Twenty percent of people with anxiety disorders also have an alcohol or substance abuse problem. Those people are my brethren.
I was raised around alcohol. In my early years we lived in San Francisco above our family owned bar, The Stumble In. Spud McKenzie and Joe Camel were my idols. Some of my fondest childhood memories include my role as “Keeper of the Ice Chest.” As Keeper, it was my duty to ensure no adult went empty-handed, especially on long road trips.
Now, I drink regularly; a bottle of wine on weeknights, at least two on the weekends. Rey thinks I’m a raging alcoholic, I disagree, it’s just what I do.
I definitely feel less anxious when I drink, but I don’t drink to feel less anxious, excluding Christmas parties and social gatherings. According to this article, there is a lot of variability on how anxiety and alcoholism/substance abuse co-occur:
- The alcohol abuse and anxiety disorders are independent of one another, meaning that one does not cause the development of the other. However, the symptoms of one can make the symptoms of the other worse.
- An anxiety disorder leads individuals to use alcohol or other substances to "self-medicate," or attempt to alleviate their anxiety symptoms on their own (which does not help, and only exacerbates, anxiety).
- An alcohol abuse problem causes heightened anxiety during certain specific periods of abuse, such as during the actual time of drinking and/or withdrawal states (some studies have shown the withdrawal from alcohol may activate the same neural pathways as anxiety). These anxiety symptoms may go away during other times and usually are eliminated completely after the problem drinking stops.
- An alcohol or other substance abuse problem leads to development of a substance-induced anxiety disorder in which a person's substance abuse causes anxiety to exist all or close to all the time during a period of alcohol or other substance abuse in one's life. This may happen because some substances change the way brain cells communicate with each other, including affecting the amount of neurotransmitters (or chemical messengers) in an individual's nervous system. Thus, substance abuse can damage parts of the brain that keep anxiety in check. This type of anxiety disorder will last during the period of substance abuse, and sometimes for a short period of time after the substance abuse has stopped.