If you went to a NYE party with your friends, then you might have had a drink, or two, or three… For some people, having a drink on a night out may help relieve anxiety or loosen inhibitions. However, on the flipside, drinking alcohol might actually increase feelings of anxiety and uneasiness which can be uncomfortable.
Personally, I’ve never had a sip of alcohol, ever.
Yes, really — no wine, beer, cocktails, nada. My reason to stay sober stems from my Generalized Anxiety Disorder. While many people with anxiety feel inclined to drink to get some short term relief, I have anxiety about exactly that.
What if I don’t have control? What if I can’t think clearly? All of the “what if’s” have prevented me from drinking and I don’t have a problem with that. However, I’m not going to lie, sometimes it can be difficult to feel comfortable in social situations when everyone around you is drinking and you’re there with a shirley temple.
Josie Maida, a Florida-based foodie and food writer, has plans on being sober in the New Year for reasons similar to my own. “I really feel that in so many cases in my life alcohol has made the problem worse. It just throws me off, and I never know if I will feel happy and fun drinking or anxious and stressed.
If you drink a bit more than you care to admit, then you might be thinking about participating in ‘Dry January.’ Even if you drink sparingly, you may still want to explore sober curiosity and reduce your alcohol intake. Everyone’s reason for cutting back or going sober is different and they are all valid.
“Many people choose not to drink or not drink heavily for many reasons and it’s important to respect someone’s choice if they turn down an alcoholic drink,” says Kristen Gingrich, licensed clinical social worker and certified alcohol and drug counselor.
Before we dive deeper
It’s important to note that you cannot simply cut out all alcohol cold turkey if your intake is high. If you do that, then you could experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be quite dangerous. In these situations, you’ll want to seek professional help at a rehabilitation program or other clinic where you’ll have support during every step of the way.
Now let’s find out more about the correlation between alcohol and anxiety and tips for cutting back on alcohol consumption from counselors and doctors.
Can a break from alcohol help with anxiety?
There are a plethora of reasons one might have anxiety, so you can’t pinpoint every case on alcohol. However, drinking definitely doesn’t help especially if one is looking for long term relief from symptoms.
“Heavy drinking exacerbates anxiety, depression and insomnia,” says Dr. Kristin Gill, psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer for Minded, an online psychiatry company designed for women. “Even small changes in alcohol consumption can have a significant impact on physical and mental health.”
With this in mind, taking a break or cutting back on alcohol consumption (if it’s safe for you to do so), may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and improve those of related disorders.
And since Blogilates is the #1 female fitness channel on YouTube, we might as well add how Dr. Gill said that women, at baseline, are already at a greater risk for developing alcohol-related illnesses (such as liver disease, certain cancers, brain, and heart damage) compared to men due to differences in how alcohol is metabolized. In addition to helping with anxiety, cutting back on alcohol may also improve other areas of your overall health making the case even more compelling.
‘Hangxiety’ is a thing too
When people talk about hangovers, they usually complain about the headache, nausea, and fatigue. But there’s another common hangover woe that is often overlooked (or not as often talked about): anxiety.
Alcohol interferes with some neurotransmitters, which makes you feel relaxed and “loose” while you’re drinking. But once the alcohol wears off, that interference can make you feel more anxious (or depressed) than before.
A hangover can also cause some physical symptoms that mimic anxiety, like feeling nervous and mentally drained.
How to cut back on alcohol consumption
This process is going to look different for everyone, and we want to reiterate how this isn’t possible for everyone depending on current drinking habits. You’ll need to speak with your doctor or a substance abuse professional to make sure it’s safe to do so and come up with a plan that’s healthy for how.
“Many people use alcohol as a coping mechanism to help their anxiety especially in social situations, so if you take that away without replacing it with any other coping skills, you will see an increase in symptoms,” says Gingrich.
Individuals who are most likely to experience these symptoms are people who already have underlying conditions such as depression, anxiety or other mental illness.
However, for more casual drinkers, here are a few general tips on how you can consider cutting back on drinking alcohol:
Get friends and family involved
Whether you have goals of eventually being completely sober or solely wanting to participate in “Dry January,” you’ll want to see if you can get your friends and family involved. It can be a semi-isolating experience to cut back on alcohol when everyone else around you is drinking.
“The downs can feel lonely at times, and some friendships/ relationships are lost because you no longer drink, but that is the culture of alcohol,” says Courtney Andersen, sober life coach and founder of Sober Vibes. “In the end, I choose sobriety one thousand times over the time spent in my active addiction to alcohol.”
However, if you have a few friends or family members willing and able to get on board with you, then it may be easier.
“If you have some friends and family members get on board, you can have and participate in social gatherings without feeling left out,” says Gill. “It may help take away some of the pressure generally presented at a party to drink and “loosen up.”
Order a mocktail
Many establishments now offer an extensive mocktail menu filled with delicious drinks that can be enjoyed on a night out that don’t contain alcohol. Gingrich says this can be a good alternative for those looking to cut back on alcohol consumption.
Journal about your experiences
Taking this step to cut back on alcohol may bring up some feelings inside and you’ll want to have a place to express those. “You may find it helpful to set aside five minutes a day to write about how you are feeling emotionally and physically while you are not drinking,” says Gill. “Keep note of when you have the strongest urge to drink and when you feel like you miss alcohol the most. This can help you to identify patterns in your drinking.”
Be kind to yourself
It may seem easy to let a setback blur all of the progress you’ve made, but try to remind yourself that you’re trying your best.
“Take it a day at a time, find a community, and know that letting go of alcohol is an act of self-care,” says Andersen.