Women, Anxiety & Drinking

The number of people suffering from anxiety has doubled in the last five years and more women are affected than men, according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF). The survey found that 22% of women say they ‘feel anxious a lot of the time’. In an article about the MHF study in today’s Telegraph, (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-health/10825167/Anxiety-Are-you-anxious-most-of-the-time.html) Beth Murphy, head of information at UK mental health charity Mind, explains: “Anxiety’s a word we use in general to describe worry; it’s hard to know when it becomes something more significant. But in a more clinical sense to be diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, it’s more than just a little bit of worry.”

Murphy goes on to describe the main symptoms of anxiety. They include: having an irregular heartbeat; a racing pulse; panic attacks; thoughts endlessly going around your head; having trouble sleeping; and not wanting to leave the house.

There are many reasons behind a person developing anxiety but I know from personal experience what a major factor alcohol was in the significant anxiety problems I once suffered with.

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I haven’t had an anxiety attack for just over three years, which surprisingly enough aligns exactly with the period I have spent as a non-drinker. Prior to quitting alcohol I had at least one anxiety attack a week, always the day after a big boozy session, and something which I never attributed to drinking.

My heart would pound, I would sweat and I couldn’t breathe properly (this was the worst of the symptoms and was often so severe that I feared I might be dying of an asthma attack, even though I don’t suffer from asthma). Interacting with strangers in situations such as paying for bus fare or ordering in a café would spark off a chain reaction of nervy responses, culminating in a very real fear of having to speak to people I did not know unless I had a drink to hand.

During the last few years of my drinking life it became normal to avoid conversations with people whenever I wasn’t under the influence of alcohol. I would avert my eyes and dip my head if I saw someone walking towards me who may have wanted to chat. I hid indoors for entire days when hungover because I couldn’t face the stress of having to speak to people. I often joked with friends, who were also heavy drinkers, about the struggles of ordinary encounters, how excruciating it was to have to hold a conversation with someone about the weather or some other triviality when dealing with a crippling hangover and trying to not show it.

My denial of the fact that I drank way too much resulted in me ignoring my anxiety issues. To face up to the fact that booze was behind these frightening attacks would have meant getting a handle on my alcohol dependency. And so, in order to subdue any fears or suspicions, I drank more.

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The thing is that ever since I finished my last glass of wine in April 2011 I haven’t endured a single anxiety episode. I am in control of my senses. I do not fear everyday situations or conversations with well-meaning people who merely want to be friendly. I’ve known fear in that time, but I have addressed it and succeeded in calming myself down. I’ve been able to rationalise whatever has caused me to be scared.

I have discovered that I possess the ability to face my fears head on rather than hiding indoors, missing out on life, stagnating instead of growing, drinking away my emotions rather than listening to my intuition and acting on it.

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11 thoughts on “Women, Anxiety & Drinking

  1. I know the anxiety brought on by booze, for sure. But the reason I drank in the first place was to cover up my anxiety, and now I’m not drinking, I’m noticing that again. I think a lot of people develop a drink problem because of an underlying mental health problem such as anxiety, and although alcohol makes it worse in the long-run, it can help in the short term, one of the reasons that women especially turn to alcohol to help with anxiety and low self-esteem.

    • Hi
      Thanks for your comment. I definitely agree with you that there are many people who are masking mental health issues with booze, but once they stop drinking they are then faced with the opportunity to get these issues resolved. Alcohol greatly lowered my self-esteem and confidence and I drank to boost both, albeit it didn’t work and only added to my problems long term. It was only with the clarity that sobriety brings that I could seek help for these issues, and now I am fully recovered and back to how I was 23 years ago before I touched alcohol. It takes time and a lot of effort to sort out those underlying problems, but it is so worthwhile. Good luck on your journey and thanks again for commenting. Lucy x

  2. Great post. I certainly suffered from anxiety related to my drinking. Like you, I often had debilitating anxiety attacks (sometimes while driving) the day after a particularly big night. I sort of suspected alcohol might be the culprit (or contributor), but of course that didn’t prompt me to stop drinking. No anxiety attacks since I quit drinking. Amazing, isn’t it.

    • Hi and thanks for your comment. Yes, I too had that sneaking suspicion but refused to acknowledge it properly for many years – thank goodness we saw sense in the end! Lucy x

  3. I’m just glad that you finally discovered the way to cope with your anxiety. I was also in denial of my anxiety before and it caused me to be a prison of my fears and worries. I used to think that there was nothing wrong and I refused to deal with it until one day i made a sudden realization that I can’t continue living this way because I am not enjoying life the way other people do. I finally embraced the fact that I have anxiety and started to do something to manage it. I am doing a lot better now and I am doing and trying out things I would never even consider before. I still have a long way to go but I;m already proud of how far I’ve come so far.

    – Abby

    • sister rose says:

      This is interesting, and helps me see my problem in context. I’m sad that the Soberistas chatroom has become pay-only. Uncertain how i feel about that. just logged on and see i have to pay. I only wanted a small amount of support and may consider paying the fee. I do worry though about people who used it as a source of support and maybe their drinking was a result of money problems. Sorry to butt in on this topic with my comment but how else to communicate this to you soberistas?

      • Hi Sister Rose
        Thanks for your comment and I’m glad this post has helped you. We appreciate your comments about Soberistas becoming a subscription site and understand that in an ideal world it would have remained a free resource. However, as Soberistas has grown in size so too has the workload and it had become impossible to manage alongside our full time jobs. If we were to keep Soberistas running it had to become a full time endeavour, and therefore had to become financially sustainable. Despite various efforts to obtain grants and raise enough revenue through advertising, as well as personally financing the site and borrowing from family, in the end we were faced with either closing the site or introducing the fee. It works out at 65 pence a week so we do hope we haven’t made it prohibitive for the majority of people. I hope this helps explain the rationale behind the fee, and thanks once again for stopping by and commenting. Best Wishes, Lucy

  4. Sarah says:

    Hi Lucy, I have to say I have read yours and Sarah’s book and it has really inspired me, my story is very similar to yours, only that I was diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder nearly three years ago where I had to leave my job I was so passionate about. Being a creative person, I wasn’t going to sit about I opened a fashion boutique and began a music degree, the fashion boutique was too much work for me so I sold it. My main motivation for stopping drinking for good is to finally take control of my mental state, meaning I can hopefully (in time) stop taking my tablets, and lose some of the two stone I have gained and find myself for the first time ever, I’ve drank every day since I was 16 (apart from pregnancy and breast feeding for my two children).

    The work you are doing here is amazing and I’m just about to sign up to join the network and read two more of your books. I’m feeling positive that I can finally get where I want to be, thanks to you sharing your stories. Thank you x

    • Hi and thanks for getting in touch, it’s lovely to hear from you. I really wish you all the best on your journey and am so pleased to hear how the Sober Revolution has helped kick start things. I’m sure the community on Soberistas will be a great support to you, there are so many people who have succeeded in turning their back on booze and who can offer really good, sound advice to help others do the same. Very best wishes, Lucy x

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