Alcohol and Anxiety – the spiral of worry

alcohol and anxietyAnxiety ruins many people’s lives, and lessens the enjoyment of it for most of us. It’s focus can be anything, from the seemingly trivial to the life-threatening. Threat and fear can thread their way into many aspects of our lives.

Of course the solution that many people find is through alcohol. This can provide temporary but effective relief – allowing us to relax again and get on with life without being so preoccupied. But alcohol does not actually allow us to deal with our anxiety or manage the situations provoking it, so we fail to develop our resources.

Anxiety arises as a result of our interpretations of a situation as being in some way threatening or unpleasant. This is then combined with our perception of our ability to cope with that threat.

For example, two people are experiencing the exact same event – the possibility that they will lose their job. The anxiety prone person might think –
“but I’ll never find another job, I’m not good enough. I won’t have enough money, I won’t be able to cope – I’ll lose my house”. Obviously thoughts like that will tend to create anxiety.

The other person facing the same situation might think –
“I can get another job easy enough, I’m adaptable. Money might be a bit tight for a while, but I can cope with that”.

So if the first person can learn to adjust their perception of their abilities, they might not get so anxious, and they might not feel the need to drink so much alcohol as a result. Those perceptions and beliefs happen so automatically, we often forget that we have a degree of choice over them.

Unfortunately alcohol consumption tends to exacerbate anxiety levels subsequently – firstly by causing disruption to the nervous system, secondly by creating behaviour likely to induce further worry. A spiral of increased drinking causing increased anxiety can develop.

Anxious people tend to have a central belief about themselves as being helpless – they underestimate their ability to cope. Although, they are often aware that their fears are exaggerated.

Five key questions can be used to challenge the initial perception of threat and the appraisal of your coping ability:

  • What alternative interpretations could I make about this situation?
  • What concrete, factual evidence do I have to back-up or deny these beliefs?
  • What is the worst that could really happen, and how would that ultimately affect me?
  • What positive action can I take to manage this?
  • What are the pros and cons of me continuing with these catastrophic thoughts I’m having?

Coupled with some simple relaxation techniques like keeping aware of your breathing, you can soon lessen your anxiety to a tolerable level. If you can adjust the way you interpret the world, and thus not feel so worried about it, then you may not need to drink so much alcohol to cope.

74 Comments

  1. Anish 21 June, 2012 at 6:08 pm - Reply

    I can relate to all the posts.since I have increased my I
    Take of alcohol my anxiety has taken over me. What I have learnt is to cut down or stop the drinking, not to entertain negative thoughts and be as positive as possible. Use relaxation breathing techniques to keep calm be at peace and enjoy life . What will happen will happen. I have had the worst of things happen to me before u got taken over by booze, but it has been ok.
    Keep calm

    Anish

  2. Alexander 15 June, 2012 at 5:29 am - Reply

    Anxiety has crippled my life, and yet I have had the strength to move along and continue to fight because giving up is simply not an option. I am 26 and have had anxiety since I was 21, Ive never taken medication. I think drinking brought anxiety into my life and now its the only thing keeping me sane. I drink when I am anxious because it is the only clear cut thing I know that helps. I am afraid of waking up in the middle of the night and having attacks because It has happened in the past and I HATE the feeling of having an attack. Waking up in the morning is scary because you are vulnerable and options for distractions are thin. My anxiety was in check for the last year before my most recent episode but you know what helps. First gradually take yourself off alcohol then start getting pissed at your anxiety. Its time for us to all put a face on our anxiety and beat it! Lets take over ours lives and stop feeling sorry for ourselves…. we can do it, we are all stronger than we give ourselves credit for. Tell your mind to SHUT UP! when your anxious and tell yourself you are gonna do what you wanna do. If you wanna sit on the couch and watch tv then tell yourself your gonna do that and anxiety cant come and watch tv with you. It helps trust me, its all about the confidence we show, anxiety is afraid of us and our positive thinking because it will cease to exist if we think that way, so forgive my language but tell it to GO FUCK ITSELF. When are we gonna take back our lives from this evil, when are we gonna start to live again and come out of our shells. We created this madness and only we can take it away. Nothing is going to happen to you during an anxiety attack, you are gonna be just fine, its sittting through them that is tough, but i promise you if you sit through an anxiety attack and talk your way out of it, you will start to feel better. Just remember tell it to leave you alone and you will begin to live again!

  3. Scotty boy 4 April, 2012 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    Hello everyone, like others its good to kow im not the only one. I have suffered from alcohol related anxiety for 14 years, i have lost many girlfriends, happiness, and the freedom to conduct my life without constraint. Its always at its best post drinking, the only way out is to drink again. This leads to insomnia, and generaslly feeling absolutely awful. Recently i had to leave a stag do early, as i was 400 miles away without my home comforts, and flipped.

    Im now left unable to face going abroad as if i drink (and going abroad normally involves that), my anxiety will become unbearable, drink again, and eventually go into meltdown. Has anyone experienced this? Is there any techniques apart from the extreme obvious, stopping drinking!!!!!

