Withdrawing From Alcohol? Why Anxiety Can Get Worse

Withdrawing From Alcohol? Why Anxiety Can Get Worse

Anxiety alone is a tough problem to deal with. Add to that the anxiety symptoms that can accompany alcohol withdrawal, and things can feel much worse. Knowing how alcohol withdrawal causes anxiety and what you can do about it can help you find relief of your symptoms.

How Anxiety Worsens with Alcohol Withdrawal

Certain changes occur in the brain during alcohol withdrawal. Some are similar to changes that occur with anxiety. Levels of enzymes and molecules are altered following alcohol abuse and then withdrawal—this contributes to the anxiety you can feel during and after alcohol withdrawal.1

Alcohol also inhibits certain receptors in the brain. When you go through alcohol withdrawal, the brain experiences something called “hyperexcitability” because the receptors are no longer inhibited by alcohol. Anxiety is one of the things you may be feeling as a result of brain hyperexcitability. This applies to people who have been abusing alcohol regularly over time.2

If you have had to go through alcohol withdrawal repeatedly, you may notice that your anxiety is worse each time. This is because repeated changes to the neurons in your brain make withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, worse. This can also increase your alcohol cravings. 2

Experts say it takes approximately 6 to 12 hours for anxiety symptoms to kick in. Of course, everyone is different and you may start feeling anxious earlier or later after you stop drinking.2

What You Can Do About Anxiety Due to Alcohol Withdrawal

It is important to relieve the anxiety you experience from alcohol withdrawal. Otherwise, there is a risk you may begin drinking again.1,2 Most people going through alcohol withdrawal do not need to be hospitalized, but if you experience severe withdrawal symptoms (beyond anxiety), you may need to be.2

In addition to working with your doctor and attending support group meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to get through alcohol withdrawal, there are natural ways to relieve anxiety you may be experiencing.

Fluids—Doctors say it is important to stay hydrated, because you could lose an excessive amount of fluid during alcohol withdrawal.2

Foods—Incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean animal protein, whole grains, seeds, beans, and nuts to help you feel more balanced.3

Nutritional supplements—long-term alcohol abuse can deplete important nutrients. The following supplements can help address your anxiety and assist with proper brain function:4

  • Vitamin B Complex
  • High-Potency Multivitamin
  • L-glutamine
  • 5-HPT (5-hydroxytryptophan)

Herbs and flower essences—A number of herbs and flower essences have been recommended to relieve anxiety associated with alcohol withdrawal. These include:4,5

  • Passionflower
  • Hops
  • Kava root
  • Oatstraw
  • Valerian root
  • Five-Flower Formula, also known as Rescue Remedy

Homeopathy—These following treatments can be purchased at a health food store. Stop taking them after you notice improvement, unless your symptoms come back.4

  • Arsenicum Album
  • Ignatia Amara

Massage—A medical study showed that chair massage significantly reduced anxiety due to alcohol withdrawal and the relaxing results lasted for at least 24 hours.6

By using some or all of these alternative treatments, you can relieve your anxiety due to alcohol withdrawal. And, the good news is that the longer you abstain from alcohol, the more you will decrease your anxiety symptoms.7



  1. US Department of Health and Human Services. Scientists link chromatin changes with alcohol anxiety. NIH News. April 2, Accessed on October 3, 2012.
  2. Bayard M, Mcintyre J, Hill KR, et al. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Am Fam Physician. 2004 ;69:1443-1450. Available at: Accessed on October 3, 2012.
  3. Balch JF, Stengler M. Anxiety. Prescription for Natural Cures. 2004. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ. 492-497.
  4. Sarris J, Moylan S, Camfield DA, et al. Complementary medicine, exercise, meditation, diet, and lifestyle modification for anxiety disorders: a review of current evidence. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012, Article ID 809653. Available at: Accessed on October  3, 2012.
  5. Gottlieb B. Techniques to help control anxiety and panic attacks. Alternative cures: the most effective natural home remedies for 160 health problems. 2000. Rodale. 6-9.
  6. Black S, Jacques K, Webber A, et al. Chair massage for treating anxiety in patients withdrawing from  psychoactive drugs. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2010;16:979-987. Available at: Accessed on October 3, 2012.
  7. Roelofs SM. Hyperventilation and anxiety: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms decreasing after prolonged abstinence. Alcohol. 1987;4:215-220. Available at: Accessed on October 3, 2012.

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