Many of the physical and psychological effects of alcohol can produce anxiety. The relationship between anxiety and alcohol, in addition to alcoholism, might be more complicated than many realize. Refinery29 reports on the relationship between drinking and alcoholism but frames the article for active drinkers. For those seeking recovery from alcoholism, their lifestyle will include abstinence from alcohol. Learning to cope with anxiety without alcohol is a challenge because of the way the relationship between the two become deeply ingrained in the brain.
Alcohol changes the way the brain functions, which is why alcohol can cause sensations like euphoria, relaxation, and impair judgment. The way alcohol achieves these changes is by interacting with hormone and neurotransmitter production. Dopamine, for example, is commonly discussed when examining alcohol’s effect on the brain because it is a primary way alcohol creates change. Mind altering substances like alcohol create an overproduction of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter sometimes called the “happy hormone”. A surplus of dopamine has effect in other areas of the brain while also creating the sense of euphoria alcohol initially creates. Serotonin is another neurotransmitter more involved in mood and anxiety. Depression, for example, is a lack of serotonin. Alcohol consumption can cause a disruption in the production of serotonin, which results in anxiety. In addition, alcohol can increase the production of cortisol, a hormone for stress. When the body and mind enter fight-or-flight mode, which is a chronic for anxiety, cortisol is released. Cortisol puts the body on edge and prepares it to fight against a perceived threat. Interestingly, alcohol could be the perceived threat but also feel like a solution to anxiety.
Using alcohol as a means to cope with anxiety can increase anxiety and thereby increase chemical dependency on alcohol to cope with anxiety. The relationship of alcohol addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders can be unruly, creating a vicious cycle. Drinking to cope with anxiety creates a memory association in the brain which, accompanied by the disruptions in neurotransmitter as well as hormone production, can become problematic. Instead of turning to other coping mechanisms, the body and the brain learn to turn to alcohol. Eventually the brain might realize that alcohol creates more anxiety than it gets rid of. Being chemically dependent on alcohol, the inability to choose differently will continue to cause anxiety.
The partial care programs at Enlightened Recovery Solutions are dual diagnosis, focusing on the holistic treatment of substance use and mental health disorders. Providing a compassionate environment of whole person care, our integrative programs utilize alternative therapies designed to heal the soul. For information, call us today at 833-801-5483.
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