There are things you’re dealing with…that are overwhelming. No one teaches you or is helping you navigate the pressure.
It’s OK to be anxious and experience anxiety in this life. It’s a common feeling. There are many ways to cope with stress, both healthy and unhealthy. Drinking might seem like a way to take the edge off, but just be aware that it can lead to addictive behaviors. Getting well means being aware of both your anxiety and your drinking habits.
Why am I anxious?
Anxiety is worrying about things more than we should. Sometimes we’re anxious because we grew up always watching around to be safe. Or we feel anxious because as human beings we have to live in survival mode sometimes.
Try to pay attention to both physical and mental experiences of anxiety. Are you sweating a lot, do you feel nauseous, or your stomach hurts, does your body feel tense? Or are your thoughts racing, are you frozen, feel stuck, or don’t know what to say?
Think about where and when you feel anxious. Is it certain places like school or work? Or around certain people? Here are some questions to ask yourself when you begin to feel anxious:
- Am I doubting myself? Or am I worried about being judged by others?
- Are there situations like school or work that are overwhelming me?
- Are there relationships in my life that stress me out?
Anxious feelings have a way of stripping us of our self-confidence. And we may turn to drinking as a quick fix to feel more confident in ourselves. But understanding why you feel anxious and what triggers your anxiety can lead you on the road to healing and recovery.
Why do people treat anxiety with alcohol?
Social anxiety has a physical effect. I drink to calm my nerves. I can’t manage that, so I grab some alcohol to manage an anxiety/panic attack.
People drink to treat anxiety because it works. Drinking can make you feel better, or cut the edge, at least temporarily. You may see alcohol as a glass of “liquid courage.” When you’re more socially confident or perform well at your job while drinking or using, you might feel it’s working and making you better and stronger. That confidence you feel can translate into not thinking it’s an issue because it helps you cope with overwhelming anxiety.
Using alcohol to treat anxiety temporarily makes both the brain and body feel good. GABA is a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger in the brain that is responsible for sleepiness and relaxation. Alcohol mimics GABA making people feel more relaxed and less anxious. Anti-anxiety medications like Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan also act in a similar way and treat anxious feelings. This leads to some people using alcohol or misusing anxiety medicines to tamp down feelings of not feeling good enough or treat social anxiety.
It’s easy to get caught up having drinks. If you’re with a group of friends who are drinking, it’s very hard to say no to that beer, shot, or glass of wine. Try to surround yourself with people who practice healthy habits. Coping becomes easier when you’re more aware of your surroundings and behavior.
Coping with anxiety in other ways
Look for the warnings that your drinking is becoming a serious problem. Does drinking cause issues for the relationships in your life? Is it affecting your work, school, and life negatively? It’s ok to recognize when it’s time to get help and make changes in your life. Finding other ways to lessen your anxiety comes with understanding your triggers, finding other coping skills, or learning to reduce your anxiety. Getting better takes effort and focus but it’s worth it. Here are some good habits you can practice to cope with anxiety:
- Make a list of things that have calmed you down in the past. Like physical activity, creating art, cooking, sports, journaling, etc.
- Create a coping skills toolbox. Cope with overwhelming feelings by using coping strategies—like grounding or meditation—that you can use in the moment you start to feel anxious.
- Distract yourself. Take a walk, go to the movies, do a puzzle, meditate. Get into a different headspace that takes your mind off the urge to drink.
- Build healthy habits. Building one healthy habit often leads to building others. For example, getting enough sleep, and eating healthier goes a long way in making you feel better. Give yourself the advantage of a strong body and mind.
- Work on self-motivation. Be your own life coach. Say positive self-affirmations, quotes and prayers that pump you up. Reframe your thoughts and celebrate your healing recovery.
- Join your local AA or other support groups. If you think drinking for anxiety has led to possible addiction issues, connect with a support group, meetings, peer support, or a recovery coach and addiction resources.
Feeling better takes time. You may have to try lots of different things until you find the coping strategies that are right for you. That’s OK. You own the road to your recovery and you deserve to heal.