Some people who develop an unhealthy relationship with alcohol already have issues with anxiety - alcohol can offer relief from anxiety symptoms so it can become a "medicine" that people turn to.
Even if they don't, unhealthy alcohol use can affect mental health and lead to higher levels of anxiety (and depression) so it's not unusual for people who drink too much to end up with anxiety and panic issues. When alcohol becomes an effective "medicine" for someone experiencing anxiety attacks, it can also become a routine part of how they manage their emotions or symptoms.
So, on the one hand, you get people who end up with anxiety issues because of long-term alcohol abuse and you get people who end up abusing alcohol because of their anxiety issues.
If anxiety has been an issue for you, then either one of two things can happen when you first stop drinking:
1. Your anxiety symptoms are greatly reduced or even stop altogether; or
2. Your anxiety levels initially increase because you no longer have alcohol as a safety blanket or medicine.
In the second case, the anxiety will reduce over time as your unconscious mind learns to create new habits and new ways of dealing with things. In some cases, there might be underlying issues that have caused the anxiety and these issues might need working through before the anxiety can be fully dealt with. The point is, these underlying issues will never be addressed while they're being plastered over with alcohol.
If alcohol has plastered over some kind of wound for many years, the wound is going to need some air, some examination and some treatment. It might even need to bleed out before it can heal properly.
If you think this applies to you, it might be worth seeing a doctor, therapist, coach or counsellor to help you work through whatever issues have caused the anxiety in the first place. If you decide to do this, do your research carefully beforehand as the world of counselling, coaching and some types of therapy is renowned for being unregulated. Anyone can do a short course on counselling, coaching and some therapies, gain a certificate and call themselves by an impressive title. Go for someone who chooses to regulate themselves by being part of a “governing” or regulatory organisation, check their qualifications and make sure they are credible.
I found the first nine months of being sober were liberating, and then powerful anxiety attacks started to creep in. My unconscious mind was coming to terms with the fact that I was no longer going to plaster over things with alcohol – I was going to allow my feelings to bleed through – and it panicked! A little bit of counselling later and having learnt alternative and healthier ways of dealing with it, the anxiety had vanished. I still get it now and again but it’s much less fierce and very easily managed.
One really useful tool I discovered that really helped me and that you might like to check out if anxiety is an issue for you is the DARE approach. There is a book you can order on Amazon by Barry McDonagh and also a workbook… I recommend trying this as Barry has a lot of experience with anxiety and understands more about the issue than most doctors.
Remember that your unconscious mind is very powerful and can respond in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to your decision to stop drinking. You don’t have to give in. With the support from the tools in this programme and any other professional support you might choose to access, you can reassure this part of your mind that all will be well. It just gets easier and easier to live life sober, to manage anxiety and to rediscover the real you.
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