

Well, the most obvious is the good feeling that a few drinks can provide. No work involved, hand over your money and liquid euphoria in a glass.

And, for a time at least, your problems and stresses vanish. However if you come to rely on alcohol for its anesthetizing properties, your playing with fire. With continued use alcohol bites back and your emotional, psychological issues become more intense and disruptive. Anxiety and alcohol do not mix. In fact, drinking alcohol, particularly excessively and chronically, can actually increase your anxiety.

Anxiety and Alcohol
Anxiety, Alcohol and Self-Medication

Alcoholism can develop in the person who uses it as medication for anxiety and stress. A psychological addiction soon becomes a physical one, and the anxiety and stress that was originally relieved by alcohol now increases exponentially.

Alcoholics (or potential alcoholics) feel a need to rely on alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate in order to reduce their anxiety, stress and other disabling feelings. It can get even worse when the individual also uses sedatives and other drugs to ease his or her troubled state of mind.

anxiety In short, alcohol may temporarily provide a sense of relief from reality, but this is escapism. It is only short-lived, and can lead to a alcohol dependence if pursued.

If your anxiety levels are high on a regular basis and you are feeling anxious as a result, it is not unnatural or abnormal to want to use alcohol or drugs, or both to help you cope.

However, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, you are dancing with the devil. Alcoholism is not something to laugh about, can lead to.... serious health problems, deteriorating family relationships, reduced self-esteem and eventually, if not treated, a premature death.

So does alcohol help with anxiety? In the short term maybe, but if relied upon as a crutch it will, in time, lead to far more anxiety and alcohol abuse. An estimated 20 percent of people suffering from social anxiety disorder also have alcohol abuse or dependence.

How do we cope with anxiety and alcohol then?

Stress, Anxiety and Alcohol
Coping with Anxiety, Alcohol Free

Coping with cravings is essential to tackling the feelings you get when faced with anxiety and stress.

If you do not succumb to the cravings for alcohol you get when anxiety/stress arises then, obviously, you will not come to rely on alcohol. In the long run this is good news, although it might seem hard at first.

Women are particularly at risk of developing anxiety, and need to find coping strategies when family and work demands leave them anxious and worried. Don't rely on alcohol as the coping solution. Alcohol is not a medication for stress.

The following techniques are ways of dealing with cravings that eliminate the need for alcohol, anxiety and stress can be assuaged without drink:

  • Distraction. The goal is to shift your attention away from negative internal thoughts or uncomfortable feelings toward a more neutral external focus. Say, you are feeling down because of an unpleasant encounter with a nasty customer earlier. You feel like picking up a glass to drown that feeling. Avoid that. Talk to someone about it, or get up and take a walk park.
  • Banishing Negative Thinking. Many of us tend to react to events negatively, particularly if we are of a certain personality type.

    It is tempting when a craving for alcohol arises to give in to it, to think, "...there's nothing I can do about this, its too powerful", or "Yes, this craving means I am alcohol dependent I might as well give in to it". It doesn't have to be like this, think positively. Thoughts such as "This craving will disappear in a few minutes" or "I haven't given in to craving before, why should now be any different" will help overcome your cravings. It's difficult at first, but as with all things it takes practice.
  • Relaxation. Anxiety, anger, frustration and stress are the biggest triggers for craving. Learn some relaxation techniques to cope with your emotion. If you are not so tense, you are less likely to act impulsively. Take up yoga, pilates or some simple breathing techniques to relax yourself.
If such techniques do not work then you may have to take anti-anxiety medication. Talk to your doctor or physician about the options.

Keep in mind, however,that just because the doctor says you should take a medication does not mean it can't be abused. Prescription drug abuse is just as destructive as alcoholism.

Getting Help for Anxiety and Alcoholism

If you find yourself struggling with addiction to alcohol and anxiety, it can be hard to know where the help is. A lot of people think that treating alcoholism should be their first priority, but without addressing your underlying anxieties head-on, recovery will not last long.

At times like these make sure that you have a place to turn too for this type of treatment; an understanding provider who knows how best approach both challenges so they work together in tandem rather than against each other! Contact a dedicated treatment provider today.

If you or someone close to you wants help and advice on quitting drinking then take a look at the following pages:

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


UNC Student Affairs. Alcohol and Anxiety.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Social Anxiety Disorder and Alcohol Abuse.

Healthline. Alcohol and Anxiety. September 26, 2019.

WebMD. Alcohol and Anxiety: What You Should Know.

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