TV commercials often show someone having a drink to relax.
However, the relationship between alcohol and anxiety can be more complicated than that. Many adults can safely drink in moderation. For others, alcohol may cause anxiety or aggravate pre-existing conditions.
There are several reasons why alcohol can affect your mood and increase anxiety in the long term.
Embarrassing yourself at an office party or a night out may be an obvious trigger, but there’s also another explanation.
Alcohol causes changes in your brain chemicals, including gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) that’s involved in regulating anxiety.
Your brain adjusts to the sedating effects of alcohol but may have trouble balancing itself again when your blood alcohol content starts to fall. That could leave you feeling more anxious than when you started, and that uneasiness may last for a day or more.
Often the ‘come down’ from a night out can cause an ‘anxiety hangover’.
Lifestyle changes and professional help can make a big difference if alcohol and anxiety are disrupting your life. Learn what you can do to turn things around.
Tips for Drinking in Moderation
The NHS website says:
“Alcohol has been shown to make anxiety worse. Only drinking alcohol in moderation may help reduce your anxiety.
To reduce the risk of harming your health:
men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
spread your drinking over 3 days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week
Fourteen units is equivalent to 6 pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine”.
Prolonged heavy drinking often contributes to anxiety.
Try these techniques to limit alcohol consumption:
- Plan ahead.
Decide what you’re going to drink before you get started. Maybe you’ll skip wine with dinner, so you can have a glass of port afterwards.
- Slow down.
Sip your drinks. Order a glass of water in between if you consume more than one alcoholic beverage.
- Eat food.
Filling up on food allows your body to absorb alcohol more gradually. Fats and proteins are especially useful for slowing the process down. On the other hand, skip the salty snacks that will make you thirstier and more dehydrated.
- Enjoy other activities.
If you’re used to bar hopping on date nights, go for a hike or visit a science museum instead. Spend your leisure time working on hobbies rather than drinking beer while watching TV.
- Resist social pressure.
Rehearse what to say if someone asks why you’re turning down a drink. Let your family and friends know you’re trying to cut back, if that is comfortable for you.
- Take time off.
Celebrate Dry January or the abstinence days of your choice. Taking a break from alcohol gives your body and mind time to recover.
Other Tips for Coping with Anxiety
Using alcohol to manage anxiety is likely to backfire.
Replace alcohol with strategies that are safer and more effective, such as these:
- Get enough sleep.
You’re more resilient when you’re well rested. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of high-quality sleep each night.
- Eat healthy.
Your diet can help you to relax. Use foods rich in fiber to stabilize your blood sugar. Experiment with foods high in certain minerals, like leafy greens for magnesium and egg yolks for zinc.
- Exercise regularly.
Working out is a great way to use up nervous energy and benefit your mood.
- Seek help.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues, affecting almost 20% of the adult population.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, a glass of wine may relax you in the short term, but it’s still important to deal with underlying issues. Adopt healthy habits for managing stress and talk with a professional if you need more help.