Why Alcohol Causes Anxiety

There are basically 6 reasons why alcohol consumption and hangovers make many people anxious and I’m going tell you what they are. I want to share this with you so that you can be more informed and avoid becoming alcohol’s punching bag.

Ever since I became sick with nervous illness I’ve heard a lot of people say that anxiety sufferers should not drink alcohol because it makes you more nervous than you already are.

I’ve always found this to be ironic because there are so many anxiety sufferers that drink alcohol to cope with their anxiety, but true it is.

Now, the fact that alcohol can cause anxiety is just that, a fact. It is a scientifically based understanding, so this is not simple conjecture on my part.

Will alcohol affect all people this way? Probably not, but as an anxiety sufferer you should be aware of the possible pitfalls of alcohol consumption, so pay close attention.

Scientists believe that alcohol causes or at least increases anxiety in  6 basic ways and here they are.

1. Mood

Alcohol can affect our mood because it can affect the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a feel good brain chemical that when in short supply can cause feelings of anxiety and depression.

2. Drop in blood sugar

A drop in blood sugar can cause dizziness, confusion, weakness, nervousness, shaking and numbness. These symptoms can most certainly trigger a bout of anxiety.

3. Dehydration

This has been known to cause nausea, dizziness, fatigue, light-headedness and muscle weakness. These symptoms wouldn’t cause anxiety per say but they add to a sense of illness which fosters anxiety.

4. Nervous System

The nervous system is affected because in order for the body to fight off the sedative effects of alcohol it puts the body into a state of hyperactivity in order to counteract this effect. This hyperactivity can lead to shaking, light/sound sensitivity and sleep deprivation.

5. Heart Rate

Your heart rate can become elevated as a result of consuming alcohol which can cause a palpitation false alarm and put you into a state of anxious anticipation. Is it a heart attack or isn’t it you might ask. This “what if” questioning can increase your general state of anxiety.

6. Concentration

A hard night of drinking can also make you hazy, bring on headaches and create a sense of disorientation.

So if you’re going to have a glass of wine with dinner I don’t think you should be concerned. On the other hand, if you’re a heavy drinker, or binge drinker, then this might cause a real problem for you.

According to The Times Online, scientists don’t know exactly why all this happens but they do suggest that you eat before drinking, drink water in between drinks, and stay in bed if you are hung over to avoid all the problems I outlined above.

Some would say that maybe you shouldn’t drink at all if you have an anxiety disorder – that’s debatable. Do you think that alcohol should be avoided at all cost when someone has an anxiety disorder?

I don’t think that alcohol should be avoided if drinking is part of your social repertoire, however, I also know that moderation and good sense should be your guide.

In addition, although alcohol does have a sedative effect it should not be used as a coping tool. This type of behavior can lead to alcoholism and worse yet, more anxiety.

So if you know that you’re a light weight, or if you already know that alcohol makes you anxious, don’t bother. Maybe I don’t need to say it, but really some people just don’t know when to say no.

Note: I want to hear your opinions. Let me know what you think about this issue – comment below.

Update

After waiting forever I finally completed a podcast for this article. Press play to listen now.

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  • Jennifer Jencredible Johnson

    Wow… This is a mirror of myself. The only difference is I don’t have any children and I do have a significant other. Funny, I have been completely honest and upfront with him about my drinking and how I know it can be really heavy. He doesn’t drink much which makes me feel weird sometimes, well to be down right honest, and alcoholic. But I think him not drinking like me helps me to be mindful of how much I am drinking and helps me to slow it down. I may have to check out the book you mentioned. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Jennifer Jencredible Johnson

    Hi James,

    To be honest, the only way to completely stop the anxiety will be to completely stop drinking or to really cut back the amounts being drank within certain time frames. It’s been something I have been kicking around for quite something. I have learned that when I drink the amount of water required for my size, this helps not only with intake but just with feeling more flushed. I wish you all the best and remember you are not alone in this struggle.

