Alcohol is one of the most common recreational substances in the United States. Its legal status and cultural acceptance have made it so that most people in the country drink at least once during their lifetime. Drinking as a response to stress or psychological discomfort is also culturally accepted, but it can come with some consequences.

People who are dealing with stress may be tempted to throw back a beer or glass of wine to tame their nerves. However, over time, the consumption of alcohol may actually increase panic disorder symptoms like anxiety. Drinking alcohol could have severe consequences if you’re being treated for panic disorder. A drink may sound like a good way to ease your stress, but it may be doing more harm than good. Can alcohol worsen anxiety? Does alcohol help with anxiety attacks? Learn more about alcohol’s effects on anxiety and panic disorders.

Using Alcohol To Unwind

alcohol and anxiety

In the beginning, drinking alcohol may help drinkers take their minds off their troubles. Some may use alcoholic beverages to “loosen up” and feel less shy, boost their mood, and make them relax. Alcohol shares similar effects to those of antianxiety medications because it is a central nervous system depressant and sedative.

The occasional drink to ease tension is not dangerous if your doctor approves. You must keep in mind, however, that drinking alcohol regularly means you will build up a tolerance for its effects. Over time, it will make stress and anxiety more challenging to cope with.

Individuals who drink excessive amounts of alcohol will also notice mental and physical consequences. Consuming too much alcohol over time will lead to a loss of memory, the potential for brain damage, liver damage, and blackouts. These issues will worsen your panic disorder and create more anxiety as you cope with the symptoms.

How Alcohol Worsens Anxiety And Panic Disorder

Alcohol alters levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, and these will worsen anxiety and other symptoms of your panic disorder. It may cause you to feel more anxious once the alcohol wears off. Using alcohol to cope with panic disorder is dangerous. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that nearly 7 percent of Americans struggle with social anxiety disorder.

Other Signs Of Alcohol Dependence Include:

  • Drinking heavily four days a week or more
  • Needing a drink in the morning to feel normal
  • Feeling unable to stop drinking
  • Drinking five or more alcoholic drinks per day
  • Needing to drink at every get-together

Overconsuming alcohol may also lead to a hangover, which is a set of symptoms that can make panic disorder worse. These include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches
  • Low blood glucose (sugar)

Does Alcohol Affect Panic Disorder?

In short, yes, alcohol does adversely affect panic disorder. The main component is the increase in anxiety, which can lead a person with panic disorder to believe their irrational thoughts. Long-term heavy drinkers also predispose themselves to develop anxiety disorders. Other research has found that individuals with alcoholism find it challenging to overcome traumatic events. It’s likely due to the effects of alcohol abuse and how they change brain activity.

Increased anxiety is also linked to alcohol withdrawal, which can be deadly. Those who consume large amounts of alcohol for an extended period run the risk of aggravating their panic disorder and anxiety by the side effects of alcohol withdrawal. Other alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Trembling hands
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart rate above 100 beats per minute
  • Sweating
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

What Is An Alcohol-Induced Panic Attack?

Alcohol can complicate mental health disorders, but some people report more direct effects on panic attack symptoms. In some cases, people who drink excessively experience alcohol-induced anxiety and panic attacks. Alcohol anxiety attack symptoms may be complicated by intoxication, and the physical effects of both alcohol and panic may feel worse.

Alcohol is a depressant, which is a broad class of drugs that are often used to treat anxiety disorders. For instance, benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. However, alcohol can also act similarly to a stimulant while your blood-alcohol concentration is rising. While you’re drinking, you may experience increased excitement and energy levels, which may seem paradoxical to alcohol’s effects as a depressant. 

Alcohol also has profound effects on your body. It can change your blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, hydration levels, and other physical effects. These effects can lead to uncomfortable side effects like heart palpitations, dehydration, and low blood sugar, which can have anxiety-inducing psychological effects. 

The cause of panic attacks is poorly understood, especially as they are related to alcohol, but it’s thought to have both psychological and physiological causes. Panic attacks are an overactive fight-or-flight response, which is a normal reaction of your brain and body when responding to danger.

Alcohol can increase your excitement, heart rate, and blood flow, which are also physiological reactions to the fight-or-flight response. These physiological changes may mimic a response to danger that causes a person to feel uneasy or panicked after drinking alcohol. 

What About a Panic Attack During a Hangover?

Alcohol hangovers can cause some of these uncomfortable psychological symptoms. Unconscious changes to your heart rate, blood pressure, and other natural functions can cause anxiety and panic symptoms during a hangover, just like they can during acute intoxication. 

What If You Experience Panic Attacks Days After Drinking?

Panic attacks a few days after your last drinking may be unrelated to alcohol. But if you’ve been drinking consistently for a long time, panic and anxiety symptoms may be a sign of alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can involve increased stimulation and symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, panic, seizures, nausea, and an increased heart rate. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be potentially dangerous. If you’ve become dependent on alcohol, you may need to consult a doctor before quitting. Quitting cold turkey can be particularly dangerous. 

Alcohol withdrawal can also cause a medical condition called delirium tremens, which is characterized by sudden confusion and panic. It involves many of the same symptoms as a panic attack, along with the threat of seizures, heart attack, and stroke. 

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