Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Alcohol

Anxiety disorders are some of the common of all mental health conditions. The most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder is generalized anxiety disorder.

As many as 70 percent of people ages 18 or older report having drunk alcohol in the past year. From a purely statistical viewpoint, it is no wonder that there is some overlap between anxiety and alcohol use when both are so prevalent. When drinking becomes problematic, a person may be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol Use Disorder Caused By Generalized Anxiety Disorder

One common reason people drink is to relax. Many people find that drinking relieves anxiety, at least temporarily. It is common for a person who struggles with anxiety to repeatedly engage in alcohol use to relieve anxiety even if the anxiety ultimately returns. Considering the cultural norms of using alcohol to unwind, it is not surprising that generalized anxiety disorder and alcohol use are often related. However, what many people do not realize is that the generalized anxiety disorder-alcohol use connection can occur in either direction. In some cases, an anxiety disorder is developed after alcohol use disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Caused By Alcohol Use Disorder

In some cases, anxiety may be a result of chronic alcohol use. Despite experiencing a temporary calming effect after consuming alcohol, alcohol causes an increase in anxiety within a few hours of consumption that can last a full day or longer. Chronic alcohol use has been shown to change the way the brain is wired and the brain’s chemical balances. These changes result in a person experiencing more frequent anxiety and more severe anxiety. It is possible for a person with no previous history of an anxiety disorder to develop one after the long-term use of alcohol.

Heavy, chronic use of alcohol often results in physical dependence. Once the level of physical dependence occurs, withdrawal is inevitable when the person no longer has alcohol in their system. A person experiencing alcohol withdrawal is likely to experience severe anxiety.

Does a loved one struggle with alcohol use? Take this quiz to find out if your loved one may have an alcohol use disorder.

Do you worry about your alcohol use? Take this quiz to see if your alcohol use is problematic.

Focusing treatment on only the substance use disorder or only the generalized anxiety disorder is likely to fail. Treating one condition will not necessarily fix a co-occurring problem even if the two problems are related. The best course of action is to engage in treatment that can address both disorders. The type of treatment recommended is based on several factors including the severity of each disorder and the length of time a person has struggled with each. Some individuals may be able to recover in an outpatient setting while others may require inpatient treatment. Treatment that is individualized is the most likely to be successful regardless of whether it is outpatient or inpatient. At facilities such as The Recovery Village, individualized treatment plans are able to tackle co-occurring disorders effectively.
Some key points to remember about generalized anxiety disorder and alcohol include:

  • Both anxiety disorders and alcohol use disorders are very common.
  • An alcohol use disorder may be developed when a person uses alcohol to cope with anxiety.
  • Anxiety may also form as a result of an alcohol use disorder.
  • The most effective treatment addresses both anxiety disorder and alcohol use disorder concurrently.

Whether anxiety or alcohol use comes first, treating an anxiety disorder and co-occurring substance use disorder requires a skilled professional. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction and a co-occurring mental health condition, like anxiety, help is available at professional centers across the country. The Recovery Village offers comprehensive treatment for substance use and co-occurring disorders. For more information about our care options, reach out to a representative today.

Gimeno, C., Dorado, M. L., Roncero, C., Szerman, N., Vega, P., Balanzá-Martínez, V., & Alvarez, F. J. “Treatment of Comorbid Alcohol Dependence and Anxiety Disorder: Review of the Scientific Evidence and Recommendations for Treatment.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, Published September 22, 2017. Accessed December 4, 2018.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Facts & Statistics.Accessed December 4, 2018.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” Accessed December 4, 2018.

WebMD. “Alcohol Withdrawal: Symptoms, Treatment and Alcohol Detox Duration.” Accessed December 4, 2018.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder: When Worry Gets Out of Control.” Accessed December 4, 2018.

Hedden, S. L., Kennet, J., Lipari, R., Medley, G., Tice, P., Copello, E. A., & Kroutil, L. A. “Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Published September 2015. Accessed December 4, 2018.