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Managing Anxiety After Quitting Drinking Alcohol

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Imagine a see-saw. On one side is anxiety, on the other, alcohol. For some, it feels like a balancing act – drinking to dampen the fear, only to find it roaring back with a vengeance. But what happens when you remove alcohol from the equation? This blog post will guide you through the complex relationship between anxiety and alcohol, the consequences of quitting, and the strategies to manage anxiety after quitting drinking, all with the aim of helping you find a healthier balance.

Short Summary

  • Quitting alcohol can cause anxiety in the short and long-term, but with proper treatment and support systems you can successfully manage these effects.

  • Develop healthier coping skills to help manage your anxiety positively, such as physical exercise or mindfulness techniques.

  • Seek professional help for guidance on managing both Anxiety & Alcohol Use Disorder, this journey is worth it!

The Connection Between Anxiety and Alcohol

                                                     A person feeling anxious while drinking alcohol

Do you find yourself reaching for a glass of wine or a bottle of beer when you’re feeling anxious? You’re not alone. Research by the Anxiety and Depression Association suggests that one in five individuals with anxiety, including panic disorder, turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism and hence suffer from alcohol abuse of dependence. It’s like placing a band-aid on a deep wound – it might soothe the immediate discomfort, but the underlying issue remains untouched.

Alcohol can indeed provide short-term relief from anxiety symptoms, acting as a type of self-medication. But it’s a deceptive ally. While it might seem to dull the sharp edges of stress or fear, regular drinking can actually exacerbate anxiety symptoms, affecting the central nervous system. It’s as if you’re stuck in a cycle, where anxiety fuels alcohol use, and alcohol use fuels anxiety.

So, how can you break free? Well, it’s not as simple as just quitting drinking. When you stop using alcohol, especially if you’ve been drinking heavily, your body can react with a range of withdrawal symptoms, known as acute alcohol withdrawal. But don’t worry, there are strategies to manage these effects, and we’ll discuss them in detail later on.

The Role of Alcohol in Coping Mechanisms

Alcohol can be a tempting refuge when you’re feeling anxious. It’s like a magic cloak, making you feel temporarily invisible to your fears. This is due to a theory known as the “tension reduction hypothesis”, which proposes that alcohol can shield the brain from anxiety symptoms, providing a sense of relief. But like any magic trick, the illusion doesn’t last.

When the cloak disappears, you’re left feeling vulnerable and exposed, often with a heightened sense of anxiety. In the long run, alcohol dependence can lead to more severe mental health issues, including anxiety disorders. It’s like being trapped in a maze – the more you drink, the more you want to drink to cope with the increasing anxiety and the risk of alcohol abuse. Understanding the impact of alcohol consumption on mental health is crucial to breaking this cycle.

But the exit doesn’t lie in the next bottle; it lies in developing healthier coping skills and seeking professional help.

The Impact of Alcohol on Brain Function

Alcohol does more than just dull your senses when you drink alcohol. Alcohol also messes with your brain’s chemistry. You might feel a temporary ‘boost’ the night before, but the next day you may find yourself feeling anxious, down, or depressed due to the deficiency of happiness chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. It’s like a rollercoaster ride that leaves you feeling dizzy and disoriented.

Adding to this rollercoaster ride is something known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), an extended period of alcohol withdrawal that can last for months or even years. Anxiety disorders have been identified as a frequent contributor to cases of PAWS in individuals recovering from alcohol addiction. But don’t despair, the ride can be tamed, and we’ll talk about how in the sections to come.

Quitting Drinking and Its Effects on Anxiety

                                                  A person feeling anxious while quitting drinking alcohol

You’ve decided to quit drinking. You’re ready for change. But as the alcohol leaves your system, you might find yourself wrestling with increased anxiety levels. Why is that? When an alcoholic stops drinking suddenly, their brain can become overstimulated due to the higher quantities of serotonin and norepinephrine it produces compared to a non-alcoholic’s brain. It’s like a pendulum swinging back with full force, causing an upheaval of emotions and physical discomfort.

These changes within the body can lead to various withdrawal symptoms, which can further intensify anxiety. These symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe, potentially life-threatening conditions. But don’t let this discourage you from your path to sobriety. Understanding what happens to your body when you quit drinking can equip you with the knowledge you need to manage these effects.

Finding top-rated addiction services near Charleston is crucial because quitting alcohol doesn’t merely bring about immediate changes. On the journey to sobriety, individuals may encounter a longer-term withdrawal phase known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Picture it as navigating choppy waters after a storm. Nevertheless, fear not, as there are effective strategies and strong support systems available to help you navigate these turbulent times.=

Withdrawal Symptoms and Their Relation to Anxiety

When you quit drinking, your body might react like a confused symphony conductor, leading to a cacophony of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can include:

It’s as if your body is sounding an alarm, signaling the absence of alcohol.