  • Izzy

    Just by you posting what you did and admitting to all of us here, that you have a problem and want help…. Is progress and should be proud of yourself. Start drinking more water to start your recovery. Our bodies are made of a high percentage of water and alcohol drys you out!….it all starts with a decision. Sounds like you’ve already made that decision to get your life back on track. It doesn’t matter how long you have been drinking. Today s a new day, your body is your temple, and start honoring it today. God made our bodies so unique and wonderful that we can heal ourselves from a lot of stuff if we make the right choices. My prayers are with you.

  • Chelsea

    Here it is 3:00 in the morning after a night of drinking and I found this article. I should be sleeping but a panic attack woke me up. Heart racing, palpitations, muscle tightness, the whole nine. I have been recognizing the weekend binge drinking pattern I’ve been getting into lately that is consistently followed by anxiety. The anxiety lasts for days and it seems like as soon as it passes I am ready to have a night of binge drinking. Recognizing this I decided I would not drink this weekend. I was able to resist it Friday night, but then my husband and I had some friends come over yesterday afternoon and I succumbed to the urge to drink. I have no off button. So I probably had 6-7 drinks. Which doesn’t sound like a lot but its enough to trigger the panic attack. This is not my first go around with my alcohol problem. I have unsuccessfully quit drinking probably 10 times in my life. It doesn’t help that my husband is a daily drinker. I have to quit for my kids. I can’t le them grow up thinking this is ok. Alcohol is sooo bad. Maybe today will be day one of my sobriety

  • Lyra

    I’m so glad I found this article. I am ‘one of those people’ who cannot say no. Once I start drinking I don’t want to stop as I feel much more confident on alcohol and less anxious. I’ve had severe anxiety since I was young and I find it very hard to cope with the anxiety and subsequently, emotions. The next day after drinking I feel so anxious, even if I behaved myself – which doesn’t always happen. I’ve never met anyone that shared this ‘hangover’ with me and its nice to read the comments and see that there are others like me. I don’t like the person I become on alcohol, yet I feel people like me more on it. I don’t want to be this person anymore and I’m going to stop drinking completely. I wish I could be a moderate drinker but I can’t. I’ll need to find better ways of coping with anxiety.

  • Toooldforthismess

    Im 32 and I feel you. Sleepless nights now from my recent binge ..anxiety comes and goes but I’m feeling better after a trip to e.r. day 2 of no alcohol but my last binge was 7 days long…..never again! Shortness of breathes is minimal . reading your stories has helped me so much…Thx guys!

  • Edwards

    Seeing all of these posts is so reassuring that I am not crazy. I am a mother of 2 young girls, work a stressful job and went to drinking alcohol to help cope with the so called “stress” when little did I know how much worse it would make me feel. I would have equivalent to about 6 shots of hard alcohol nightly, then gradually more until one weekend, I went over the deep end and drank 2 full bottles of rum. What was I thinking? Looking back, that’s what I think now. Well, I woke up in the middle of the night with the worst anxiety attack ever. I couldn’t sleep. My heart was racing, my head was ringing. I thought I was going to die, but was too scared to admit what I had done to get myself into this situation. That day was the worst ever. I went to the Dr and was told I was suffering extreme anxiety and that I was fine. It still took at least 5 days to feel somewhat back to normal. I am proud to say I have barely had any alcohol since then which has been 2 months ago. I will never allow for myself to drink so much that I will even risk having an anxiety attack like that again. I will socially drink, but only have 1 beer or one hard alcohol drink with no more than 2 shots. It took nearly one month for me to be able to sleep at night again. I am finally back to feeling relaxed and able to have a full nights sleep, instead of being fearful of having another anxiety attack. If you are suffering from this, please do yourself a favor and drink less of not at all. I promise, it’ll go away. If you do have an anxiety attack, please remind yourself that you are ok and that this too shall pass. Be thankful for your life and take good care of yourself. :) Good luck to all!

