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Alcohol and Anxiety: What You Should Know

By Meagan Drillinger
Medically Reviewed by Arpan Parikh, MD, MBA on August 02, 2021
Alcoholism and anxiety are two separate disorders that can occur simultaneously. Here's what you should know about a dual diagnosis.

Having a glass of wine to unwind may feel like a great way to end a long day, but how do you know when you're alcohol dependent? And if you have anxiety, does alcohol alleviate or aggravate your symptoms?

If you find that you're reaching for alcohol to cope with anxiety, it could be a sign of a larger problem.

Symptoms of Alcoholism

According to the Mayo Clinic, alcoholism is the inability to control drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, or continuing to use alcohol even when it is causing problems in other areas of your life.

Physical symptoms of alcoholism can include:

  • Headaches
  • Impaired coordination
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Shaking
  • Mood changes
  • Irritability
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Unexplained falls
  • Anxiety

"Alcoholism may involve certain behavior such as hiding alcohol, inability to stop drinking, heavy drinking, and chronic binge drinking," said Dr. Scott Krakower, D.O. and Unit Chief of Psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety is a natural part of life, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It's the body's natural response to stressful situations. But anxiety disorders go beyond the typical bodily response. For people with anxiety disorder, the feelings tend to be constant and can worsen over time.

Physical symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Changes in concentration
  • Fast heart rate
  • Increased breathing
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty controlling worry

Dual Diagnosis: Alcoholism and Anxiety

When alcoholism and anxiety fuel each other, this is known as a dual diagnosis, according to Dr. Krakower. According to American Addiction Centers, individuals who have a dual diagnosis of an anxiety disorder and a substance use disorder like alcoholism were far more common than those who had a singular diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.

Prolonged drinking can cause anxiety in some cases, even if you're using alcohol to help calm you down. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), even moderate drinking can exacerbate anxiety after a few hours. 

Get Help Now

If you are diagnosed with alcoholism and anxiety as co-occuring disorders, you don't want them to go untreated. It's important to treat both disorders.

The good news is that there are plenty of treatment options available for people struggling with a dual diagnosis, whether it's consulting a physician, joining a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), enrolling in a treatment/detox center, or seeking help from a counselor or therapist.

WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help find the option that's right for you.

Treatment & Resources for Alcohol Addiction