Alcohol & Anxiety


Alcohol blog

Limited alcohol use is often considered acceptable in many situations. The occasional night cap to unwind, or the couple of celebratory drinks during a social gathering, are usually not problematic and may even be considered socially customary. But, if you have panic disorder or another anxiety disorder, alcohol use may become a problem. Many studies are increasingly showing a correlation between anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse disorders

Alcohol is a drug that depresses the central nervous system. Initially, alcohol consumption has a sedative effect and produces a sense of euphoria and decreased inhibitions, seemingly providing relief from anxiety. Unfortunately, long-term effects of alcohol abuse are not so pleasant. Chronic alcohol abuse may result in tolerance, dependency, and damage to many organs of the body, including the brain, liver, and heart.

The Tension Reduction Theory of Alcohol Use

People with anxiety disorders, including panic disorder and agoraphobia, often use alcohol as a primary means of coping with fear and anxiety. One theory of why this occurs is the “tension reduction hypothesis.” Simply put, this theory suggests alcohol is used as a self-medicating method to reduce stress and anxiety.

Anxiety Disorders and Alcohol Abuse Disorders

People with anxiety disorders are up to three times more likely to have an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder than those without an anxiety disorder. But, studies have shown that problem drinking is more prevalent in certain anxiety disorders, and that typical alcohol use varies between these disorders. For example:

  • Social Anxiety Disorder and Agoraphobia: Problem drinking tends to begin after the onset of symptoms related to social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia.  For example, someone who has social phobia may fear going to a social gathering where there may be many unfamiliar people. Just the thought of attending such a gathering produces a lot of anticipatory anxiety. To relax, the individual self-medicates with alcohol.Unfortunately, this type of drinking behaviour has inherent problems. Alcohol consumption becomes a “crutch,” and social situations where drinking is not possible may be avoided. Another problem is that long-term alcohol abuse usually means building a tolerance to its effects. This results in increased alcohol consumption to get the desired result.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder: For generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder studies have shown a different trend of alcohol use. Problem drinking tends to begin after or around the same time as symptoms of panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder present. This may indicate that some of the initial anxiety and panic symptoms experienced are related to alcohol withdrawal or that alcohol use has somehow provided a mechanism for these disorders to develop.

Alcohol Abuse Can Increase Anxiety and Panic Symptoms

What begins as a way to cope with anxiety, can quickly have the opposite effect and increase distress.

Problem drinking leads to alcohol withdrawal. This is often called a “hangover.” The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic Attacks
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Elevated blood pressure and heart rate
  • Agitation
  • Increased body temperature

These symptoms tend to create a cycle of heightened anxiety and increased problem drinking.

alcohol ptsd

Women who go through trauma have more risk for drinking problems. They are at risk for drinking problems even if they do not have PTSD. Women with drinking problems are more likely than other women to have been sexually abused at some time in their lives. Both men and women who have been sexually abused have higher rates of alcohol and drug use problems than others.

Up to three quarters of those who have survived abusive or violent trauma report drinking problems. Up to a third of those who survive traumatic accidents, illness, or disasters report drinking problems. Alcohol problems are more common for survivors who have ongoing health problems or pain.


Alcohol can make PTSD symptoms worse

You may drink because using alcohol can distract you from your problems for a short time. You should know, though, that drinking makes it harder to concentrate, be productive, and enjoy all parts of your life.

Using too much alcohol makes it harder to cope with stress and your trauma memories. Alcohol use and intoxication (getting drunk) can increase some PTSD symptoms. Examples of symptoms that can get worse are numbing of your feelings, being cut off from others, anger and irritability, depression, and the feeling of being on guard.

If you have PTSD, you may have trouble falling asleep or problems with waking up during the night. You may “medicate” yourself with alcohol because you think it’s helping your sleep. In fact, using too much alcohol can get in the way of restful sleep. Alcohol changes the quality of your sleep and makes it less refreshing.

If you have PTSD, you may have bad dreams or nightmares. You may drink because you think using alcohol will decrease the number of bad dreams or how scary they are. Yet drinking just continues the cycle of avoidance found in PTSD. Avoiding the bad memories and dreams actually prolongs the PTSD. You cannot make as much progress in treatment if you avoid your problems. Alcohol use problems make PTSD treatment less effective.

