Why Anxious People Drink Alcohol

When I first began taking breaks from drinking, I was always shocked at how hard depression hit me.

After all, alcohol is supposed to be the depressant, right? Then why was I most depressed when I was sober?

It reminds me of a conversation my husband once had with his uncle, an older gentleman who likes a daily drink.

He asked his sister why she didn’t drink.

When my husband’s mother answered, the brother laughed and said, “So you’re totally fine knowing that the way you feel when you wake up in the morning is the best you’ll feel all day? Good for you, then.”

He was joking, but he was right.

When you enter sobriety, it is hard to accept that the hit of dopamine you used to get from pouring that first drink of alcohol is now gone.

And that stinks.

During many seasons of my life, this was my routine and thought life:

  • Make it through the day by keeping busy with work and chores — (TRYING DESPERATELY TO DROWN OUT THOUGHTS OF MY FAILURES!)
  • Grab kids from school and fix snacks, help with homework and talk about their day — (THANKING GOD FOR THEM BECAUSE THEY TOOK MY MIND OFF OF MY FAILURES!)
  • Watch the clock until 5 pm, when I could pour that first glass of wine and sit on my deck by myself– (BEST PART OF MY DAY! TOO BUSY BEING HAPPY FROM THE ALCOHOL HIGH TO WORRY ABOUT MY FAILURES!)
  • Wake up the next morning with loads of self-condemnation and anxiety, swear the day will be different, then repeat. (MORE OF MY FAILURES!)

If my day sounds familiar, I hate to break this to you, but you are abusing alcohol.

Hear me out– you might not think you are drinking alcohol for the wrong reasons, but I want you to ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you anxiously watch the clock until you feel it is an “acceptable” time to drink? Do you find yourself wanting to make excuses to move the time up and hour or two?
  2. Do you look forward to dinners out with your spouse or friends–specifically so you can drink?
  3. Do you tell yourself at the start of the night you’ll only have one glass, but soon that one becomes two… or more?
  4. Do you wake up the next morning with thoughts of self-condemnation and tell yourself you’ll do better next time– only to do it again?
  5. Do you feel anxious and drink to make it go away? After drinking do you feel anxious all over again?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, please sit a moment and ask yourself when and where your drinking started and how it got to where it is today.

For many of us, a habit of drinking is passed down from our parents.

I watched my parents drink when I was a child, but it was never a problem until my mother and father divorced.

For both of them, alcohol use became an issue as they sorted through the shock of divorce and the subsequent difficulties that came with it.

Neither of my parents was strict, so I began drinking at the age of twelve and quickly learned alcohol was a good way to forget problems.

I loved that when I drank I wasn’t in control and didn’t have to think about my life.

Many of my friends didn’t drink until high school or college. Maybe that was you.

The reasons we drink in young adulthood are multifaceted and many come from having anxiety.

You might have started drinking because you wanted to feel grown.

Or maybe drinking was a way to lighten social situations.

When you get older, meeting new people and growing authentic friendship feels awkward.

And sometimes we just feel better about ourselves when we drink.

I loved the person I was when I was drinking– at least, in the moment and to a certain point.

When I drank, I felt fun, sexy and confident.

But there comes a moment in the night where you cross the line between tipsy and full-blown drunk– and no one likes what’s on the other side of that line.

At that point you become a burden and a liability to your friends.

I can’t count the number of precious friends that begged me to drink without crossing that line. Even my wild and crazy friends had these serious conversations with me.

And there were nights, many nights, actually, when I didn’t have thoughts of the past.

I wasn’t replaying the shoulda, coulda, woulda tape that usually ran inside my mind.

Those nights were great. I drank for the right reasons, and I woke up with a clear conscience and zero self-condemnation.

But in seasons of anxiety, when I knew drinking would be a huge mistake, I relied on it to drown out the noise in my head, and, like the frenemy it is, alcohol left me with nothing but more regret.

I call alcohol a frenemy because that’s exactly what it is.

It’s like that girl or guy that pretends to love you, but who is actually super shady to you behind your back and stays close to you just to wreck your whole life.

Alcohol was my frenemy for many years. Now, I see it as the enemy it really was to me.

Many terrible moments in my life would have been completely avoided had I been sober. I have no one to blame for those moments but myself.

So while I wish I could enjoy alcohol and drink for fun, I simply can’t.

My anxious brain and my past- both what I’ve done and what’s been done to me- won’t allow me to drink for pleasure.

One of my favorite sayings is, It is what it is.

I think that perfectly sums up life in a nutshell. It is what it is.

There’s so little we have control over and so much we are unaware of.

We have no idea what will happen in the next ten seconds, even. We’re totally clueless.

Because of this, many of us reach for something higher.

For me that is God, but you might call Him something else. I also like to call God, “the Creator,” because to me, He is a creative genius.

When I stay in tune with the Creator (which doesn’t always happen because our connection with the Universe, God, Christ, the Creator–whatever you want to call Him– is like a roller coaster), I constantly see His handiwork everywhere. I’m able to put signs together and know He’s right there with me, guiding me.

But there are other times I feel very alone.

It’s a consequence of the broken world we live in, and the very reason He said, A new commandment I leave you: love one another, before He physically left us.

Jesus knew that loneliness, anxiety, guilt and shame were personality traits of humanity, and we would need to lean on each other to get through.

This year has been hard for my husband and me for many reasons.

Neither of us is particularly happy in our careers.

We are entering year twenty of marriage, and we are getting older.

Our bodies aren’t what they once were, and, when faced with the obsession society has with youth, choosing not to hang onto our beauty feels counterculture.

Our kids are growing and changing. Our oldest son is moving into his first apartment and our youngest daughter is entering middle school.

Like everyone in the world, we’ve dealt with some rough setbacks.

Our “rough” has included job loss, uncertainty, illness and suicide.

So needless to say, our connection hasn’t exactly been tight. We’ve come and gone many days without an embrace, and a simple peck and “have a great day,” has become pretty common.

But not too long ago, my husband surprised me with a weekend away, starting with dinner at this really cool place near our hometown.

While I looked forward to the much-needed change of scenery, I dreaded our night out, knowing that there would be people drinking alcohol all around me, including my husband.

It was a sad fact, but I’d been avoiding all socializing and fun because I was afraid I couldn’t pass up drinking.

I’ve never “needed” to drink or “craved” alcohol as a means of regulating my body function. I have no doubt this blessing was only given by the Grace of God.

For this reason, I don’t judge others. You never know the burdens your fellow humans bear.

When you encounter someone with a substance abuse problem, please have compassion.

Sometimes, we’re doing the best we can. Sometimes, we’re simply lost and haven’t found our way.

Life is what it is. But by the Grace of God and the love of others, we’ll make it through.

Advice on getting past anxiety during sobriety:

  1. Don’t try to change your habits; just replace small parts of them. It’s the joy of the routine that comforts us. Former smokers will say that it wasn’t so much the cigarette that made them happy as it was the break from reality. So if you’re used to sitting on your deck in the afternoon with a glass of wine, replace the glass of wine with tea. At first it will feel awkward, but over time, a new habit will form.
  2. Give yourself alone time, no matter the cost. When I decided to stop drinking, I spent every Sunday afternoon in my car. I’d take a drive and pray the whole time. Often this praying included screaming at God, and I knew He didn’t care. For the first time in my life I was being completely honest, and it gave me relief.
  3. As cliched as it sounds, take sobriety one day at a time. Sometimes even a day is too long. Take it hour by hour, minute by minute, if needed. Breathe deeply and remember your why.

Give yourself time. You’ll get there!

See you soon,


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