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Anxiety disorder is a mental illness that can impose debilitating effects on the afflicted ones. Often, people with this underlying disorder turn to alcohol in an attempt to live an everyday life by numbing their symptoms. Despite being a temporary escape, alcohol cannot treat the underlying disorder and may only increase the severity of its symptoms. This forces the affected individuals to continue drinking till they develop dependence or addiction. Without the help of a dual diagnosis treatment program, such individuals are likely to continue this vicious cycle of self-medicating with alcohol.

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety and a subsequent alcohol use disorder, it is imperative to seek help immediately. This article will help you understand the association between alcohol and anxiety in detail and why it is essential to break free from this dangerous habit as soon as possible.

Alcohol is a natural depressant, which can help individuals feel relaxed and more at ease. At the same time, it also makes them forget the anxieties of daily life and feel more socially confident in front of the public. However, these benefits, although appealing, are mostly short-lived.

When an individual consumes alcohol, it works by disturbing the balance of processes and chemicals in the brain. In particular, alcohol depresses the part of the brain associated with inhibition to induce feelings of pleasure and tranquillity. However, as these effects wear off, the pleasant feeling starts fading. This is particularly troublesome for people who rely on alcohol to mask their anxiety problems as they quickly become dependent on it. In the long term, addiction may set in.

Another possible side effect of this toxic association is that the more individual drinks to relieve anxiety, the greater the tolerance for alcohol will be. With time, they may need to keep increasing their daily alcohol dose to get the same feeling of relaxation, negatively impacting their mental and physical health.

The term “hangxiety” has been recently coined by experts to define an uncomfortable feeling associated with heavy alcohol use. It is characterised by a sense of being on edge, feeling paranoid, or flat-out scared after a night of binge drinking. These uncomfortable symptoms relate to an alcohol hangover and occur as the intoxicated body of a person undergoes withdrawal. Furthermore, the situation becomes more stressful and anxiety-provoking when the individual cannot function or misses work or school the following day due to the hangover from drinking the previous night.

Some common symptoms of hangxiety include sweating, nausea, shakiness, psychosis, elevated heart rate, and paranoia.

It is typical for someone suffering from anxiety to assume that having a couple of drinks can help them relax. In fact, consuming alcohol not only worsens their symptoms but also pushes them into a vicious cycle explained below:

  • An individual with anxiety drinks alcohol to tame their symptoms
  • As alcohol sedates the brain, a feeling of calmness sets in
  • Once the alcohol starts leaving the system, the symptoms of withdrawal kick in, which include anxiety
  • To relieve this withdrawal-associated anxiety, they may be tempted to drink again

As this cycle continues, the individual gradually develops tolerance. The more alcohol they consume, the greater their tolerance will be. Over time, the affected individuals also need to drink increasingly high amounts of alcohol to feel the same effects. This not only takes a toll on their mental health but also affects them physically in the form of cardiovascular damage and liver disorders.

This never-ending vicious cycle can be challenging to break free from unless professional help is sought.

If you or a dear one are using alcohol to self-medicate against their anxieties, seeking immediate help is advised. It may initially seem like alcohol is helping you cope with your anxiety disorders; however, it is likely to cause severe problems in the long run. If you have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders, alcohol abuse and withdrawal are more likely to worsen your symptoms.

It is, therefore, essential to seek support from a doctor or a mental health professional while there’s still time. Even if you have been abusing alcohol for a long time, it is never too late to reach out for help. Multiple alcohol and anxiety UK rehabilitation centres simultaneously offer treatment for both of these disorders. These facilities have highly-skilled staff members who help you recover in a non-judgmental and supportive environment. With the right combination of medications and therapy, it is possible to overcome the two challenges together.

Medical experts highly recommend getting treatment for anxiety and alcoholism together, especially if they are co-occurring in an individual. At a dedicated rehabilitation centre, all clients are provided individually-tailored treatment plans to address the underlying substance abuse and mental health issues. These treatment plans, also known as dual diagnosis treatment, involve comprehensive care plans based on individual goals specific to each client.

Alcoholism treatment involves an initial detoxification process to remove the physical presence of alcoholic residues from the client’s body. Following detox, most clients enter inpatient rehab, where they live in specified accommodations under medical supervision. However, the exact level of care someone requires varies depending on their addiction severity and the underlying anxiety disorder and whether or not they have attended a rehab program.

Following are the elements of a typical dual diagnosis programme for alcohol and anxiety relief:

  • Evidence-based therapies, including cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical behavioural therapy
  • On-site detoxification under medical supervision
  • Medications to manage alcohol withdrawal and anxiety medications
  • Holistic therapies as an adjunct to the main treatment, including mindful meditation, yoga, art therapy, and music therapy
  • Psychotherapy sessions (individual, group, and family sessions)
  • Support groups
  • Aftercare planning (including stepping down to sober living homes, long-term therapy and counselling, and regular participation in support group meetings even after the completion of the rehabilitation programme)

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