Some might experience a severe form of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens. This condition can be serious, even life-threatening, and it’s crucial to seek professional medical attention when detoxing from alcohol after heavy long-term use. “In general, delirium appears after 2–3 days of cessation of drinking and usually lasts 48–72 h, but occasionally lasts much longer.” ( Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, E.E. Benarroch, 2009)

However, not everyone will experience severe withdrawal. Regardless, awareness of these symptoms can prepare you for the changes that might occur during the initial stage of alcohol withdrawal, known as acute withdrawal.

The Role of PAWS in Prolonged Anxiety

Imagine you’ve successfully navigated the initial storm of withdrawal symptoms. You might feel like you’ve weathered the worst of it. But for some, particularly those with a long history of alcoholism, a more subtle, drawn-out phase of withdrawal awaits: post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWS. It’s like the aftershocks that follow an earthquake, less intense but still disruptive.

PAWS can be a formidable challenge, but understanding it is a powerful tool in your recovery toolkit. This longer period of withdrawal can include symptoms such as mood swings, sleep disturbances, and, you guessed it, anxiety. By recognizing the possibility of PAWS, you can equip yourself with the knowledge and strategies to weather this phase of recovery.

Remember, the goal is not just to avoid PAWS, but to ensure your recovery stays on track, avoiding any extreme anxiety or other symptoms that might lead to relapse.

Strategies for Managing Anxiety After Quitting Alcohol

                          A person developing healthy coping skills to manage anxiety after quitting alcohol

Now that you understand the connection between anxiety and alcohol, and the effects of quitting drinking, let’s explore some strategies for managing anxiety. It’s like being handed a map and compass to navigate the complex landscape of recovery. From developing healthy coping skills to seeking professional help, the road to managing anxiety is both personal and unique.

One of the most effective ways to manage anxiety is to develop healthy coping skills. Instead of reaching for a drink when you’re feeling anxious, you could take a walk, practice deep breathing, or engage in a hobby you enjoy. It’s like swapping a crutch for a sturdy pair of hiking boots, giving you the support you need without the negative effects.

Yet, managing anxiety isn’t a journey you have to undertake alone. Seeking professional help can equip you with effective coping strategies, enhance your knowledge of your anxiety disorder and mental health condition, and ultimately decrease anxiety and depression. It’s like having a guide by your side, helping you navigate the terrain of recovery.

Developing Healthy Coping Skills

                                         A person practicing yoga to cope with anxiety after quitting drinking

Coping with generalized anxiety disorder is a bit like learning how to swim. At first, the water might seem overwhelming and scary. But with the right techniques and plenty of practice, you can learn to navigate the waves of anxiety. This is where healthy coping skills come in. Engaging in physical exercises like yoga, tai chi, and running, or practicing mindfulness and meditation can help manage anxiety in a positive way.

Similarly, stress management techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and biofeedback are great tools for managing anxiety. It’s like having a toolbox full of different tools, each serving its unique purpose to help you navigate the sea of anxiety.

Seeking Professional Help

Just as you wouldn’t attempt to climb a mountain without a guide, tackling anxiety and alcohol use disorder shouldn’t be done alone. Seeking professional help can be a vital part of your recovery journey. It’s like having a trusted guide who can show you the safest and most effective path to the summit.

Therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can be incredibly helpful in managing anxiety. Similarly, medication options such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and benzodiazepines can help manage your anxiety. It’s like using a map and compass in your journey of recovery, giving you the direction and reassurance you need.

The Benefits of Quitting Alcohol for Anxiety

                             A person feeling improved mental health and well-being after quitting alcohol

The road to recovery might be fraught with challenges, but the destination is worth it. Quitting alcohol can significantly decrease anxiety symptoms and enhance mental health. It’s like stepping into a brighter, clearer world, where the fog of anxiety and alcohol use starts to lift.

Imagine waking up in the morning feeling refreshed and energized instead of groggy and anxious. Or being able to handle stress without feeling the need to reach for a drink. These are just some of the benefits that can come with quitting alcohol. It’s like taking off a heavy backpack you’ve been carrying around, lightening your load and enabling you to move forward more freely.

Moreover, quitting alcohol can also reduce the risk of developing co-occurring anxiety and alcohol use disorders. It’s like fortifying your fortress, making it stronger and more resistant to future attacks.

Improved Mental Health and Well-being

When you quit drinking, it’s as if you’re allowing your brain to hit the reset button. Over time, your mood can improve, your sleep quality can improve, and your overall mental health can significantly improve. It’s like waking up from a long, troubled sleep to a bright and peaceful morning.