    Im currently considering medication, which i have tried to avoid since suffering from this for fear of becoming reliant.

    Any helpful tips would be much appreciated.!

    • James 6 June, 2012 at 6:59 pm - Reply

      Scotty, I’m in exactly the same position as you regarding the holiday front and I really don’t know what to do. My friend has booked me on a holiday (which I know will involve lots of drinking, probably every night) and I am scared that I will go into meltdown abroad too – miles away from home.

  4. dave 1 April, 2012 at 8:16 am - Reply

    Hi, I have been abusing substances my whole adult life, just like all my friends have. For me though I think its made me bi polar or something. I look back on my past and realise that most of my formative years were spent so smashed out of my face on drugs and alcohol. I was much more confident then generally and didn’t realise that i was setting the life trend that meant i had to be drunk or high to gain the confidence to pull. I wouldn’t even attempt it until i felt i was suitable drunk enough and it would all flow so naturally. Looking back i realise that what i thought and what is/was was two very different things. Ignorance is bliss rings so true i almost wish i wasn’t aware of my failings.

    Now, years later (im 32) i’m a civil engineer and i’m trying to start my own business on the side as well. On one hand i’m a perfectly intelligent, capable and confident man and on the other i’m a mewling mess and poor imitation of myself.

    Last night i went out promoting my new business with some extremely sexy and friendly promotional girls. It was great fun! We all had a few drinks but I wasn’t able to join in the promoting until i’d had way more drinks than them. After they left i went to meet my friends and had 1 measly line of shitty coke and then BAM! I crashed soooo fucking hard that i my mates all think… i don;t know what they think but they can see how uncomfortable I am and that i’m a nervous wreck and while there all chatting up some drunk essex twat girls and having a laugh, i’m desperately trying not to run away cos i feel so frigging awkward/anxious.

    This happens just on drink too sometimes.

    My ex girlfriend, the only true love of my life is now 7 months pregnant with some vegetarian, non drinking copper dude who loves all things mountainous and outdoors. They’re a perfect match and this sucks soo bad for me as i love/loved her soo much and she’s the only girl i’ve ever had the confidence to pull sober in my life and we did so many cool things together. Triathlons, hiking, snowboarding/skiiing, running and all things active that i love.

    I broke up with her in Canada when we went for the winter olympics season in whistler. I went out and got smashed after work with all my work mates and spirialled away from her soo fast that i just dumped her like a cunt, on her own in a foreign country with know one else and hardly any money. What a total shit! I then spiralled so far out of control that my awful behaviour to someone im suppose to have loved back fired on me soo bad. Yes i made lots of friends and yes i had a great time but underneath the outgoing self confident exterior that i portray so well now lies this timid, fearful excuse for a man made of cast iron. One knock to the wrong spot and i crack into this mewling mess desperate to run home and get away from the world.

    How the hell do i regain the INNER confidence I had when i was in the army and met my one true love so that I might one day find happiness again?

  5. spencer 6 December, 2011 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    hi everyone im a forty yr old guy whos not had a particularly easy life and consequently use to drink like,everyday and wanted t let everyne know its a massive no no.2 mths ago i made the decision to stop drinking all the time and now just moderately drink socially a few times a week .its hard as i was use to drinking everyday but the anxiety is slowly but surely getting easier.i will NEVER go back t drink heavily again

  6. abingedrinker 28 June, 2011 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Hi everyone, yes me too to all of the above 🙁 but my mother is an alcoholic), and i care for her. I hate what this drug has done to my mother and to the family yet i go out with my girls friends and cannot say no or limit my drinking. I have just had a weekend away with 8 girlfriends , we all drank copious amounts of booze but on the last day of travelling home i felt sooo paranoid and was saying stupid things everytime i opened my mouth because i was over anxious about everything. Its such a horrible feeling and having been home for 2 days now everything in my life seems a disaster my home life my mum, yet nothing has changed since before i went away?! I felt my friends wr talking about me ( as they were actually bitching about one of the other girls) so i thought they were also bitching about me too.
    Everyone thinks i am really confident & outgoing but after heavy drinking i rip myself to pieces. Worrying that i am boring (because i was really quiet on the last day) and that i am stupid ( because i was saying and doing stupid things as my brain was pickled!)
    Its two days since i had a drink and i just thought , oh while i feel so bad i mite pour myself a drink , but i am not going to i need to get out of this. Wish you could buy willpower !!

  7. Louise 5 June, 2011 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    i am so sick of having anxiety and paranoia after i have drank. i was at a work do last night and only drank 2 and a half glasses of wine and ended after not drinking for 6 days, it went straight to my head and i ended up drinking the dregs from a colleagues glass – disgusting i know! I did it in front of people as well and i am so ashamed. i am so worried that i said something i shouldnt. i have black outs of the evening where i cant remember what i said or did. i just know i woke up in bed this morning feeling terrible and worrying manically all day- it makes me feel like im going mad! i really think i should cut out alcohol altogether. I have OCD as well, which i have had for 20 years which obviously doesnt help. i find lately once i have one drink i want more. i dont crave it, but its like pringles once you pop, i cant stop- until i feel sick! I hate this paranoia, it makes me feel physically sick, worried, and i get terrible head aches.