  • Andrea

    Hi. This article rings very true to me. I do however think there is one more aspect in the correlation between alcohol use and anxiety that has been over looked. That of sleep deprivation. I am recently a new mom and have felt like I have a really bad hang over for the last 3 months irrespective of not touching a drop! It occured to me that lack of proper long wave sleep when you have consumed a lot of alcohol also contributes to the anxious feelings. It certainly does in my case.

  • whatstheword

    My anxiety after drinking is not fair. Scientists need to get on it! Im 20 an have binge drank for about 6 years now (i know i started young) and so have my friends, But nobody gets a hungover as me. I cant even walk down my stairs right now. I was crying earlier because it was so bad. One time i stayed up for two days after and started crying to my mom because i was scared i was going to die in my sleep if i fell asleep. Im all spaced out and i don’t dare go out in public. The aftermath of my hangovers suck i cant talk to people for weeks after without feeling like im a retard. I know of one other guy that suffer’s from this too but not as bad. There has got to be a cure because i’d kill to have just a normal hangover, I WISH my hangovers only consisted of feeling like i was going to vomit. I know “i should stop drinking im still young ” yada yada yada. But honestly i drink twice a month. Binge drinking 60′s every summer night in 2010 has royally fucked me for life. I now have permanent anxiety and currently cant walk down my stairs. I feel like im sketching out on cocaine or something. There has got to be something different with us than other drinkers. Maybe we all have minor Parkinson disease or something or a defficiancy of something. IDONTKNOW. But i really wish i dident suffer from this. SUCKS

  • Ashley

    Hopefully some of you are still on here. I drank a lot last night & have had really bad anxiety all day today & that is how I ended up here, seeking help dealing with this.
    I recently turned 21 but have been a binge drinker for 5 years. My boyfriend & his older friends have introduced me to the bar scene & I have been going extremely over board drinking. The anxiety after drinking started about a year & a half ago, but I’m young & I thought there’s nothing more annoying than a sober person in a group of drunks so I didn’t want to be the one.
    I’m not a social person; I feel awkward & uncomfortable trying to go out & be social, I have become dependent on alcohol to get over those feelings & it worked for awhile, but now I am getting too comfortable & I honestly feel I have become ‘the drunk girl at the bar’. I’ll start conversations with people that are acquaintances & I’ll tell them things that I would never say to them sober.
    Recently I am drinking to the point that I black out & I have no idea what I did at the end of the night or how I get home (I never drive, but I’ve been driven home by people who were heavily drinking). The things people tell me I did I truly can’t believe, but I don’t doubt them. Everyone laughs & says it was just a drunken night but I don’t see it as that; I feel like such an idiot & that everyone thinks I’m stupid, as they should considering how dumb my drunken choices are.
    I wake up the next day already feeling anxious because I know I was too drunk the night before & I usually stay home & don’t talk to anyone (besides co-workers, who have no idea I drink as much as I do) until a week or two later when I assume nobody cares about my previous drunkenness & do the same thing over again.
    My boyfriend is disappointed that I make bad decisions & he reminds me of everything I have done wrong while drinking. It’s bad that I can’t even talk about a night out because I know it wasn’t fun for him babysitting me. I immediately feel guilty/anxious when he brings up a night that was supposed to be fun with his friends.

    I read some other posts about how it’s just a cycle: drink, anxiety, anxiety goes away or isn’t as bad anymore, repeat. I can’t keep doing this & need to stop making a fool out of myself. Even when the anxiety finally stops, I’ll think about something I did while drinking & it comes right back. I cause my own stress & anxiety from something that has nothing beneficial to offer me personally.
    I’m going to start working on myself starting this week because I really don’t like the person that I have turned into.

    Thanks to who ever sees this & took the time to read my story. I hope you can work out whatever it is you are going through. It helps me to know nothing that happens in life is permanent; time passes, you change, you move on.
    Also, thank you for creating this blog and community. I am one of those people who will read a blog & other people’s comments but I never write anything. This is actually my first time writing anything as part of an online community (sorry for being so lengthy, I’m a newb), so if there are any other people like that reading this, I want to let you know it is a good feeling getting this off my chest & knowing someoneheard me out when I’ve never felt so alone.

