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Does heavy alcohol use make you more vulnerable to anxiety?

August 24, 2017



In my practice I commonly see clients who deal with anxiety by misusing or abusing alcohol. Often the explanation is that it helps them “to wind down.”  


An interesting question thus emerges. Are people drinking because of anxiety or experiencing anxiety because they’re drinking?


Some light was shed on this in a study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, published online Sept. 2, 2012, by the journal Nature Neuroscience. The study examined the neural circuitry of mice who were given alcohol compared to a sober control group. Results showed that exposure to alcohol had a detrimental effect on areas of the brain related to emotional processing.


What these initial findings seem to suggest matches my professional observations - which is that frequent or heavy drinking helps reduce  anxiety in the very short term but has a rebound effect that increases overall anxiety levels and the ability to process them. 


So if you’re anxious, grabbing a drink might seem easier than sitting down to meditate or engaging in physical activity, but this reflex may be digging you an even deeper hole. Consider finding a counselor who can help you develop coping strategies the next time an overwhelming wave of anxiety takes hold.


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