By giving your brain the rest and recovery it needs to heal and regain balance, you can experience improved mental clarity, better decision-making, and improved emotional regulation. It’s like finally seeing the world in high definition, with colors brighter and details sharper than before.

Reduced Risk of Co-occurring Disorders

Quitting alcohol is like taking a proactive step towards preventing a host of co-occurring disorders, including:

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

It’s like getting a flu shot, reducing your risk of falling ill.

By avoiding alcohol, you can significantly decrease the risk of developing co-occurring anxiety and alcohol use disorders and eliminate the potential for alcohol to worsen existing mental health conditions or trigger new ones. It’s like building a protective shield around your mental health, keeping you safe from potential threats.

Support Systems for Overcoming Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorder

                A person building a strong personal support network to overcome anxiety and alcohol use disorder

No man is an island, and the same goes for anyone dealing with anxiety and alcohol use disorder. Having a support system in place during recovery can be incredibly beneficial, providing emotional and practical support, as well as accountability and guidance to help you stay on track. It’s like having a team of cheerleaders by your side, ready to celebrate your victories and help you stand up when you stumble.

From residential treatment programs and intensive outpatient programs to support groups, there’s a plethora of resources you can tap into. It’s like having a buffet of options to choose from, allowing you to pick what suits your needs and preferences the best.

Yet, a support system isn’t just about professional help. Your personal network of family and friends can play a crucial role in your recovery journey, providing the love, understanding, and encouragement you need. It’s like having a safety net, knowing there are people who care about you and your well-being.

The Role of Support Groups

Support groups can be a beacon of hope for those dealing with anxiety and alcohol use disorder. They offer a safe space where you can share your experiences, learn from others, and receive the encouragement you need to stay on track. It’s like joining a community of people who truly understand what you’re going through.

Whether it’s Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery, Al-Anon, or Women for Sobriety, there’s a support group out there that can fit your needs and preferences. It’s like finding your tribe, a group of people who can walk alongside you on your journey to recovery and offer success stories of quitting alcohol.

Building a Strong Personal Support Network

Building a personal support network is like constructing a safety net. It’s composed of people who care about you and your well-being, ready to catch you when you fall and help you get back on your feet. Your network can include:

  • Family members

  • Friends

  • Peers

  • Professionals like therapists and counselors

Just as a building is constructed brick by brick, building your support network requires time and effort. However, by being open and honest, respecting the needs of others, and maintaining healthy boundaries, you can create a network that not only supports your recovery but also enriches your life. It’s like planting a garden, nurturing each relationship so it can grow and flourish.


Navigating the journey from anxiety and alcohol use disorder to recovery can feel like traversing a maze. Yet, equipped with the right knowledge and tools, you can find your way out. From understanding the connection between anxiety and alcohol to learning how to manage anxiety after quitting drinking, every step you take brings you closer to a healthier, more balanced life.

As you embark on your path to recovery with Lantana Recovery, always keep in mind that this journey is more like a marathon than a sprint. It demands patience, perseverance, and abundant support along the way. With every step you take, you’re not only distancing yourself from alcohol and anxiety but also moving closer to a life of enhanced mental health and overall well-being. So, stay committed, keep progressing, and remember that you have a community of like-minded individuals accompanying you on this transformative journey. You’re never alone in this process.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does anxiety last after quitting drinking?

Quitting drinking can cause anxious feelings and mood problems, however many people find that these symptoms improve within 3 weeks.

Those suffering from post-acute withdrawal syndrome may take longer to see their anxiety improve.

Is it normal to have anxiety after quitting drinking?

It is normal to feel anxious after quitting drinking, as it is common for many who have recently gone sober. Don’t worry, there are ways to cope with the anxiety without alcohol and you are not alone in feeling this way.

There are many resources available to help you manage your anxiety, such as therapy, support groups, and lifestyle changes. Taking the time to focus on your mental health and well-being can help you.

How can I control my anxiety without alcohol?

Try mindful breathing exercises, meditation or yoga to control your anxiety without alcohol. Engage in these practices daily and you’ll feel the difference over time!

How long does depression take to go away after quitting alcohol?

Depression symptoms can usually improve within 3 to 4 weeks of abstaining from alcohol. While attempting to quit can worsen depression, the symptoms are generally benign and self-limiting and will likely remit without specific treatment.

Can quitting alcohol improve my anxiety?

Quitting alcohol can definitely help reduce your anxiety levels and improve your overall mental wellbeing.


Warren Phillips

Warren is a Licensed Master Social Worker, who specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Clinically, Warren has developed a therapeutic skillset that utilizes a strengths-based perspective, Twelve Step philosophies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

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Located on the historic peninsula of Charleston, South Carolina, Lantana Recovery takes a modern approach to Substance Use Disorder treatment, offering intensive clinical care while also immersing our clients in local Charleston culture.