There’s a reason that pop culture highlights a glass of wine as the key to unwinding after a long day—the sedative effects of alcohol seem to suppress symptoms of stress, albeit temporarily. Despite this, there are many reasons someone with an anxiety disorder would prefer to cut back on alcohol use. From medication interactions to increased symptoms, anxiety and alcohol aren’t always a safe combination. In some cases, they can even come with deadly risks.
Many anxiety patients turn to alcohol as a means to self-medicate, managing their symptoms where other treatments have failed or aren’t accessible. Often, it’s much easier to visit a liquor store than to get the treatment you need. But, of course, alcohol or other substance abuse can lead to more significant issues, such as an alcohol use disorder like alcohol addiction.
In those instances, alcohol treatment centers will do more than provide addiction treatments. Seek out a treatment center that offers dual diagnosis programs, considering anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions alongside alcohol use disorder. Alcohol addiction and mental health issues both affect your life, so it simply makes sense to choose a treatment option that includes both.
Risk of Interactions
Even when it doesn’t reach the level of alcohol dependence, alcohol use offers risks when used alongside common types of treatment for anxiety disorders. Frequently prescribed anxiety medications can interact with alcohol even in moderation, worsening symptoms or creating new issues to worry about, like severe fatigue or dizziness. Even off-label mental health meds can be affected by alcohol use.
Your doctor might prescribe gabapentin for anxiety, for instance, although it’s most commonly intended to treat seizures or nerve pain. If you’re taking gabapentin or another medication—even over-the-counter options—be sure to review any potential side effects or interactions. Read through any paperwork that comes with your prescription and talk to your doctor about any risks surrounding your medication and other substance use.
Many people turn to alcohol as a DIY treatment program to cope with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, or other mental health conditions. In practice, though, it can have an opposite effect. Alcohol abuse or dependence can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety. For example, a hangover can make it difficult to function, causing further anxiety.
In more severe cases, withdrawal symptoms can manifest with increased anxiety, agitation, and heart rate, even leading to panic attacks in some cases. So even though you began using moderate alcohol intake to manage mental illness, you can find yourself struggling with more severe symptoms due to that alcohol dependence.
More Frequent Triggers
Whether you turn to a rehab program or another treatment plan, your efforts to relieve the side effects of alcohol abuse can increase your anxiety symptoms in the process. You might face anxiety over the prospect of entering a residential treatment center or deal with social anxiety when faced with group therapy. You might even be anxious about your alcohol intake itself. Because a dual diagnosis of anxiety and alcohol dependence is so common and the conditions are so inextricably entwined, alcohol abuse can create more situations that will trigger anxiety.
At the moment, alcohol can seem like an accessible treatment option for anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions. When that evening glass of wine escalates to the point of alcohol abuse, though, it can have the opposite effect.
Between the worry of dangerous interactions with medications like gabapentin and the worsened anxiety symptoms that come with alcohol dependence, you’ll soon find that you only begin to see significant improvement in your symptoms with a dual diagnosis or general rehab program. Whether your anxiety and depression symptoms are a side effect of alcohol abuse or vice versa, substance abuse treatment experts can help you feel better and avoid more serious side effects.