When you suddenly stop drinking, the nightmares often get worse. Working with your doctor on the best way to reduce or stop your drinking makes cutting back on alcohol easier. You will be more likely to have success in your efforts.


Alcohol as an Escape from Stress and Anxiety 

 alcohol and stress

 People dealing with excessive stress and anxiety can be tempted to turn to alcohol for solace. In the beginning this type of substance abuse can bring comfort, but in the long term it just makes problems a great deal worse.  This is because the individual will not be dealing with their issues, just temporarily numbing the mind to them.  The long term consequences of substance abuse can be addiction.  This can rob the person of everything meaningful in life – including their sanity.  Those persons that are not dealing with PTSD may be particularly at risk of falling into addiction.


Cannabis and Anxiety



Cannabis (also known as marijuana, weed, pot, dope or grass) is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK.

The effects of cannabis vary from person to person:

  • you may feel chilled out, relaxed and happy
  • some people get the giggles or become more talkative
  • hunger pangs (“the munchies”) are common
  • colours may look more intense and music may sound better
  • time may feel like it’s slowing down


Cannabis can have other effects too:

  • if you’re not used to it, you may feel faint or sick
  • it can make you sleepy and lethargic
  • it can affect your memory
  • it makes some people feel confused, anxious or paranoid, and some experience panic attacks and hallucinations – this is more common with stronger forms of cannabis like skunk or sinsemilla
  • it interferes with your ability to drive safely


If you use cannabis regularly, it can make you demotivated and uninterested in other things going on in your life, such as education or work.

Long-term use can affect your ability to learn and concentrate.


Can you get addicted to cannabis?

Research shows that 10% of regular cannabis users become dependent on it. Your risk of getting addicted is higher if you start using it in your teens or use it every day.  As with other addictive drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, you can develop a tolerance to cannabis. This means you need more to get the same effect.  If you stop using it, you may get withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, irritability and restlessness.


Brain Science and Cannabis


Any substance that we put into our bodies will have an effect in some way. Whether it’s drinking and becoming off-balance or smoking and becoming paranoid, our brain is wired to respond to these outside stimuli in many different ways.

Dr. Ruben Baler, a health scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, explains how cannabis can impact a person’s ECS, (the interstitial space between cells in the brain is called the extracellular space (ECS)), leading to anxiety and paranoia that previously did not exist.

What the ECS does is it optimizes our brain between excitation and inhibition.

Fear stimuli that we can normally cope with can become unmanageable under the effects of cannabisbecause our fight-or-flight response gets disrupted. You may not be able to keep those stimuli under control because your ECS is so out of whack because of all the THC (THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects in your system).

The strangest thing about the ECS is that cannabis can wreak havoc during one smoke session, then leave the user completely relaxed and calm after another. Just as any slightly different chemicals in the brain can cause vastly different outward reactions, the differing components in any given cannabis strain can cause varying reactions on the inside.

For instance, indica strains are known for their ability to induce a sleepy, relaxing high, while sativa strains often provide an uplifting, clear-headed buzz. Within each group of indica or sativa are dozens and dozens of different strains, each with a different chemical configuration and makeup. What this means is that while one indica or sativa might not cause anxiety or paranoia, another strain very well could.

Outside factors also play a role in how cannabis affects the brain. If a user has been experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions lately, cannabis might deliver a different effect than if the same user was experiencing a period of great calmness.

The brain’s fear-processing centre is located in the amygdala and the hippocampus, areas that are extremely sensitive to cannabis and can change the response we have to THC or CBD)

Cannabis and the brain

Cannabis and mental health

Regular cannabis use increases your risk of developing a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia. A psychotic illness is one where you have hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t really there) and delusions (believing things that aren’t really true).


Your risk of developing a psychotic illness is higher if:

  • you start using cannabis at a young age
  • you smoke stronger types, such as skunk
  • you smoke it regularly
  • you use it for a long time
  • you smoke cannabis and also have other risk factors for schizophrenia, such as a family history of the illness

Cannabis also increases the risk of a relapse in people who already have schizophrenia, and it can make psychotic symptoms worse.


For many, cannabis provides relief from anxiety better than any prescription drug. However, cannabis can have a powerful effect in the opposite direction for some, leaving users with crippling anxiety and paranoia.