  • http://www.anxietyguru.net/ Paul Dooley

    Ashley, Thanks for taking the time to share your story.
    I know it’s not easy to sit down and go over personal struggles. The good news is that you seem very aware about what’s going on and I hope that means you have some idea about what you might do to change this situation around. Wish you all the best.

    Paul Dooley
    Anxietyguru.net

  • Bc

    Yeah this happens to me now. I’m 30 years old and it never used to happen in my early 20′s

    I absolutely hate it. I find that rehydrating myself by drinking several tall glasses of water and a big bottle of Gatorade calms me down after a few hours. If you’re sleep deprived in this state of anxiety you need to take a nap for a few hours. It’s tough to actually get to sleep when you’re experiencing this anxiety but you need to put on some music that will calm your nerves and then take a nap for 3-4 hours.

    I notice for me it is worse the next day when I drink hard liquor the night before. Considerdrinkimg beer instead and drink in moderation don’t
    get completely wasted!

  • Bc

    Yes you are not alone. I describe it as having a feeling of “impending doom” where your heart and mind is going a million miles an hour and you have this constant thought of something bad happening such as having a heart attack at any moment and feeling dizzy almost to the point of thinking you’re going to pass out. I lose my appetite too usually and if you’re sleep deprived it seems to be twice as bad! What I do is get a huge bottle of gatorade and also lots of water and drink those for an hour straight. If you’re sleep deprived you need to put music on that will calm you down and then lay down and take a nap. That isn’t easy to do during these anxiety attacks but you have to do all of the above and keep reassuring yourself that the feelings of anxiety will pass. Imagine yourself in a state of being that is opposite of the anxiety. Lay off the hard liquor too. It seems to be worse with that versus when drinking beers. Anyway, hope that helps someone reading this. Glad to hear others experiences with this.

  • Mac

    Hi, I suffer from The Fear terribly when I drink and I’ve just gotten over a particularly bad one which is why Im googling it. I know its all down to alcohol. Im not a huge fan of drink in the first place, im a dad and a teacher so both these things don’t lend themselves to a drinker’s lifestyle. I can easily go 10 weeks without drinking and not miss it. But I am a human and I have friends and I occassionally feel I should go out ask they remember who I am. So once every couple of months I’ll have a heavy session and gave a great time. But for days after I’ll feel paranoid, depressed but above all, absolutely excrutiating anxiety. Chest pains, paranoia, guilt, restlessness, snapping at people, dreadful insomnia. I got drunk last Friday and it was Wednesday before i could safely say i felt okay again. I don’t want to see people, i mull over what i said or did, convince myself nobody likes me or that I’ve upset someone and that they’re after me, all this despite my mates saying it was fine and that i had a great night. At school i fear that the kids and other teachers know. This is all utterly irrational paranoia but im sure other people who get this understand that its completely uncontrollable and you can’t just snap out of it. Anyway ill not be drinking again anytime soon. Im quite an anxious and stressed person anyway so its clearly just the alcohol magnifying these feelings. Im not an alcoholic, i dont deny that the alcohol is the cause in some self-convincing act to deny that i shouldn’t drink. It IS the alcohol and all the denying in the world won’t change that. If it makes you feel the way it makes me, don’t drink at all.

  • Bridget

    I’m 43 ~ over the last 1-2 years I began noticing intense anxiety after drinking and a feeling of “blah” or mild depression the following day. I’m not an alcoholic (though it runs rampant in my family) and only rarely have enough drinks to put me in a “happy” state but I will wake up a few hours after going to bed and the silliest things will put me into an extremely stressed state. I’ve made the mistake of thinking about finances, work, family etc…during these episodes and that sends me into bouts of burning flushing of the face shaking, confusion and crying. It is definitely a feeling of impending “doom”. Last night, I drank 3 very small glasses of wine and I was up for hours in the night worrying about a stupid potted tree in our yard and wondering if I had watered it enough for it to survive the winter and whether or not I spent too much on Christmas, etc. I ended up in the bathroom with dry heaves. Because of these types of episodes, I had already backed off on social drinking – even having a glass of wine with my husband. The horrible feeling is so not worth any possible health benefits of red wine. lol. After last night, I’ve decided to call it quits. The “morning afters” as we have come to call them….have taken their toll.

