Do you understand the link between alcohol and anxiety?

If you’ve ever needed a drink to deal with anxiety or experienced anxiety after drinking, you’ll know the connection between the two is real. Let’s look at how they’re related and what we can do to help ourselves.

A glass of wine, cold beer or iced gin can be just the ticket to help us feel relaxed after a long and stressful day. It might ‘work’ in the short term, but is it actually doing us any good? 

Alcohol is a potent chemical that affects our bodily functions considerably, both in the short and long term. When we drink, our risk of injury increases, inhibitions are lowered, judgment is impaired and we can suffer from digestive problems, headaches and nausea or vomiting. Heavy, binge or frequent drinkers can experience relationship difficulties and reduced productivity as well as health problems like raised blood pressure, liver and kidney damage and ulcers. 

Anxiety is a term used to describe a feeling of unease, worry or panic. It can be experienced on a scale from mild to severe and can develop into a number of distressing anxiety disorders like PTSD, OCD and phobias. When we experience anxiety, our bodies have a stress response. Hormones are secreted that increase our heartrate, make us sweat and prepare to run from, or fight, danger. Anxiety is a normal emotion and the response is natural in stressful situations. But, if you’re living in a perpetual state of nerves, fear or anxiety, you may have an anxiety disorder. Lots of factors can contribute to this including lifestyle, work and home environments, chemical imbalances, trauma and more.  

Alcohol and anxiety both have dramatic effects on our bodily functions including the nervous, immune, respiratory, digestive and cardiovascular systems. Infact, consuming alcohol can worsen anxiety symptoms with: 

  • Decreased serotonin levels. In the short term it can boost them which is why we might feel good whilst drinking. Yet, in the long term, it decreases the levels of the chemical that regulates mood, happiness and anxiety. This makes us more susceptible to depression or anxiety issues. 
  • Hangovers. Not only do they leave us feeling weak and wretched, they can trigger panic attacks. Dehydration, nausea, shaking and rapid heartbeat are symptoms of a hangover that can set off acute anxiety.  
  • Reduced sleep quantity and quality. When we’ve been drinking, our sleep isn’t as beneficial. Lack of sleep primes us to be more anxious, reactive and stressed. 

Understanding how interconnected anxiety levels and alcohol intake are is the first step to change. Reducing alcohol consumption and finding beneficial ways to deal with anxiety is the next.  

Tips to reduce alcohol intake: 

  • The UK’s chief medical officer suggests both men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. This is only a guide and some people will benefit from drinking far less, or no alcohol. 
  • Commit to drink free days. Choose not to drink alcohol in the week or find a pattern that works for you. 
  • Try the alternatives. If it’s the taste you like, there’s lots of tasty no and low alcohol options in shops. From lager and beer to wine and gin, there’s something for all tastes. 
  • Cut it out. Lots of people prefer to abstain completely from alcohol to reduce their anxiety levels and find that they’re greatly reduced after just a few weeks. It’s important to put other measures in place to deal with anxiety. 

Tips to alleviate anxiety: 

  • Breath. Use a calming meditation, guided relaxation or yoga session to anchor you to your breath. Deep, rhythmic breathing is soothing to our nervous system and promotes relaxation. 
  • Eat well-balanced meals. Choose low GI, fibre rich foods to avoid sugar spikes and crashes that exacerbate anxiety symptoms. 
  • Take time out. Listen to some music or write your thoughts in a journal. Seeing them on paper can help you challenge and reframe them. 
  • Avoid caffeine as well as alcohol as it can be a trigger for anxiety too. 
  • Talk it out. Call a trusted friend or family member if you’re in need, hearing their voice will be reassuring and calming.  

If you find yourself struggling to deal with anxiety, alcohol intake or a combination of the two, get in touch with your GP for guidance. They can signpost you to appropriate help and possibly refer you for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a talking therapy, hugely effective for treating anxiety and alcohol consumption.  

However anxiety manifests in your life, and whatever way you’ve used alcohol to cope, you’re not alone. Life can be stressful, we all use strategies to get by and sometimes we need to learn better, positive ones. There’s no shame in asking for help if you need it, it’s out there waiting for you.   


Thinking about a change in your drinking habits? You’re not alone. Join our free Drink Less programme and receive the compassionate support, guidance, and expertise you need. Whether you aim to stop drinking or simply want to reduce your intake for a healthier lifestyle, we’re here to help you every step of the way.


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