What is paranoia?



Paranoia is an unfounded fear that others want to harm you. It’s characterized by feeling like being under constant threat.  When having paranoid thoughts, people are usually overwhelmed with thinking about conspiracies against them.

For example, while most people would think of one incident to be a coincidence, person with paranoid thoughts would think of it as something planned and intentional. These irrational thoughts and beliefs can get so fixated that it becomes extremely hard to convince that person otherwise. For many people, it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not.

When it comes to paranoia, THC is the molecule that most likely causes it, as it stimulates the receptors in a part of the brain called amygdala. Amygdala regulates emotional processes, such as fear and paranoia.


How to get rid of paranoia when you’re high?

Cannabis-induced paranoia can happen to users of all levels, without exceptions. Feeling paranoid from marijuana usually occurs after smoking too much.

Here are some simple ways that may help to get rid of paranoia\;

Keep calm

When cannabis kicks in and you start feeling paranoid, it’s not the best feeling in the world. If you want it to pass through quickly, it’s important to stay calm. Lay down and close your eyes, try counting if that’s what relaxes you. Take deep breaths and exhale slowly. And remember that it will wear off eventually.

Play relaxing music

While you are laying down in your bed trying to relax, play some smooth music to help you overcome your cannabis paranoia. Play your favourite song on your phone.

Make a pepper lemonade

Lemons have been used for sobering up from alcohol and it looks like this fruit can also help you if you get yourself too high. So when cannabis makes you paranoid, make lemonade… with pepper. Both lemons and pepper have terpenes, some of which diminish the psychoactive effects of THC.

To make pepper lemonade, take one big glass, squeeze one fresh lemon, add a pinch of pepper and lemon zest, some ice and a little bit of fresh mint if you like, and still or sparkling water. Drink it slowly and you should feel the paranoia creeping away.

Take a nice shower

Lukewarm or icy cold – find the right temperature which feels the most pleasant for you.

Take a walk

If you are feeling too high and paranoid, take a nice long walk outside. Some fresh air could be just the thing you need. Also, when you feel the breeze you’ll feel much better and relaxed. Take a few deep breaths of fresh air.

Eat and stay hydrated

Help your body to recover from cannabis paranoia by having a nice, healthy snack. Eat something that you really enjoy. You should also try some fresh fruits, cereals with some honey or a nice warm soup. Also, if you get paranoid from smoking cannabis, try to remember to stay hydrated all the time.


Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD


Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. It is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are more apparent and tend to be more severe during the winter.

The symptoms often begin in the autumn as the days start getting shorter. They’re typically most severe during December, January and February.


Symptoms include:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • feeling irritable
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight 

    We may all suffer from some of these symptoms in the winter – e.g. comfort eating; reluctant to socialise so much and feeling fed up but for some people these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day activities.


What causes SAD?

The effects of light

When light hits the back of the eye, messages are passed to the part of the brain that controls sleep, appetite, sex drive, temperature, mood and activity. If there’s not enough light, these functions are likely to slow down and gradually stop.

Some people seem to need a lot more light than others for their body to function normally. They are therefore more likely to develop SAD symptoms if there are low levels of light.

Low serotonin levels

The brain uses the chemical serotonin to regulate our mood.

People experiencing depression have been found to have lower levels of serotonin, particularly in winter. It is thought there may be particularly strong seasonal variations in how this process works in people with SAD.

High melotonin levels

When it’s dark, the brain produces the hormone melatonin which makes us sleep. When it becomes light again, it stops producing melatonin and we wake up.

It has been found that people with SAD produce much higher levels of melatonin in winter than other people. (This is also what happens to animals when they hibernate).


Consult your GP if your depression is severe.

However, there are some things that you can do to try and help yourself:

  • try to get as much natural sunlight as possible – even a brief lunchtime walk can be beneficial
  • make your work and home environments as light and airy as possible
  • sit near windows when you’re indoors
  • take plenty of regular exercise, particularly outdoors and in daylight
  • eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • if possible, avoid stressful situations and take steps to manage stress

It can also be helpful to talk to your family and friends about SAD, so they understand how your mood changes during the winter. This can help them to support you more effectively.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is based on the idea that the way we think and behave affects the way we feel. Changing the way you think about situations and what you do about them can help you feel better.