  • JC3

    This blog fully just saved me from an ER visit. I have had anxiety all my life. 27 year old male now I turned to booze fast at a young age. Now having the worst anxiety of my life I did the time line. 21, two to four beers a night = no anxiety. Now that has turned into 8-10 beers a night and all of the sudden worst anxiety of my life the next and following days unless I drink again. I will have stints of sobriety the longest 222days still not feeling normal but much better than I do now. Its a slippery slope as they say. Bottom line for me, alcohol in moderation,exercise and healthy eating takes care of the anxiety. I always try to explain to my friends how I feel crazy and no one gets it. I am very glad to have stumbled across this site.

  • Artois Cinquante Deux

    I found it to be a vicious circle; I drank to beat the anxiety and then found that I became more anxious, once the alcohol wore off. I’m sure that others have experienced this too, as time goes by, you need more and more alcohol to have the same effect. Eventually, I was forced to quit drinking through hospitalization for mental health issues. Thank God, the anxiety attacks are now few and far between.

    http://artois52.hubpages.com/hub/AlcoholicAnxiety

  • RBrown33

    I’m so glad that I came across this article because I understand the physiological root of a problem that I am having. I have Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I have taken anti-depressants and Xanax and have been in Therapy for treatment of these issues. I have been doing SO great and was able to get off of the anti-depressants and I only take the Xanax as needed. I went FIVE days without a panic attack this past week and have felt great…until the weekend. I drank alcohol socially with a group of friends and the next morning my panic attacks were back and I experienced sleep paralysis for the first time (SCARY). Now I know that if I want to be on the track of no future panic attacks I need to not drink any alcohol..ever! Thanks again!

  • Pat

    Bridget- I cannot tell you how many times this has happened to me in the past. I’m 46 and never really had a problem with insomnia or anxiety after drinking until about 5 years ago. Now, even 1 glass of wine will cause many hours of sleeplessness and worrying over trivial matters. It’s ironic because I still fall asleep quickly after drinking, but wake up around 1 am and do not get to sleep until shortly before the alarm rings. At this point, I am incredibly tired and lethargic. The rest of the day I spend in a mildly depressive “fog”. I am beginning to think that even “moderate drinking”, when done long term, is not healthy and, like you, I am seriously considering avoiding alcohol all together. Good luck to you.
    Pat
    BTW-Your story about the potted tree made me laugh.

  • rob p

    Hi
    iam 32, I’ve been a right idiot with alcohol since my teens, also years back the drugs, as teenagers did! I’ve had anxiety for over 10
    years. I started on all the meds, but the only thing I have nowadays is maybe half a propanolol when I need. I’ve always been a heavy drinker, especially at the weekends. I’ve had many sundays letting my 2 boys down due to alcohol. I know I’ll feel anxious, when I do I cough alot, racing thoughts, check my pulse, i think of ways people could here me incase i faint or have a heart attack. The thing is i never have!! I had an awful one driving home from work afew weeks back, i pulled over, shaking, chewing on things to try and calm down, i got worked up with the radio being on, even turned my phone off! After a beater booker i calmed down after 15 minutes, iam just sick of always needing to leave conversations etc to try and calm down. I do believe its all alcohol related. But when i do drink i feel no anxiety, only the next few days afterwards. Also i stopped for 6 days the other week, only mild anxiety the first 5, then bang a panic attack on day 6! My mind and body carnt win, Ian affraid this is me for life, i suffer heartburn and stomach ache and all i think of is cancer* why carnt i just think normal and live a happy life with my girlfriend and kids? Thanks