alcohol and anxiety

Research says hangovers make you anti-social

Although alcohol is a social lubricant at night, by morning it transforms us into reserved people. A new study showed rats who were hungover were much less social than normal. This is consistent with a subsequent qualitative study of college students.

Here’s the scoop:

  • Younger people, who are better able to cope with hangovers, do not react as badly to them (and the same is true of younger rats!)

  • People bond over being hung over (shared pain does seem like it’s part of the college bonding experience, doesn’t it? Frat hazing, anyone?)

  • As we’ve previously mentioned a few times, this anti-social effect is probably down to the fact that alcohol causes increased anxiety afterward! There is also significant fatigue and of course physical pain (especially for those of us over 30).

Check out the article here, and if you’re interested in quitting drinking (or cutting back), we’d love to help! Drinker’s Helper is an app to help you quit drinking or achieve moderation, and includes exercises, support groups, tracking and stats to help you do it!

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Why people drink

Ok, there are obvious reasons. Alcohol is addictive; it’s ingrained in our society as part of every social occasion; it’s mixed into delicious fruity cocktails and it makes us feel free to act like idiots and forget our problems for a while.

But while we knew why we drank, we wanted to learn more about others.

We surveyed people on Facebook and Reddit who had quit or cut back on drinking to understand both their reasons for drinking and the things they did that helped them quit or cut back. This is all qualitative, as we only have 30 responses to work with, but it’s still helpful to get a rough sense!

Here’s what we learned about why people drink from our survey:

  1. The most common reason to drink was to relax (84% of people), but it’s not necessarily because people were feeling anxious. Only 60% of people said that feeling anxious was a trigger for them. What makes up the gap? One theory we have is that alcohol becomes a part of our routines when we relax. It’s the end of the workday, and out comes the cabernet. We feel like we deserve the reward, but it’s not necessarily because we’re feeling worried. This is supported by finding that 80% of people said they felt a desire to drink on certain days of the week, like Fridays and weekends. It’s a habit, and it has to be broken to quit successfully.

  2. More so than any feeling, social situations (sporting events - 68%, parties - 76% and hangouts with friends - 84%) propelled people to want to drink. This is true despite the fact that only 50% said they drank to socialize more easily, and only 36% said they drank to fit in socially. Maybe this goes back to the routines idea: we drink because it’s what we do with friends, or with acquaintances. It’s expected; it’s part of the routine. How do you celebrate without a drink?

  3. A good amount of people drink because they want to feel happier. This is the least surprising finding, but perhaps the most actionable. 60% said they drank to feel happy or giddy, and 60% said they drank to feel less inhibited. 64% sad they drank due to feeling sad; 60% said they drank due to feeling anxious. Here’s the takeaway for us: it sounds like people don’t want to be adults all the time. There aren’t enough chances in normal adult life to do something silly, or feel free. Alcohol, unfortunately, fills that gap, for some. Quitting or cutting back may require finding new outlets for childlike play.

As we discovered ourselves when we tracked our drinking and the circumstances surrounding it in Drinker’s Helper, sometimes your reasons for drinking may surprise even you. You may think you drink because of crippling anxiety but discover you actually do it as a way to celebrate when you’re not anxious. It’s all part of the benefit you can get from tracking your drinking with insights in Drinker’s Helper.

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The link between mood disorders and alcohol abuse

A new study recently found a protein that helped lab rats simultaneously become less depressed and decide to drink less alcohol (yes, apparently there are drunk lab rats, guys).

It’s an encouraging development for people who want to quit or cut back on drinking, although a widely available medication based on this finding may still be a ways off.

But the finding highlights that these two problems - an addiction to alcohol and a problem with depressed mood - often go together. In fact, if you have one problem, you are twice as likely to have the other as the general population.

Here are a few things we didn’t know before we started reading up on alcohol addiction:

  1. Alcohol use disorder increases the risk of depression. A 2011 review of the available scientific literature suggested that the most likely cause of the fact that many people have both problems is NOT that some third thing causes both mood disorders and alcohol abuse, but that one causes the other, and in fact that increased exposure to alcohol increases the risk of depression.

  2. .Anxiety tends to come first, then alcohol abuse. While depression is likely to be caused by alcohol use, (and therefore comes second, after the drinking problem) anxiety may come first, according to a couple of studies. One common pattern, then, might be: you become anxious about something. You drink to relieve the anxiety. Then, a combination of your own anxiety, the added anxiety from the alcohol, and the effects of the alcohol itself results in depression. You then drink to feel happier, and the vicious cycle continues.

  3. .If you’re depressed, you’re even MORE likely to have a drinking problem if you’re ALSO anxious. You’re also more likely to use a whole litany of drugs.

  4. A lot of people try to treat their own anxiety and depression with booze. Apparently, about 1 in 4 people who have a mood disorder try to fix it with alcohol (most of them men). This just speaks to how important it is to address both conditions at the same time, instead of trying to treat either (the depression or anxiety OR the drinking problem) alone. People need strategies to deal with depression or anxiety without turning to alcohol, or the drinking will continue. Alcohol is a short term band-aid that gives immediate relief, but that makes things worse over the long term. It’s kind of like an infected band-aid.

So, what should you do about it?

In short, our recommendation is:

  1. Keep an eye out for WHY you’re drinking. If you realize you’re using alcohol whenever you’re worried or sad, you may be in danger of starting to depend on it. You can do this with tracking in Drinker’s Helper, by recording how you feel when you drink or have an urge to drink, and seeing patterns over time.

  2. Develop your skills for responding to fear and sadness. What can you do beside drink? Well, there’s activities to start - like exercising, or gardening, or meditating - that can take the place of drinking. You can also try mental tricks like the kind used in cognitive behavioral therapy, where you challenge the flawed thinking that makes you feel afraid and sad. There are a few exercises in the Drinker’s Helper library about dealing with anxiety and depression that we’ve found helpful in the past.

  3. Ask for help. As always, reach out for medical help if you think you might be depressed or anxious (or, of course, suffering from alcohol abuse disorder). It is a treatable condition, and medication can help. Also, make sure your family and close friends know to look out for you. Often, others can’t tell if there’s a problem of this kind or not, because we’re all too good at hiding it.

.As always, if you’ve decided to quit or cut back on drinking, we’d love to help! We offer exercises, tracking, insights, and support groups to help you quit or cut back on drinking. Get the app below.

A new surprising risk factor for drinking problems

We all have our own ideas as to what might make some people more likely to develop an alcohol addiction.

Some of it is genetic, for sure; some of it may be drinking because of anxiety or boredom that becomes overwhelming.

But one study found that, surprisingly, perfectionism is a character trait that is correlated with drinking problems.

Here’s the full story, but the TL;DR is:

  • When you’re a perfectionist, you want to be SEEN as perfect, so sometimes, you drink to cover up imperfections

  • When you’re a perfectionist, you want to BE perfect, so sometimes, you drink to cope with having made mistakes any normal person would make

Read up, and if you’re interested in quitting or cutting back on drinking, download the app here!

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