DRINKING WHEN YOU HAVE ANXIETY

We have all, at one point or another, woken up from a night of drinking and experienced some form of anxiety.

As we piece together memories we worry about what we might have said to our boss or how many texts we sent to a guy that we definitely fancy although pretend that we don’t, how much money we spent, what we said to a friend, who we kissed or hit or shagged.

This happens to most *normal* people after a really heavy night. A once in a blue moon thing, a ‘whoops, why did I drink gin for the first time in three years I KNOW that it fucks me up’. A ‘they didn’t have a veggie option at dinner so I drank all that wine on an empty stomach and it went straight to my head’. It happens after the Christmas party or randomly at your mum’s 50th birthday barbecue and everyone is then kind enough to blame it on the heat.

For me it can happen after one pint. It can happen after two glasses of wine with dinner. It can happen on a Tuesday morning after a quiet Monday night which saw me have one drink that I didn’t pay for and that I remember with total clarity.

When you supply my anxiety with even a drop of alcohol, you’re inviting all manner of demons into my head.

I don’t have a problem when it comes to drinking, at least not that in that way, I want to make that very clear. Alex told me a couple of weeks ago that I talk too much about being hungover on Instagram, but I reasoned that I was 23, honest for a living, and, thanks to my aforementioned panics following so much as one pint, more prone to ‘hangovers’ than the rest of the world so why not be honest about it? I also strive towards being relatable and so am more than happy to share the oh-so-familiar-fuck-ups that make up my day to day life as and when they happen.

I like drinking but only as much as I like watching TV, or white chocolate, or reading a book, or Coke Zero.

I don’t need to drink at all. I like it, as I like all of these things, I don’t need it.

But I do need to be very aware of what drinking does to my anxiety, and the fact that what it does, is not good.

Depending primarily on how much sugar was in what I was drinking, how long I slept for and who I was with the night before, my anxiety can range anywhere from being too scared to walk the dog for fear that she will be eaten by another dog, to convincing myself that I somehow insulted someone, resulting in me having to send perfectly-constructed-off-hand-messages to all of my friends just to ~check~ I didn’t do something TERRIBLE (and then going into full on crisis mode if they don’t reply within the hour), to spending the day unable to get off the sofa and needing to be held by and next to Alex because I am terrified, flat out terrified, of everything.

Sometimes I get all these, sometimes I get away with none, that bit depends on the hangover.

It is normally worse when I am alone, but that is pretty much the only pattern that I have been able to identify.

There will be people reading this thinking ‘good god woman there is a very simple solution here and that is just to stop drinking’ and I hear ya, but it’s not that simple chicas.

I had to give up alcohol in 2016 due to health reasons (if you want to read about my struggles with IBS you can do so here) and the nutritionist I was working with at the time did not understand why this was such a big deal for me… (As two weeks turned into one month and one month turned into six months and I became increasingly distressed)…

“You can have fun without drinking you know?” she would tell me.

That always made me feel like a tosser. Of course I knew that, I have fun every day of my life and most days I rarely have anything more exciting than an orange squash. I didn’t think I couldn’t have fun without drinking, I just knew that I didn’t want to have fun without drinking.

I didn’t want to miss out on something else. Already I was living with no gluten or dairy or sugar or caffeine, the booze thing, the thing I did with all my mates, that was just a step too far.

I didn’t want to be told I couldn’t drink, especially because I didn’t think I had done anything wrong. I’m a GOOD drunk. I’m fun and energetic and nice. I only ever really did it on the weekends and I was 22. To flat-out stop, potentially forever, was a horrid concept. The only other people I knew who didn’t drink were those who had abused it, who were dependent on it, who were controlled by it.

I could see why the had given it up and I couldn’t see why I should have to.

When I was finally allowed to start drinking again it was actually great for my mental health (said no psychiatrist ever but here we are), I’d been so low and exhausted from being ill and so obsessed and distressed by the way that I had to control my food and drink intake that it was wildly liberating.

I got my friends back (they hadn’t actually gone anywhere but I had felt very far removed) and I got my confidence back and being able to sit and share a bottle of wine with my mates helped me to get my life back in a way. Daft as it sounds that was very important to me.

I don’t want to give up drinking again, but I do need to be very aware of what it does to me.

Booze changes the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain which can worsen anxiety, wait for it, especially as it wars off (aka, when you’re sitting on the sofa, sweating out gin sweat, cramming hula hoops into your mouth and watching Ex On The Beach re-runs).

I can clearly see the effects this has on me.