Counselling is another type of talking therapy that involves talking to a trained counsellor about your worries and problems.

The aim of the sessions is to find out whether anything in your past is affecting how you feel today.

Light Therapy – Some people with SAD find that light therapy can help improve their mood considerably. This involves sitting by a special lamp called a light box, usually for around 30 minutes to an hour each morning.

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Light boxes come in a variety of designs, including desk lamps and wall-mounted fixtures.  They produce a very bright light.

Dawn-stimulating alarm clocks, which gradually light up your bedroom as you wake up, may also be useful for some people.

The light produced by the light box simulates the sunlight that’s missing during the darker winder months.

It’s thought the light may improve SAD by encouraging your brain to reduce the production of melatonin (a hormone that makes you sleepy) and increase the production of serotonin (a hormone that affects your mood).

Speak to your GP if you’re unsure about the suitability of a particular product.

Does light therapy work?

There’s mixed evidence regarding the overall effectiveness of light therapy, but some studies have concluded it is effective, particularly if used first thing in the morning.

It’s thought that light therapy is best for producing short-term results.



Morning Depression

Morning depression is also known as ‘diurnal variation of depressive symptoms’ or ‘diurnal mood variation’.

Symptoms of morning depression

People with morning depression often have severe symptoms in the morning, such as feelings of deep sadness and gloom, and trouble waking up, getting out of bed and a profound lack of energy.  However, they feel better as the day goes on.

waking up tired

Morning depression is not a separate diagnosis but your doctor or therapist may ask you about sleep patterns and mood changes throughout your day:

  • Are your symptoms generally worse in the morning or in the evening?
  • Do you have trouble getting out of bed or getting started in the morning?
  • Do your moods change dramatically during the day?
  • Do you have trouble concentrating more than usual?
  • Do you find pleasure in the activities that you usually enjoy?
  • Have your daily routines changed recently?
  • What, if anything, improves your mood?

Possible causes of morning depression

Low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia)

There is a direct link between mood and blood sugar balance. While you sleep, your blood sugar levels progressively drop. The reason for this is that you haven’t eaten anything in the past few hours. Many people don’t eat before they sleep, so all those hours add up.

Poor nutrition

This relates significantly to low blood sugar levels. People tend to eat so much processed sugar that it causes a major drop in blood sugar levels, which leads to depression and anxiety. When foods of this kind are eaten at night before one sleeps, the negative effect of hypoglycaemia is increased. The conclusion is to eat healthy.

Bad sleep

If your sleep is not stable and you wake up in the middle of the night several times or have difficulty letting go of your scattered thoughts, it is definitely going to influence how depressed you are when waking up.  Bad sleep can cause  morning depression, grumpiness, anger, stress and anxiety.

“Waking up is coming back from a world of dreams under comfortable sheets to a world of reality – many times, a reality that you do not want to be in, a reality that you don’t enjoy”.

The depression involved in waking up in the morning may occur because you are not happy about your life in certain areas.

Therefore, opening your eyes and coming back to reality is difficult because all of the things you are not happy about are popping up rapidly all at once!


Treatments for morning depression

Here are some of the treatments that can help ease morning depression.



Unlike other symptoms of depression, morning depression doesn’t respond well to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are commonly prescribed antidepressants that can help ease symptoms of major depression.

However, serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) may be helpful for people with morning depression.

Talk therapy

Talk therapies — such as counselling and psychotherapy — can also treat morning depression. Medication and talk therapy are especially effective when combined. These therapies can help you address any issues that may contribute to your depression and may be making your symptoms worse.  Issues might include conflicts in a romantic relationship, problems in the workplace, or negative thought patterns.

Light therapy


Light therapy, also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy, can also help treat people with morning depression. With this type of therapy, you sit or work near a light therapy box. The box emits bright light that mimics natural outdoor light.

The exposure to light is believed to affect brain chemicals linked to mood. Although generally recognized as a treatment for seasonal affective disorder, some people with morning depression may find this approach helpful.

