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Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

Drinking to Quiet Anxiety

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Researchers found that significant numbers of people drank when either feeling happy (at a party) or in a quiet mood -- but that did not indicate impending problems. However, the study found that people who were nervous drank more and this seemed to reduce their anxiety.

And while many women in the study used alcohol to quell their nerves, men did so more consistently -- and found it more effective than did women.

Though some people may believe that alcohol lightens or lifts their mood, Swendsen explains that alcohol is actually a depressant that suppresses the unpleasant arousal of the central nervous system that causes feelings of nervousness. "Less alcohol may be consumed by individuals when feeling quiet because they are already in a state of low activation or arousal and thus require less 'medication,'" he writes.

"Chronically nervous individuals may more frequently engage in [drinking] and thus may be at potentially higher risk for alcohol-related disorders," Swendsen writes. He goes on to explain that people who are often nervous may drink more frequently and potentially place themselves at a higher risk for drinking problems.

So what's the take-home message? "It's something that people should be cautious about. There are other treatments for anxiety other than alcohol that may be less dangerous to them," says Karen Drexler, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta.

"For people who have mood or anxiety disorders, the level of anxiety and mood changes can be extreme and can be long-lasting," Drexler tells WebMD. "Alcohol is not a good way to treat that. There are good medications. ... The newer [antidepressants called] serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been shown to help, especially with anxiety, social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and they are not addicting. And talking therapy also helps. The two together is probably the best."

 

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