It’s Friday night and you survived another epic week. Maybe you were under the pump at work, or went to bed worried about bills. Or perhaps you just battled your usual round of worries.
The fix? A lovely large glass of wine.
I don’t know about you, but every time I knock back a drink, I feel instantly calmer. It takes the edge off like nothing else.
Sure, I can meditate. Go for a run. Sit in the park. Phone a friend. They all help ease my anxiety day-to-day. But alcohol hits right where it’s needed. It switches off the whirring worries. And it makes me feel all fuzzy and warm inside.
But should you drink?
I’ve gotta tell you, I was SO scared researching for this post. I was terrified to find out if alcohol is a big no-no when your noggin is knotted. Seriously. You can take the coffee and chocolate, just don’t touch my precious booze!
(Truthfully, I’m actually not a big drinker. But I love indulging in a glass or two of wine on a Friday night.)
Does alcohol ease anxiety?
Fun fact: alcohol is a sedative. That means it can help you relax – and do karaoke in front of a hundred strangers, when speaking to just one person sober terrifies you!
But that feeling of calm doesn’t last forever…
When booze causes anxiety
Yes, alcohol can actually spark anxiety. Here’s why:
Drinking disrupts the chemical balance in the brain. Even just one drink causes chemical changes, helping you feel more relaxed and disinhibited.
But what happens when you start to rely on that feeling, to face difficult situations? Well, the more you drink, the more tolerant you become. So you’ll need to throw back even more shots to get that floaty feeling.
And then comes the hangover. Yipee! As your body starts processing the booze, you might experience withdrawal. And guess what the symptoms include? Yep, anxiety and depression.
This happens because alcohol lowers the levels of serotonin (the ‘feel good’ chemical) in the brain. That’s why you may feel down or irritable the day after drinking.
Booze also triggers your blood sugar to plummet. This can make you feel dizzy, weak and out of sorts. And as anxiety guru Paul Dooley points out, when you add dehydration, an elevated heart rate, and a stressed-out nervous system to the mix, you have a recipe for post-drinking anxiety. Oh, and this is all on top of having a killer headache or funny tummy.
It’s a double-edged sword. We’re encouraged to drink to calm our nerves, but as the toxin leaves the body, our anxiety pops back up.
Maybe it’s no surprise then that 20% of people experiencing social anxiety disorder also have some form of alcohol dependence or addiction. If that’s you, please do seek help from a qualified medical expert.
How to drink when you’re anxious
Don’t worry, I won’t tell you to stop boozing – even though it’s the obvious way to avoid all these issues.
But if you’d like to enjoy alcohol without triggering your anxiety, here are some things you could try:
- Just take the edge off: Learn the difference between a buzz and a blow-out. For me, two drinks are enough to relax without getting messy. Know your limit.
- Balance your booze: Drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink, so you stay hydrated and feel the effects more slowly.
- Take turns: If you often go out with friends or your partner, have a designated driver roster. Experiencing social situations sober can be very eye opening. You might even discover that it’s possible to mingle without sedation.
- Eat first: Fuel up before popping the cork. Drinking on an empty stomach is a fast-track ticket to Hangover City.
My favourite tip? Do a no-booze experiment!
Try going a month or more without a drop and see how you feel. It’s all part of understanding your anxiety – and making friends with your mind.
Observe how you feel without alcohol, both physically and mentally. Challenge yourself to go to a social event stone-cold sober. Discover new ways to connect with people and let your hair down.
I highly recommend the online community Hello Sunday Morning for detoxing and general support.