Alcohol has been used as a stress and anxiety reliever since the day it was invented. This has carried over into modern times as many of us tip a glass or two whenever anxiety and panic rears its ugly head.
While alcohol may help you cope with anxiety in the short term, this strategy can often backfire over time.
A new study posted in the Archives of General Psychiatry proves that self-medicating with alcohol increases the risk of alcoholism and other substance-abuse problems without addressing the actual core issue of anxiety.
If you try to drink away your worries this assertion is fairly obvious since alcohol only masks the symptoms of anxiety and is not an actual treatment. I understand this firsthand since I used to turn to alcohol whenever I was entering a stressful social situation to help me get through it. It helped, but over time I become more and more dependant on the alcohol to the point where I felt I couldn’t get through any mentally tough situation without it. What I had actually done is add a new problem to my already troubling anxiety problem.
I wasn’t alone. Self-medication by anxiety sufferers is common. The study, in which 34,653 American adults were represented, 13% of the people who had consumed alcohol or drugs in the previous year said they’d done so to reduce their anxiety, fear, or panic about a situation. I was actually surprised that number wasn’t higher.
Drowning your anxiety in booze can be a very hazardous combination for your health. Alcohol and anxiety are not a good mix in the long run. In most cases alcohol creates more anxiety as the body becomes more acclimated to it.
The study found that people with anxiety symptoms, but not a full-blown anxiety disorder, were more likely to receive a diagnosis of social phobia by the end of the study if they self-medicated. Social phobia is another name for social anxiety and is characterized by apprehension and fear over specific situations like meetings, parties, or speaking in public.
The results of this study are significant because they are among the first to examine the relationship substance use and anxiety in a group of people over a period of time.
Having a beer or glass of wine to ease the tension at the end of a stressful work day doesn’t necessarily mean you’re risking becoming an alcoholic. Alcohol dependence it also influenced by your genetic makeup, environment, and life experience. But using alcohol as your ‘go to’ coping strategy to ease anxiety is risky since it can be so addictive and habit forming.
The embarrassment and shame that some people feel about their anxiety and a reluctance to seek professional help are contributing factors to turning to self-medication.
The combination of anxiety and alcohol may help you get through that company outing but is not worth the health risks in the end.
Photo by: Mike Licht
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