How to deal with anxiety when you quit drinking

We’ve looked into how alcohol affects your physical health, but what are the effects it has on our mental health. According to the World Health Organisation, mental health conditions are on the rise, with “a 13% rise in mental health conditions and substance use disorders in the last decade (to 2017).” As we devote more and more attention to addressing these conditions, it is important to consider how substance abuse, specifically alcohol, plays into feelings of anxiety, depression, and contributes to increased stress.

How long does anxiety last after you quit drinking?

The anxiety you feel after quitting alcohol is a common side effect of alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol Rehab Help explains that “Long-term alcohol users expose their brains to alcohol so often that the brain adjusts to compensate for the sedating effect of the chemicals.” As your body tries to adjust to the change it is experiencing, you will likely experience anxiety, as well as insomnia, hallucinations, and shaking. These symptoms will last for a few days and will have faded away by ten days after you have your last drink. Pushing yourself and keeping yourself accountable for maintaining your sobriety will pay off in the long-run, especially once you make it past the initial symptoms of withdrawal.

How long after stopping drinking does your mood improve?

While it takes much longer for your body to fully adjust to abstinence from alcohol, especially if you have developed an alcohol dependency, it typically takes you about 5-7 days to see the effects of quitting. In the process, you will experience a variety of changes in your body and mind, including changes to your mood. Research from the Mental Health Foundation shows that alcohol, as a depressant, disrupts the “balance of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in your brain and affects your feelings, thoughts and behaviour.” Within a week of stopping alcohol consumption, you will feel your mood to be more regular and likely uplifted, as your body undergoes less stress and fatigue. 

Can quitting alcohol cause panic attacks?

The relationship between alcohol consumption and panic attacks, both while drinking alcohol  and after stopping is visible. Research from the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry showed that 25% of people who looked into treatment for panic disorders indicated a history of alcohol dependency. Alcohol affects various chemicals in the brain including GABA, serotonin, and dopamine. When these chemicals are altered, specifically GABA which relaxes you, it can impact the way you are able to react to different situations and lead to panic. When you quit alcohol, especially after long-term alcohol consumption, there will be effects from breaking the dependency your body has formed. The American Addition Centre explains that this leads to alcohol withdrawal and can result in the alcohol withdrawal, increased anxiety, and panic attacks as your body attempts to regain control. 

How does alcohol affect anxiety?

Alcohol consumption can lead to a development of anxiety, as well as worsen pre-existing anxiety symptoms. For some individuals, this is the result of using alcohol as a means for coping with symptoms. Information from the American Addiction Centres highlights how alcohol can be especially harmful to anxiety when that anxiety is caused by “past trauma, financial stress, or untreated depression.” Although you may feel more relaxed in the moment, in the long-run alcohol-use disorder, as well as increased difficulty in coping with the anxiety as you neglect the treatment of your underlying triggers.

How does alcohol affect depression?

Similarly to anxiety, alcohol consumption is linked to depression in multiple ways. As a depressant, alcohol directly alters the balance of chemicals in your brain and can lead you to feel more confident and relaxed. While these feelings are commonly felt in the moment, the effects are not constant, especially when you begin to drink more and more. According to Drinkaware, “Once your brain has high levels of alcohol affecting it, it’s possible the pleasant effects of your first drink will be replaced by negative emotions such as depression, anxiety or anger – even if you were in a good mood when you started drinking.” By altering the natural balance of mood-altering chemicals in your brian, alcohol has the power to directly affect depression, leading to deeper and more intense symptoms.  

Does alcohol cause long-term anxiety?

Alcohol consumption can worsen the symptoms of long-term anxiety, especially when consumed frequently and in large quantities. Alcohol is a depressant which means that it affects the central nervous system by making us relax and feel more at ease. While this feeling typically lasts during the duration of alcohol consumption, it is often followed by your body attempting to fix the chemical changes and this can result in increased anxiety and stress. Additionally, as you consume more and more alcohol, specifically in attempts to relieve anxiety, your body will grow evermore dependent on the stimulant, as articulated by Drinkaware UK. As you develop a greater tolerance alongside the dependency, you will require more and more alcohol to keep you feeling relaxed. Ultimately, this process will lead to long-term stress and anxiety, both from the alcohol itself and the dependency you’ve formed.

How do I get rid of anxiety after drinking?

Hangover anxiety, or “hangxiety,” often comes hand in hand with the physical ailments that come with drinking such as a headache, nausea, disorientation, and a loss of appetite. This “overwhelming feeling of anxiety” is what George Koob, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, describes as a “mini withdrawal syndrome.” As the alcohol wears off from your system, your body reacts by releasing the suppressed anxiety and stress from the period you spent drinking. 

The best way to handle and eliminate this “hangxiety” is by starting at the root of the issue. Limiting your alcohol intake will ensure that you aren’t placed in such situations in the first place. Additionally, hydrating your body, as dehydration is a common effect of heavy drinking, as well as eating plenty of healthy, balanced food is vital to maintaining your health. Another important way to manage the feelings of anxiety after a night of drinking is rest. Be it sleep, meditation, or simply lounging around, allowing your body time to recover and heal will help with feelings of anxiety.