Research has found that anxiety disorders and alcohol dependence co-occur at an alarming rate. While most of us think that a few drinks can lower anxiety and make us more social, heavy alcohol consumption can have the opposite effect and actually cause significant and debilitating anxiety symptoms. Alcohol induced anxiety symptoms can even include generalized anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias.
In order for a clinician to establish a diagnosis of an actual anxiety disorder or substance abuse problem, they would first rule out medical conditions or other mental disorders. This can make diagnosing challenging. Research has suggested that alcohol induced anxiety disorders can be brought on from intoxication or withdrawal from alcohol. Furthermore, the duration and intensity of drinking is typically related the amount of anxiety.
Anxiety Disorders and Relapse
A study in the August 2005 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research examined the effects a co-existing anxiety disorder on the potential for relapse following treatment for alcoholism. The results indicated that two of the most common anxiety disorders found among alcoholics are social phobia and panic disorder and that both are more strongly associated with alcohol relapse than other anxiety disorders.
Researchers and clinicians have long known that the rate of anxiety disorders among those suffering with alcohol dependence is two to four times greater than that of the general population. While anxiety disorders are about 15 percent of all adults, the rate of anxiety disorders among alcohol-disordered individuals is around 50 percent.
In one study, researchers looked at the mental health and daily drinking patterns of 82 (53 males, 29 females) individuals one week after they entered treatment for alcoholism, and again 120 days later. At the 120-day mark, the results indicated that a high incidence if anxiety disorders, causing the researchers to recommend screening for co-existing anxiety disorders in alcoholism-treatment settings. More importantly, the study found that having an anxiety disorder when starting treatment for alcohol dependence marks individuals at a significantly greater risk for relapse to drinking within four months. This finding clearly suggests that clinicians need to provide additional resources for these patients during this high risk period.
Another significant finding from the study was that different anxiety disorders predicted different types of relapse during alcoholism-treatment. For example, having social phobia at the outset of treatment was a strong predictor of a relapse after treatment. Having panic disorder and panic attacks at the outset of treatment was the best predictor of a relapse following treatment. These findings suggest that social inhibitions and panic attacks place alcoholics at significant risk for relapse following treatment.