On the Rocks

Alcohol and anxiety

“I would not put a thief in my mouth to steal my brains”

William Shakespeare , Othello

On the rocks

On the rocks – literally

Man throughout the ages has battled with his demons and more often than not will reach for the booze to forget his worries, numb his thoughts and to try and feel better.

The problem is, alcohol will always cause more issues than it solves.

The worst type of drinking is out of boredom.

You’re sat around at home, nothing to do and that thought pops in to your mind ‘a drink or two will relieve the boredom and chill me out’.

Before you know it, you’re still awake at midnight. Your mind empty and your motivation to get to bed to be ready for the next day has gone.

I’m not advocating that alcohol should always be avoided.

A glass of wine with a meal, a beer or two out with a few friends or a glass of bubbly to celebrate can be very enjoyable.

The issue comes when you drink to forget your problems, to relieve boredom or just because you feel like pressing the self-destruct button and drinking yourself into oblivion.

You need self-control when it comes to drinking.

This is tough and is often why you find that many people seem to treat alcohol as ‘all or nothing’.

Anxiety and alcohol

So why do so many people with anxiety still reach for the drink when they know it can be part of the problem?

You’ll often find it is for two reasons:

  1. When they’re bored and sat in alone – it helps to numb their thoughts so they do not cause them to feel stressed and anxious.
  2. When they’re on nights out meeting new people – they feel they need the drink to give them the confidence to talk and interact with people.

Many people with anxiety see alcohol as something they need to relax and to enjoy social situations.

The problem is that it often requires a lot of drink to get them feeling comfortable enough and they have to drink quickly to get there.

This means that the following day they are too hungover to do anything worthwhile.

So they fester in bed, their anxiety heightened and with no motivation to make the most of the day.

I can imagine a lot of you have been there before and can relate with many of the following the day after a night’s drinking:

    • Anxiety – the hangover makes you feel ill and you start to worry about the damage you’ve done to your brain
    • Panic – the worry spirals further and further until you find yourself in the grip of a panic attack
    • Depression – you’re fed up with feeling like this, a wasted day also plays on your mind.
    • Little or no motivation – you have no drive or focus, all your body and mind wants to do is to recover and feel normal again.
    • Low self esteem – you’re worried about what you said or did the night before and what people now think about you.
    • A weak sense of self – the worry of the night before makes you criticise and berate yourself, you feel weak and vulnerable.
    • Laziness – usually caused by low quality or lack of sleep.
    • Poor diet – any motivation to eat well goes out the window, you crave food high in fats and sugars.
    • No exercise – the last thing you want to do is go for that run or lift some weights.
    • Poor bank balance – you check your statement and realise that round of 10 shots you bought everyone and which seemed such a good idea at the time really wasn’t worth the 30 quid it cost you.

To me it’s fairly clear. Using alcohol to cope with anxiety is actually part of the problem.

By drinking to cope with situations or to stop thoughts, you are submitting to the fact that you cannot cope.

This tells your subconscious you need the drink to try and feel better, but in fact it can be a large part of what is causing the issue.

Why should you need to change your brain chemistry just to enjoy yourself?

You don’t, we all have the ability to alter our thought processes for the better without the use of a drug.

Why should you stop using alcohol to cope with anxiety?

If you use alcohol to help cope with your anxiety it is exactly that. A coping technique.

Not a recovery technique.

Alcohol makes your brain leave reality by numbing your thoughts.

Well I say – stop trying to escape reality!

Instead focus on making reality the better place.

Reality is amazing, it’s where your mind is supposed to be.

Where it can develop and improve, where you can make things happen and push yourself to do the things your fear has held you back from.

The highs you get from the feelings of productivity, achievement and exercise far outweigh those from drink.

They also last longer too.

Not only that, but you don’t get the lows which follow and you’re then inspired even more to continue and your motivation can only grow.

One of the best feelings after an evening out with friends on little or no alcohol is to wake up the next day early and get stuck straight into the days tasks.

Be it as simple as mowing the lawn or going for a run, that feeling of knowing that your mind is clear and ready to take action is incredible.

Even better when a few hours later one of your mates from the night before calls you still lying in their bed and begging you to drop them over a McDonalds because they can’t even face leaving their bed, let alone opening the curtains and seeing what a beautiful day it is outside.

Stop letting booze dictate your life and your moods, use it only for those occasions when it makes a positive difference.

Even then understand that the relaxed feeling after a couple of drinks is so much nicer than loosing the power of speech, spinning out in your bed or even worse, passing out and forgetting the night completely.

This simple change can do wonders for your mind.

It will lower your stress, anxiety and feelings of panic.

Those days which you now spend busy and active, rather than shut away trying to recover, build confidence and drive so that you can achieve the goals you are working towards.

Drinking kills the motivation required to take the steps you need to remove your reason for drinking.

It’s a vicious cycle and one which feels incredible to break free from!

How do you do this?

I believe alcohol can have a place in your life, but you must be disciplined enough to make it work for you, not against you.

Once you’ve had a couple of drinks your inhibitions become lowered and having the required willpower to not continue drinking is not easy.

This can be even harder when out with a group of friends who are knocking it back and willing you to do the same.  It’s therefore likely that you’ll slip up from time to time. However, it doesn’t take long to not care what they think and do what is right for you.

Learn that you can have one or two beers/glasses of wine to relax a little and feel the good side of alcohol, but the next day you’ll still wake up feeling fresh and ready to go.

Don’t push it, know your limits and stick to them. There is something very rewarding to the mind about having that kind of self discipline.

From time to time you can get away with a heavy nights drinking. You should however do this knowing that it will impact your anxiety over the next few days.

If you do this as a conscious decision then strangely enough the next few days often aren’t as bad, because you’ve already accepted you’re going to feel this way.

Which just goes to show how much of it really is in the mind.

Nights out sober can be just as enjoyable. Driving also helps as it removes the temptation to drink.

I know that when I meet up with the guys from my football team for a poker night I enjoy it way more than I ever did when drinking. That might also have something to do with the fact I win more money when I’m sober and they’re not!

If you want to cut out alcohol from your life completely then great although, just by lowering your intake, it will soon start to become a much less important thing in your life.

Evenings out become more about the event and the people you share it with, rather than the getting drunk.

You’ll be glad to no longer need the effects of alcohol to feel good about yourself. You’ll also find that the real world without alcohol can be much more rewarding then you ever thought before.

Or……..you can hit the bottle hard and by Sunday night it’s likely you’ll feel in no mental state to face the week ahead.

Your Monday will then start off on the wrong footing and it can sometimes take up until the Thursday to feel normal again.

Then it’s just another day until it’s the weekend again and the vicious cycle continues.

If you’re drinking during the week as well then you’re never giving your brain the chance to recover.

Why not see if there’s more out there then an empty head and a hangover. Something to beat your anxiety rather than try and escape it for a few hours.

It’s a simple choice, and I know what mine is.

If you struggle with reducing your alcohol intake or would like to cut it out completely then read my article on The Easy Way to Control your Drinking and Help Reduce Anxiety.


Hugo Rock


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