There are also things that you can do yourself to help reduce your symptoms of morning depression:

  • Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day
  • Eat meals at regular times and make sure that you eat breakfast
  • Refrain from taking long naps
  • Create an environment that promotes sleep, such as a dark, silent, cool room
  • Avoid substances that can prevent a good night’s sleep, such as caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco
  • Exercise more often, but avoid strenuous exercise for at least 4 hours before bedtime
  • Start your day with doing something that makes you feel good and have a good stretch when you wake up

Taking these steps can help stabilize your circadian rhythm so that your body makes the correct hormones at the right time. And that should help improve your mood and other symptoms.

You can also try using self-dialogue:

“I feel very overwhelmed right now because I have just woken up and all of the things that I fear are emerging right away, all at once. I realize that it can be scary and a bit stressful, but all is well. I can take care of everything. I’m on top of things and later on I will feel much better. However, I will not get better if I surrender to my excuses and ignore life. I should just face it and trust myself that I’m going to manage everything the right way. All is well.”





Students and Mental Health!

It’s often described as the best time of one’s life, but for many students the reality is very different.


Mental health problems are as common among students as they are in the general population.

But it’s not just students who have a diagnosed mental health condition that can benefit from counselling.  A lot of the difficulties that students face are caused by normal life issues such as family or relationship problems, financial problems, self-esteem, anxiety about their studies, problems with alcohol or drugs, sexuality and generally being away from home for possibly the first time in their lives.

Where to get help

It’s normal to feel down, anxious or stressed from time to time, but if these feelings affect your daily activities, including your studies, or don’t go away after a couple of weeks, you may need to seek help.

Signs of depression and anxiety include:

  • feeling low
  • feeling more anxious or agitated than usual
  • losing interest in life
  • losing motivation

Some people also:

  • put on or lose weight
  • stop caring about the way they look or about keeping clean
  • do too much work
  • stop attending lectures
  • become withdrawn
  • have sleep problems

Drugs, drink and mental health in students

This may be the first time that you have experimented with alcohol or drugs and you may start to self-medicate on these substances  If you’re feeling low or stressed, you may be tempted to drink more alcohol or relax by smoking cannabis.

Consider how this may make you feel in the longer term though, as your mood could slip, making you feel a lot worse.

Some cannabis users can have unpleasant experiences, including confusion, hallucinations, anxiety and paranoia.

Any underlying mental disorder could be worsened by drug and alcohol use.


Where to go for help

Talk to someone

The first thing to do is to talk to someone. This could be a friend or relative to begin with and this may bring some immediate relief. If your studies are being affected then it may be a good idea to talk to your tutor as well so that they understand how you are feeling and may be able to offer some advice.

You may decide that you need more support and then it is advisable to talk to a professional.

University counselling services

Many colleges and most universities have a free and confidential in-house counselling service you can access, with professionally qualified counsellors and psychotherapists.

You can usually find out what they offer and how to make an appointment in the counselling service section of your university’s website. This free service in universities is available to both undergraduates and postgraduates.

Other help

As well as counselling or therapy, you may also be entitled to “reasonable adjustments” such as extra time in exams, extensions on coursework, and specialist mental health mentor support.

Student-led services

Many student unions also offer student-led services. Although the students involved aren’t qualified counsellors, you may prefer to talk about problems, such as stress and depression, with another student.


When to see your GP

For more serious or longer-lasting mental health symptoms, see your GP, as you may need prescribed treatment or referral to a specialist.

If you have or develop a mental health condition that requires treatment, it’s important to arrange continuity of care between your college doctor and your family GP.

A mental health adviser can support this communication. Your condition may worsen if moving between university and home results in a gap in treatment.

Therapy and counselling

Counselling offers an opportunity to explore the underlying issues of your unhappiness or any worries you have in a safe environment, including helping you develop ways of coping.


The thing to remember is that you are not alone. Many students suffer from some form of mental illness during their time at university. There is so much pressure on young people to achieve good results that sometimes the fact that they are living away from home for the first time gets missed. This may be first time that you have had to cook for yourself, wash your clothes, go food shopping, take responsibility for bills etc. You have to make new friends and fit in with a whole new way of life. For some this freedom is amazing and they thrive in this new environment but most students will suffer some degree of anxiety and others will suffer from a more debilitating mental illness. Universities are more aware of this and there is now more provision to help with difficulties.

Please ask for help if you need it – do not suffer in silence.