Alcohol and Anxiety

Katy DanielsChemical Dependency

Celebrating recovery from co-occurring addiction and mental illness

Before recovery, Janet lived for many years with panic attacks and unexplained feelings of anxiousness. She didn’t know that those symptoms were due to an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. Janet had simply assumed her panic attacks and the physical symptoms of her anxiety were due to stress. She’d discovered that using alcohol helped alleviate those symptoms, and so a cycle of abuse began – one that Janet didn’t know how to put to an end.  

Janet wasn’t alone. The intersection between alcohol use and anxiety is actually quite common. It is estimated that in the United States alone, 40 million Americans suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder at any given time; one in five individuals with anxiety report using alcohol to manage stress; and, 20% of people diagnosed with alcohol or substance use disorder also suffer from an anxiety or other mood disorder (source: Smith, Cooper, Last edited July 24, 2019, Alcohol and Anxiety, Alcohol Rehab Guide, found at

Alcohol Use Can Delay Diagnosis and Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders

 “Some people resort to the consumption of alcohol in an effort to deal with their anxiety issues. Because alcohol is a depressant and has a sedative effect, people often use the substance to unwind. As a person’s BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) rises, they often experience increased levels of relaxation. Some individuals use this tactic in order to mitigate stress in their lives.” (source: Meredith Watkins, M.A., M.F.T., Last updated on September 3, 2019, The Connection between Anxiety and Alcohol, American Addiction Centers, found at

Fortunately, when Janet entered treatment for her alcoholism, it was quickly recognized that she might have a co-occurring anxiety disorder and she was referred to a psychiatrist for treatment. As Janet soon discovered, appropriate treatment for anxiety is critical in easing the debilitating symptoms of the disorder. 

While people may use alcohol as a form of treatment for anxiety, the negative effects of this kind of self-medication quickly outweigh any of the short-term positive relief one may experience. According to ADAA, treating a substance abuse problem will not necessarily address a concurrent anxiety problem. It is best to treat both conditions simultaneously. If one of the two problems is not addressed, the potential for relapse to the other condition increases.

In cases of co-occurring disorders, the symptoms of one disorder are often a trigger for the other disorder. For example, anxiety is often a trigger for alcohol abuse. If only the alcohol issue is addressed, anxiety will inevitably be a recurring issue for the person, and it’s likely that they will ultimately relapse to alcohol abuse to deal with the issue.

It’s imperative to choose a treatment program that is equipped to address both co-occurring disorders.

 (Source: Meredith Watkins, M.A., M.F.T., Last updated on September 3, 2019, The Connection between Anxiety and Alcohol, American Addiction Centers, found at

Courtesy: NAMI MN

There is Hope – and Help

On Saturday, NAMI Minnesota (National Alliance on Mental Illness) held their annual NAMI Walksevent at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis to: celebrate recovery, raise awareness, and champion mental health. Janet, along with her family and friends who have supported her all along the way in her in her recovery, participated in the walk with the hopes that by speaking about her experiences with mental illness, and her commitment towards wellness, that she can help other people struggling with mental illness and addiction. 

“If I had known back then that I wasn’t alone, that lots of people deal with this, and that there is help readily available, I might have reached out for help sooner.”  -Janet B.

At the Missions Inc. Judy Retterath Withdrawal Management Center (JRWMC), individuals living with co-occurring alcohol or substance use disorder and anxiety or other mood disorder, can receive help with the symptoms of withdrawal. The program also provides referral for psychiatric assessment and treatment, and can provide a Rule 25 assessment that opens the door for drug and alcohol treatment options. Admission to JRWMC is often the first step in series of steps towards recovery. 

If you or someone you know is in need of assistance with an addiction or addiction with a concurrent mental illness, please contact the Judy Retterath Withdrawal Management Center at 763.559.1402. 

Additional resources: 
American Addiction Centers

Katy Danielsis the associate director for Missions Inc. Programs.