Self-Medicating Anxiety with Alcohol Is Risky and May Lead to AUD

Written by Melissa Carmona

& Medically Reviewed by Nanci Stockwell, LCSW, MBA

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Last Updated - 08/24/2023

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Updated 08/24/2023

Self-Medicating Anxiety with Alcohol Is Risky and May Lead to AUD

Many people turn to alcohol use in an attempt to ease uncomfortable feelings that stem from anxiety. In fact, in a recent study by The Recovery Village, 44% of respondents reported using alcohol to cope with mental health symptoms like anxiety. Anxiety causes people to be filled with stress and tension, and alcohol’s depressant effects can calm this anxiety and the feelings associated with it. Unfortunately, this form of self-medication can backfire.

A person’s tolerance builds up as they habitually drink alcohol, and anxiety can worsen because of it. This mixture of alcohol tolerance and increased anxiety can lead to alcohol use disorder and sleep issues, worsening anxiety even further. One of the primary causes of increased anxiety is lack of sleep, which is directly influenced by alcohol use.

What Causes Anxiety?

Relationship Between Alcohol and Sleep

After drinking alcohol close to bedtime, some people find it may be easier to sleep. While it’s true that alcohol can decrease the time needed to fall asleep, it makes the night’s sleep much less restful.

Typically, a person who drinks even six hours before bed will experience difficulties sleeping during the second half of their sleep cycle. They may wake up and have a hard time falling back asleep, leading to excessive daytime sleepiness and general lethargy.

Frequent Drinking Leads to Increased Alcohol Tolerance

Some people suffer from high levels of anxiety, and alcohol abuse is seen in many of these cases. Alcohol can relieve anxiety in the short term, leading some people to begin using alcohol more and more.

However, a person’s tolerance builds as they continue to use alcohol. This means they will need higher amounts of alcohol to achieve the same effects. As chronic alcohol use affects the brain, it can develop into an alcohol use disorder

Self-Medicating Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorder

Anxiety disorders and alcohol use disorders often occur together. As people use alcohol to self-medicate for anxiety, their alcohol tolerance builds. They may begin to rely on alcohol to deal with social events or situations that bring them anxiety.

Tolerance and dependence can worsen anxiety in a few ways. For example, the absence of alcohol in their system can cause anxiety due to withdrawal. This creates a vicious cycle of self-medicating with alcohol that can be difficult to break.

Relationship Between Alcohol Withdrawal and Anxiety

One of the most uncomfortable effects of alcohol withdrawal is the high levels of anxiety. In a person who already has anxiety, this withdrawal symptom can lead them to continue using alcohol to prevent further anxiety. This increased stress and dependence on a substance that no longer relieves anxiety can be extremely debilitating for some.

Know When It’s Time to Seek Help

If you are suffering from an alcohol use disorder and co-occurring anxiety issues, the best way to stop the cycle is to seek help. The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake offers services such as medical detox, which provides medication for anxiety and alcohol withdrawal. After overcoming the withdrawal stage, clients are treated for substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. Then, you can be better able to handle anxiety in healthy ways and begin the path to lifelong recovery.

Contact us today to learn about treatment options that can work well for you, or get started with one of our free and confidential alcohol use disorder assessments:


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol and Sleep.” July 1998. Accessed September 18, 2019.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol and Tolerance.” April 1995. Accessed September 18, 2019.

Smith, Joshua; et al. “Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorders.” Alcohol Research, 2012. Accessed September 18, 2019.

Healthline. “Alcohol and Anxiety.” Accessed September 18, 2019.

SA Health. “Alcohol Withdrawal Management.” August 13, 2019. Accessed September 18, 2019.


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