  8. Bobby 3 June, 2011 at 1:56 am - Reply

    Recently went to a festival called glaston budget drank heavily for 3 days and have had very bad anxiety for few days after. I have also had a sensation in my left wrist like it is being squeezed. Is this nerve damage or is it brought on by the anxiety. if anyone could help would be great. thanks bobby x

  9. Kelly 6 February, 2011 at 10:15 pm - Reply

    I have a big problem with binge drinking to relieve anxiety/stress/underlying mental/emotional issues. It’s kind of like which came first the chicken or the egg. I don’t know if my anxiety comes first then the binge but I am sure that the anxiety is AWFUL the day after a binge. I too am a 39 year old woman with a little boy and a husband. I can go 3-4 months without incident and then I go out and get completely trashed. I live in a small town so I make a complete butt of myself and of course everyone talks. Last night I went to a wedding and ended up going from the restaurant to a bar to my mom’s boyfriends house (my mom lives with him) because I was to scared to come home. Apparently at some point I was passed out in my vehicle in a bar parking lot and someone called my husband and when he got there I was gone. I don’t know how I got to my moms house but I didn’t drive there. I then got into an arguement with my mother (not a good relationship even when I am sober) and the fight became physical. Cops were called and they gave me a ride home (husband sitting up waiting for me). Most of the time I am healthy, eat right, work out, have a part time job, keep my husbands books, online classes, keep a clean house, cook most meals at home, etc. I seem to have alot on my plate and tell myself it would be good to have a few but I cannot stop alot of the time. It is always alot of drama and I am tired of my behavior. I dont know if the drinking is a symptom of the non-mother figure in my life even though she is alive or if it is something else. Today I have terrible anxiety, fear, humiliation, embarrassed, worry, self loathing and all the above. I feel crazy……..This has to stop. I have soooo much energy and this seems to be the way I wear myself out about every 3-4 months. I have a problem relaxing unless I am totally wasted drunk……I am scared of meds due to my mother and sister having Rx addictions which started as anxiety meds. I have to do something because what I am doing is not working. My husband told me to call a pyschiatrist tomorrow after I get a new key made for my car since I lost my keys last night……Nice!!!! I am wondering if anyone else feels like they are going to bust at the seems and feel that the drink helps with that and if they have found a med to help with this feeling. Thanks

  10. Cat 14 December, 2010 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    Hi Natasha-sounds like it is me writing your post!! I was so bad, and eventually so agoraphobic, i also discovered that drinking my bottles and bottles of jack helped, but only somewhat as you describe above. I was not suicidal, but it was so bad sometimes i wished i could just die peacefully in my sleep. Long story short, i eventually quit drinking, completely, and have been recoverinbg from all that suffering for the last couple of months, and i am feeling better and better everyday. I have my life back and i feel like a whole new happy person. I have been put onto panic disorder meds and lots of vitamin B. Everybody in this position, there is a way out! Good luck xx

  11. natasha 11 December, 2010 at 6:04 am - Reply

    hi my name is natasha and ive just come across this site which has been really helpful. ive been an anxiety sufferer since i was 14 and i am now 25. life has been utter hell for all these years and at my lowerst point i couldnt even the leave the house because the anxiety would suddenly hit and i knew that if i had a full blown panic attack out in public, i wouldnt have an escape and people would see me panicking and know that something was wrong with me. i then found my way out through a bottle of bourban and if what i thought was really bad before was nothing compared to what was yet to come. i would have extreme anxiety so id have a drink and then i would get even worse anxity because id had a drink. what a vicious cycle it is. my anxiety in recent weeks has been absolutely terrifying. my thoughts are so transfixed on the anxiety im feeling that its escalating and i feel the need to just run but i wouldnt know where to start running too. i feel so so scared, yet i dont know what it is im scared of, i feel like im on another planet and just so out of touch with reality and while im feeling like this im thinking what if im stuck in this state forever. i get to the point of feeling like ill have to go and book myself into a hospital but then im terrified to do that cause there going to think im mad. i find myself ringing up the 2 people i know about 50 times asking them 1000 questions like- have you ever felt this way or felt that way and im praying there going to tell me something i want to hear. i seem to pace around and around and then i think that id better stop doing it cause its a sign of some sort of madness– anyway i was just wondering if anyone has felt like that before in their states of anxiety. my levels arnt too bad at the moment but its always in the back of my mind wondering if its going to hit. i know i really have to do something about my drinking as it is spiralling out of control again but its just so hard when you know that its the something that takes away your anxity- even if it is only for a short amount of time, not to mention all the pieces of the night before your left to pick up after. anyway i hope this comment can help someone and to let you know that your not alone. my only advice as to how to help yourself is to get off the drink, get on some antidepressants and keep up with regular councilling appointments. i know this is easier said than done but i just feel that for me it might work. i guess that im just not doing it at the moment because the bottom line is that i want to drink.

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