Liquid Courage: Does Drinking Really Help With Your Anxiety?
In social situations, some people use alcohol as “liquid courage” to help them overcome the anxiety of interacting with others. This practice is relatively common because, in the short-term, drinking can help reduce your inhibitions and make you feel more relaxed. However, alcohol can’t touch the actual source of the anxiety you experience. In addition, use of drinking as a social lubricant can eventually leave you with serious problems that include diagnosable symptoms of a condition called alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol and the Short-Term Perception of Anxiety
Alcohol and anxiety relief are perceived as connected topics because of how drinking affects your mind and behavior. Even in small amounts, alcohol can make you feel relaxed and decrease the intensity of your social inhibitions. As you near the point of legal drunkenness (a blood-alcohol level of 0.08), your inhibitions drop even further. However, you also start losing your ability to do a number of important things, such as:
- Think clearly
- Focus your attention
- Use your memory
- Coordinate your body movements
- Make rational decisions that prevent dangerous behavior
This means that you could easily end up acquiring a sense of social belonging at the cost of a seriously increased chance of harming yourself or others.
Alcohol’s Actual Impact on Anxiety Symptoms
Given how alcohol and anxiety relief seem to go hand in hand, it’s important to look at the impact that drinking truly has on anxiety symptoms. In 2011, a team of Canadian researchers addressed this very topic in a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. These researchers concluded that drinking will not provide any kind of real relief from the symptoms of diagnosable anxiety disorders such as social phobia and panic disorder. In fact, a significant percentage of people who self-medicate with alcohol actually end up developing these disorders, at least in part as a consequence of their drinking.
Increased Risks for Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder is a condition that includes the symptoms of both non-addicted alcohol abuse and alcoholism. The authors of the study published in JAMA Psychiatry found a clear link between the use of alcohol as a form of self-medication and the odds of qualifying for a diagnosis of this condition. In fact, while just 4.7% of all drinkers who don’t self-medicate will develop alcohol use disorder, fully 12.6% of alcohol self-medicators qualify for an alcohol abuse/alcoholism diagnosis. It’s also important to note that alcohol use disorder and anxiety disorders occur together fairly often.
National Institutes of Health – MedlinePlus: As Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Rises, So Does Impairment
JAMA Psychiatry: Role of Self-Medication in the Development of Comorbid Anxiety and Substance Use Disorders
Alcohol Research Current Reviews: Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorders https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860396/
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