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What You Need to Know About Alcohol and Anxiety

It seems like everything from television to social media encourages drinking as a way to relax.  But, the relationship between alcohol and anxiety is often more complicated. Many adults can safely drink in moderation, but for others, alcohol may cause anxiety or aggravate pre-existing conditions.

There are several reasons why alcohol tends to disturb your peace of mind. Embarrassing yourself at an office party may be an obvious danger, but there's also a molecular explanation. Alcohol causes changes in your brain chemicals, including gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) that’s involved in regulating anxiety.

Your brain adjusts to the sedating effects of alcohol but may have trouble balancing itself again when your blood alcohol content starts to fall. That could leave you feeling more anxious than when you started, and that uneasiness may last for a day or more – a phenomenon called “hangxiety.”

Lifestyle changes and professional help can make a big difference if alcohol and anxiety are disrupting your life. Learn what you can do to turn things around.

Tips for Drinking in Moderation

Prolonged heavy drinking often contributes to anxiety. The CDC recommends limiting yourself to one drink a day for women and two for men, but that even that can be too much for many people. Try these techniques to limit alcohol consumption:

Using alcohol to manage anxiety is likely to backfire.

Replace cocktails with strategies that are safer and more effective, such as these:

If you’re struggling with anxiety, a glass of wine may relax you in the short term, but it’s still important to deal with the underlying cause, especially if it is a medical condition called anxiety.

Angelo Sambunaris, M.D.

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