How Anxiety Drove Me To (Not) DrinkI stopped drinking alcohol a few years ago because of the impact it had on my anxiety level.

I think most people — based on the entirely non-scientific Survey of Summer’s Friends and Relatives — find that alcohol helps them to relax. To loosen up. To calm down.

But for me, it’s entirely the opposite.

Alcohol affects me — negatively — in two main ways. First, while drinking it, I become anxious. Second, after drinking it (specifically, the next morning), I become anxious.


Let’s talk about the physiological effects first. While alcohol may be a depressant, it stimulates me. It makes my heart race and palpitate, which is incredibly uncomfortable. (It also seems to make my sinuses unhappy and my nose stuffy, which makes my breathing all funny, which in turn makes me anxious as well.)

Then, there’s the Xanax thing. So, back when I did drink a bit here and there, I got scared (after throwing a few back) that I might panic and I might need some Xanax to calm down. Of course, I couldn’t take Xanax because benzodiazepines and alcohol do not mix. From the Behavioral Health of Palm Beaches’ website:

When these drugs are mixed with alcohol, they can intensely magnify alcohol’s depressive effects and place users in serious physical and emotional jeopardy. Mixing alcohol and benzos can impair judgment, significantly decrease mobility or control over one’s own movements, and dramatically depress the central nervous system. This combined abuse can also place intense strain on the respiratory system and significantly impair breathing.

Yep. That’s scary. So, to recap: If I drink and don’t panic, good. If I drink and do panic, I have no recourse. I could either avoid Xanax and panic my way to a tipsy sleep, or take Xanax after drinking and feel relief, perhaps — all while risking all the freaky synergistic shit above.


Hangovers. That devilish combo of head pain and nausea. (And, if you partied a little too hard, throw some actual vomit into the mix.)

While head pain isn’t much of a panic trigger for me — I’m a classic migraneur, so I’ve been dealing with headaches my entire life — nausea is one of my main anxiety and panic triggers.

As an emetophobe, I fear all things gut-related: nausea, vomit, diarrhea, and any of the joyful combinations thereof. A bout of queasiness from a warm, bumpy car ride can trigger a full-blown panic attack for me.

So, why would I willingly expose myself to something that could cause nausea?

You might be saying something like this: “Summer, c’mon. If you only drink a little bit, you’ll be fine. You won’t feel sick the next day. Here. Try this wine.”

Nope. Time after time, even after a single drink, I wake up feeling like a mopey bag of flesh filled with sick.


It doesn’t take a college course in logic to figure out how I made the decision to stop drinking. The cost: anxiety, racing heart, nausea. The rewards: um, are there any rewards? I think they’ve said that red wine is good for the heart. But any other rewards — social ones, in particular — can be achieved without alcohol. Yes, I can still go to bars with friends. Yes, I can still have fun. I can still “loosen up” without drinking.

Plenty of cost, few rewards.

And now, the bigger question: Is this avoidance, or simply a healthy lifestyle choice? Avoiding a panic trigger isn’t ideal — it’s costly in the long run. Let’s say you have a panic attack in the middle of Wal-Mart. You get woozy, you GTFO of the store, you go home. And you feel safe at home.

But Wal-Mart will be forever marred — forever designated as “that place where I panicked” — until you get your butt back out there. Until you re-write the negative experience with a positive one.

Avoidance of a threat only serves to amplify that threat.

But is the same thing true with alcohol? I mean, drinking is a choice. I have to go shopping and I have to drive on highways, but I never have to drink. So, am I simply making a logical choice, or am I making an emotional one? What’s driving me here — reason, or fear?

Is this a smart decision, or just another way I’m allowing anxiety and panic to rule my life?

Photo: Darren Johnson // Flickr


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