Nearly one-quarter of American women suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. Many of those suffering from such disorders remain undiagnosed by medical professionals, either due to a lack of health insurance coverage, personal factors like long work days or a combination of multiple reasons. This leads many women with undiagnosed anxiety disorders to seek solace in a bottle of Chardonnay. But can alcohol cause anxiety?
Using alcohol to cope with anxiety can cause many additional problems. Alcohol poses a number of health risks — including cirrhosis of the liver and various forms of cancer. Regular, heavy drinking can cause changes in multiple systems of the body and drinking during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome.
Women who suspect they are suffering from any form of anxiety can benefit from seeking professional help, not from self-medicating at the local pub.
Using Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism
Have a few drinks! Relax, have fun! Live a little!
Statements like these influence even women without anxiety disorders to have one too many when out on the town. Women experiencing anxiety take these words to heart and many soon begin to find attending social gatherings or even making it through the day impossible without a glass in hand.
Everyone has heard the cliches about alcohol transforming shy wallflowers into queens of the dance floor, and popular movies and TV shows reinforce the idea that everything goes better with a bit of booze. Sadly, many women get bombarded with advertisements depicting alcohol use in a glamorous light even before they reach adulthood. When the freedom of going off to college rolls around, many already possess the erroneous belief that drinking makes you cool.
For those with social anxiety, the combination of leaving home for the first time coupled with the ability to make poor choices free from parental consequences leads many young women to binge-drink. Weekend keg parties quickly morph into dangerous daily habits.
Even adult women continue to face more stressors than men in everyday life, increasing their chances of developing an anxiety disorder. Women still earn less than men in the workplace, placing a ton of economic strain on females and particularly on single mothers. One out of every five women, in many parts of the world, has experienced an assault — and many victims turn to alcohol to drown out memories of past abuse.
So Can Alcohol Cause Anxiety?
While no amount of alcohol is safe for those with a predisposition toward substance abuse, even moderate alcohol consumption leads to changes in the body’s chemistry. Alcohol upsets the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine. When these neurotransmitters spiral out of control, disorders such as anxiety and depression often follow.
Even one night of heavy drinking can leave the overindulgent shaky, nervous, nauseous and irritable the next day. Because most women have a higher body fat percentage than most men, their bodies metabolize alcohol more slowly, making them feel drunk sooner and stay intoxicated longer.
Over time, regular drinkers develop a tolerance for liquor. This results in needing to drink more and more alcohol to produce the desired effect. Some alcoholic women find it impossible to get going without a morning wake up toast or two to stave off the inevitable hangover.
Women who drink to excess often put themselves in dangerous situations their sober selves would not dream of. This increases the possibility they will suffer assault, further increasing feelings of anxiety. Even the overwhelmed feeling that results from their inability to stop drinking causes significant anxiety in many women.
Weaning off the Sauce
Women who fear they are developing an addiction to alcohol benefit from a self-imposed restriction from drinking for a period of six weeks or more. Many health professionals believe this resets the body’s ability to process alcohol while at the same time putting an end to drinking borne out of compulsion.
However, when women with anxiety quit drinking, all the feelings that drove them to the bottle in the first place inevitably surface. Women need to learn to substitute healthy habits for pouring champagne with impunity. Some women find peace in a regular yoga practice while others turn to creative outlets like song and dance and still others find solace in religious or spiritual practices.
Twelve-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous offer free emotional support for women withdrawing from addiction. Regular attendees get matched with a sponsor whom they can lean on for assistance when the urge to drink threatens to become overwhelming.
While some women manage to quit drinking and manage their anxiety on their own, others require professional assistance. Women need reassurance that asking for help represents a sign of strength, not weakness.
Embracing an Alcohol and Anxiety Free Life
Have you ever wondered: can alcohol cause anxiety? Indeed, it can. However, there is hope here. Even though women suffer from anxiety disorders at higher rates than men and seem to fall for the charm of the bottle more easily, they also respond well to treatment and proper care.
If you have concerns about a woman in your life who’s struggling with anxiety, alcoholism or both, provide a non-judgmental listening ear and offer resources and help when welcomed. If you feel you may be suffering from either condition, love yourself enough to seek help. Recovery is possible.