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Does Drinking Cause Anxiety and Panic Attacks?

Learn about panic attacks, symptoms, and how alcohol causes panic attacks and anxiety in this informative article.

Does Drinking Cause Anxiety and Panic Attacks?

Although there are a multitude of different causes of excessive drinking, stress and anxiety are two of the most prominent. Some individuals think alcohol might momentarily ease anxiety, but even if it does, long-term use may make matters worse. Drinking is not a healthy coping mechanism. Consistent over-consumption of alcohol can even leadevere panic episodes. 

Alcohol is typical self-medication for panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety.

panic attacks

How Can Alcohol Worsen Pre-Existing Mental Conditions?

Roughly 25% of those with panic disorder have a history of alcohol abuse. Alcohol use can worsen a pre-existing anxiety disorder. It can cause new anxiety symptoms to develop or contribute to a pre-existing alcohol disorder (because many people use alcohol as an unhealthy coping mechanism). [1]

Chronic alcohol consumption impairs your capacity to handle stress productively and healthily, which can cause or worsen anxiety. This can result from alcohol's impact on your brain's amygdala, which controls your unpleasant emotions.

Link Between Alcohol and Panic Attacks

For some people, drinking alcohol and having panic episodes go hand in hand—one causes the other. Anxiety symptoms are heightened during a panic attack because the mind is overrun with anxieties and fears. For people experiencing it, this is terrible, and it gets so bad that the emotional fear manifests as physical symptoms. 

Panic effects might be brought on due to alcohol's effects on GABA, a neurotransmitter that often has a calming effect. Moderate drinking can enhance GABA and lead to feelings of calm, but severe drinking can deplete GABA and lead to increased tension and panic attacks.

While the anxious thoughts that frequently cause panic attacks can be reduced or stopped, drinking will never be a permanent solution. When the alcohol leaves your body, it will stop functioning, and if one keeps drinking to stop the panic episodes, it might have long-term effects. [2]

What are the Symptoms of a Panic Attack?

People experience an acute flood of mental and physical symptoms during a panic attack. It can strike suddenly and seemingly out of the blue with some physical signs, which include:

  • Shortness of breath or feeling like breathing is a struggle
  • A racing or pounding heart (palpitations)
  • Chest pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Feeling sick, faint, or dizzy
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shivering
  • A tingling or numbing sensation in the fingers or toes
  • Feeling very hot or very cold 

Why Does Alcohol Cause Panic Attacks?

Alcohol does initially help a person feel calmer because it impacts GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain that has a relaxing effect. Moreover, alcohol has sedative and depressive effects. However, once the effects of alcohol wear off, GABA levels fall, which results in a tense, hypervigilant, and overstimulated condition. Also, alcohol can cause panic attacks because of the following reasons:

Alcohol Causes Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic.  It makes your kidneys, ureters, and bladder drain fluids from your blood from your body much more quickly than it would with other liquids.

Alcohol Interferes With Your Hormones

Alcohol use can affect hormone-producing glands and the tissue function they target, leading to health difficulties. Alcohol can interfere with these vital body processes when it interferes with the hormone system's capacity to operate correctly.

Alcohol Can Decrease Your Blood Sugar Levels

Alcohol can influence blood sugar levels, reproductive processes, calcium metabolism, and bone development through interaction with the hormone system. [3]

Alcohol Can Lead to Withdrawal Symptoms

If you've been drinking a lot for a while, stopping, or cutting back on your alcohol use may cause trouble. The term for this is alcohol withdrawal.

Heart Rate and Changes In the Nervous System

The effects of alcohol are felt by the cardiovascular system. Alcohol use may temporarily raise blood pressure and heart rate at the moment. Long-term elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, weakening heart muscle, and irregular pulse might result from drinking more than is recommended.

Alcohol Intoxication May Result in Stressful Mistakes

Most people make impulsive decisions when influenced by alcohol. 

Ways Alcohol Affects the Brain That May Increase Anxiety

Alcohol can affect the brain in many different ways. See below the ways alcohol affects the brain increasing anxiety:

Effects on GABA Neurotransmitters

Because it inhibits or blocks some brain messages and lowers nervous system activity, GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA has a calming impact when it binds to the GABA receptor protein in your brain. Alcohol is a GABA receptor agonist, which means it binds to specific GABA receptors in the brain and mimics the effects of GABA. After drinking, it results in sensations of relaxation or fatigue. GABA levels drop when alcohol's effects wear off, which causes a tense, hypervigilant, and overstimulated state.

Effects on Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – a chemical messenger that transports messages between brain cells and transmits data throughout the body. Although drinking increases a person's dopamine levels at first, regular alcohol use causes the brain to adjust to the dopamine excess, making it harder to reach that same dopamine level again.

Do All Types of Alcohol Cause Anxiety?

Both chronic and moderate drinking can cause anxiety, even if you're drinking alcohol to help you relax. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), moderate drinking might worsen anxiety after a few hours. [4]

Is Anxiety Associated with Alcohol Tolerance and Dependence?

Anxiety is mostly associated with alcohol tolerance and dependence. Most people with mild or severe anxiety use alcohol as an escape route. This has worsened the case for most people.

How Long Does Alcohol-Induced Anxiety Last?

Anxiety brought on by alcohol might last for several hours or even the entire day after drinking.

How to Calm My Anxiety After Drinking?

If you experience anxiety after drinking, you can calm it by taking care of your body first. Make sure to drink lots of water, eat mild and healthy food, engage in mindfulness meditation, and get a good sleep.

Can Quitting Alcohol Cure Anxiety?

There are several treatment options for dual diagnosis care. Alcohol abstinence can reduce severe anxiety attacks. Additionally, it can lessen the likelihood of chronic anxiety problems. 

anxiety and alcohol treatment

Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorder

Treatment options for alcohol use disorder will be detailed below.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is a technique of psychotherapy that can be used to treat drug use problems. It has been proven to be effective in treating alcoholism and drug addiction, in addition to the mental diseases it is frequently used to treat, such as depression, anxiety disorders, phobias, and others.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

DBT is a short-term, evidence-based treatment strategy that assists individuals in managing potentially powerful and painful emotions.

12-Step Programs

The 12-Step model offers accountability, support, and encouragement to those who sincerely want to beat their addiction. Twelve-step programs are mutual assistance groups to help people recover from compulsions, behavioral addictions, and drug abuse.

Find Alcohol Abuse and Anxiety Treatment at Genesis Recovery

Are you interested in overcoming anxiety, panic attacks, or alcohol use disorder? At Genesis Recovery, we are here to cater to your needs. You can be sure that you are in capable hands because our specialists are well trained to guide you to recovery.


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