Most of us think of alcohol as a staple for celebration, unwinding, and relaxation. Alcohol is widespread, legal, and has been a part of our culture for a very long time. However, alcohol is a toxin that can produce many adverse health issues, but unfortunately, very little health education has been given about alcohol.
As a former nurse and recovering alcoholic, I am committed to providing some health education using current research to help people understand the risks of alcohol. One of the most significant health issues with alcohol is how it affects our mental health. In particular, alcohol can cause anxiety even after one episode of heavy drinking.
According to the CDC, heavy drinking is 8 or more drinks per week for a woman and 15 or more drinks per week for a man. Considering that 25.8% of US adults engage in heavy drinking, it’s likely that alcohol-induced anxiety may be an issue amongst this cohort.
Heavy drinking causes the nervous system to adapt to the high alcohol level. In order to find balance again, the nervous system has to change the levels of neuron receptors to combat the toxic nature of alcohol. By doing so, the nervous system becomes primed for excitation. This means that as soon as alcohol is removed, the nervous system becomes highly irritated and excitable. This causes the classic withdrawal symptoms, and the most prevalent of those symptoms is anxiety.
In fact, anxiety is the number one symptom of alcohol hangovers and withdrawal. Furthermore, anxiety can happen even after one episode of heavy drinking. The good news is that the nervous system can return to normal with time and recovery. But what happens when there are several heavy drinking episodes per month or even per week? Unfortunately, frequent heavy drinking episodes can seriously exacerbate anxiety and other mental health symptoms, not to mention increasing physical health problems.
One fact that many heavy drinkers aren’t educated about is that frequent withdrawal episodes can actually damage the nervous system. This means that withdrawals can get worse over time, leading to complications like psychosis, delirium tremens, and seizures. Frequent heavy drinking can cause worsening mental health issues, particularly an increase in anxiety. This anxiety-withdrawal phenomenon is why the phrase “hang-xiety” was coined.
Currently, 40 million US adults are experiencing anxiety issues, so it’s a relatively common mental health problem. If we know that alcohol can make anxiety worse, then it makes sense to let the general public know, especially since both anxiety and heavy alcohol use affect a moderate proportion of the population.
The more that people are educated about heavy alcohol use and its effect on anxiety, the more they can make informed decisions.