I can see too how other anxiety sufferers fall victim to alcohol, turning to it as a way to ease the anxiety that comes with being in social situations. It is therefore hardly surprising that about 20% of people with social anxiety disorder also suffer from alcohol dependence.

Of course I can tell you confidently that I am in the 80% of those that don’t, but I wonder how many of us are affected so massively by the anxious hangover.

I suspect I might be getting to the point where I need to work out if I prefer a life of FOMO (in itself anxiety inducing) or of a Sunday morning spent wrapped under a blanket too scared to take my dog out for a wee.

Is the fun of the party worth the low of the next day? Do I hope that as my life with anxiety gets easier (because it has to get easier) that so too will the fear that clouds the morning after a night of laughter and joy and fun? If one glass of vino is enough to see my resting heart rate creeping higher and higher, would it be fair to concede that I could do without going for that one drink?

Or do I just say to myself and everyone around me: look lads, tomorrow is going to be a shit show, I know I’m a bloody nightmare but there is every chance one of yas is going to have to follow me around and tell me, for the one millionth time, that I was on great form, I didn’t say anything stupid, punch a small child or steal someone’s wheelchair for a joke.

Ah guys I wish I bloody knew. I know nothing. I don’t know what the answer is or what to do next weekend or the weekend after that.

What I do now know though is the importance of self awareness.

I know that a hangover for me is more than just a desperation to inhale a full English breakfast, I know that even the slightest lapse in memory is enough to have me convinced I did something terrible, I know that this is something I need to not just be aware of, but prepared for.

And I probably need to find a way to be okay with that too. I may well take a break from drinking whilst I gather the pieces of mush that resembles my anxious mind, I may well crack on in the same vein.

Whatever I do though I think it would be sensible to trust myself a little more than I do at the moment, to have faith that I’m not a total wine wielding maniac and that I probably was just as much fun as, deep down, I know that I am.

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7 Comments

  1. Morgan Elliott
    May 7, 2018 / 7:12 pm

    💖💋💋💋💋💋

    • Emily Clarkson
      May 7, 2018 / 7:19 pm

      xxxxxxx

  2. Haley LeBaron
    May 8, 2018 / 2:48 am

    This was absolutely bloody amazing and completely hit the nail on the head for me! I’ve suffered with anxiety for ages and only recently realised how much worse it gets after I’ve had a few drinks. The other thing that messes me up so much is that the medication that I take seems to mess with my tolerance. One night I can have five beers and not feel a thing. The next night I’m halfway through a g&t and already swaying. But I also have the same issue where I get hungover incredibly easily and literally cannot function the next day. Not necessarily from the nausea but also from the sheer terror or being hungover. For some reason it feels like the most incapacitating thing in the world. It’s such an awful dilemma because there’s really nothing quite like going out for a beer with friends. If you ever figure out a cure for the whole shit show, just let me know! 😅😘

    • Emily Clarkson
      May 8, 2018 / 7:37 am

      Oh THANK YOU I soooo get this!!! I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a cure but in the meantime I guess we just gotta be aware of what’s coming! Xxx

  3. Sophikita
    May 8, 2018 / 3:27 am

    Really interesting article. The post drinking anxiety is something I suffer from too, not to the same extent but certainly a factor. I think the advice is a little simple to immediately jump to “this has some negative consequences so let’s stop forever” so I appreciate your nuanced perspective. It’s important to have fun too and enjoy your life. For me more and more it’s about balance, having fun and seeing my friends and having enough chill out time. The salad AND the fries (and wine). No answers but thanks for sharing an interesting point of view.

    • Emily Clarkson
      May 8, 2018 / 7:35 am

      Thank you too and yes to salad and wine and fries all sounds perfect ❤️ I’m not really sure if there is an answer but I’m sure that you’re right about balance xxxx

  4. Niccia
    May 16, 2018 / 12:34 am

    I battle with anxiety too…generalized anxiety and sometimes panic attacks (although they have reduced now quite drastically). I find drinking can completely unbalance my way of thinking….mainly because I can’t concentrate enough to actually think my way through the anxiety so I’ll go from one idea to the next without actually finding any solution at all.

    I do find though that some fermented beers help with anxiety at times…and that if I eat fermented foods I feel better as well. For me that means Asian food like miso and even home made ginger beers. Beers can apparently increase serotonin too. I tend to get anxious about being anxious though, so the very idea of having a drink and then fearing the effects can make me anxious too. Ah, the crazy world of my own thoughts….

    I thought this was a very helpful article.

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