It’s not uncommon at all to hear that someone that suffers from an anxiety disorder may also struggle with alcohol dependence, as the two seem to go hand in hand much of the time. In fact, up to 45 percent of those who are diagnosed with alcohol dependence also meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder. You or someone you know may have used alcohol to calm your nerves a time or two, as it is quite common, but problems start when a dependence occurs and it’s difficult to stop.
To understand this dilemma, there are three clear explanations for the connection. First, someone who is experiencing a high amount of anxiety, especially in a social situation, may reach for alcohol to calm the nerves. Two or three drinks has the tendency to suppress the nervous system some, making that person relax a bit more. In essence, they self-medicate themselves via alcohol. Second, for the person that continues to rely on alcohol to calm the nerves, that person’s stress response system in the body gets disrupted. The drinking calms the nerves, but then the stress system goes through withdrawal and oftentimes more stress will be experienced as a result. The repetitive withdrawal cycle can cause them to keep reaching for more and more alcohol. Thirdly, the link could be due to a more psychological issue like extreme sensitivity to anxiety and a predisposition to alcohol dependence.
It’s estimated that approximately 15 million adults in the United States are currently diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, many of these men and women self-medicate using alcohol. According to Stein and Walker in the book Triumph Over Shyness: Conquering Social Anxiety Disorder, many times what occurs is that those who struggle with social anxiety have co-occurring emotional issues like depression, which can make trying to contend with anxiety much more difficult. Stein and Walker also point out that self-medicating anxiety with alcohol can actually make anxiety worse, causing it to increase. It can also boost depression and irritability the day or two after drinking.
Do you suffer from alcohol dependence?
Take a look at the following characteristics and see if any resonate with you:
• Do you drink alcohol to calm your nerves?
• Do you drink more than four times per week?
• Have you tried to stop drinking before to no avail?
• Do you drink in the mornings?
• Do you lie about how much or how often you are drinking?
• Have friends of family members talked to you about your drinking habits?
• Do you feel badly about your alcohol consumption?
If you see yourself in more than one or two of these characteristics, you could very well have a problem with alcohol.
Whether you’re dealing with social anxiety, alcohol dependence, or both, there is help available in the form of various treatments.
Alcohol Rehab. Rehab is a valuable tool to help those who are dependent upon alcohol to get free. There is inpatient rehab, in which you stay at the facility, and there is outpatient rehab, which includes Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP’S), or Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP’s) where you simply attend at designated times throughout the week ranging from 9-30 hours a week. Both options are a great way to get free from alcoholism and social anxiety.
12 Step Meetings. Attending a 12 Step group like Alcoholics Anonymous is helpful to get free from alcoholism, as there is a lot of support and the opportunity to get yourself a sponsor and work through the 12 Steps. In doing so, you will have the opportunity to perhaps decrease or eliminate those symptoms of social anxiety as well.
Counseling. By seeing a therapist, you are able to receive the support and insight that you need in order to contend with alcohol dependence and anxiety. It’s a great idea to commit to counseling for a short (or long) period of time to develop new goals, learn to be mindful and discover new ways of responding to the symptoms of both conditions.
Anxiety and alcohol dependence do go hand in hand sometimes, but there is treatment available for both. If you recognize yourself in either or both conditions, do not hesitate to step out and get yourself on the road to recovery. There is certainly freedom available for you; you simply have to take that first step.
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